Probiotics: Planting the seeds for a healthy gut

An Interview with Caroline Farquhar, RHN

by Jason Sebeslav, Owner
The Peanut Mill Natural Foods Market

Caroline Farquhar,
RHN, BA is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist specializing in digestive care and cleansing. She educates audiences through seminars, TV and radio appearances across the country on the topic of how to achieve better health naturally. Caroline is director of education for Renew Life Canada, and has written and published articles for magazines and websites, created educational programs and taught at the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition. I had a chance to speak with Caroline on the subject of probiotics.

Jason Sebeslav: Caroline, natural health experts like you (and natural health stores like us!) have been talking about the importance of probiotics for years. But as more and more research confirms their benefits, it seems like now everyone’s talking about probiotics and gut health.

Caroline Farquhar: Yes, and we should be! Probiotics are like an army in your gut that works hard to protect your health. There are actually over 500 types of “good bacteria” or flora in the digestive system weighing in at around four pounds—the weight of a brick!

JS: So what exactly is this gut flora or good bacteria?

CF: The terms “probiotics,” “gut flora” and “good bacteria” all refer to the 100 trillion microscopic beneficial organisms inside of us, most of which reside in the gut. This is 10 times the number of cells making up our bodies! Many people think these beneficial bacteria only help improve digestion and absorption—which they do. But they also help enhance immunity, regulate hormone balance, shield us from foodborne illnesses and fungus, and can even protect us from developing allergies.

JS: So if we all have these beneficial bacteria, why would we need to supplement them?

CF: It’s a matter of balance. Many things can upset the ratio of good to “bad” or harmful bacteria in our digestive tract, such as medications, stress, age, hormonal changes, poor diet and nutrient deficiencies. Broad spectrum antibiotics, for example, don’t just kill the bad bacteria we want to get rid of. They can also kill off the good bacteria in the digestive tract, which is why so many people can experience digestive issues while taking antibiotics—and long after. Other medications that can upset the balance are anti-inflammatory drugs, birth control pills and steroids.

JS: What are some symptoms of imbalance?

CF: Constipation, excess gas, chronic diarrhea, bad breath are some of the most common signs. But imbalance in the gut can also affect other areas of the body. Chronic candida or yeast infections, urinary tract infections, allergies, anemia and nutrient deficiencies can also stem from gut flora imbalance. We now know that 70% of our immune system resides in our digestive tract. This means that if your gut is imbalanced, so is your immune system. So you can see that there are many possible conditions linked to overall gut health.

JS: Just as the topic of probiotics has exploded recently, so has the product offering! With so much to choose from, how do people know what to look for?

CF: Yes, finding one that is right for you can be confusing. Knowledgeable staff in stores like yours can certainly help people navigate the choices, but here are a few things to keep in mind. First, look for high culture count, meaning the total amount of live, friendly bacterial cultures in a single serving. Next, generally look for products with a variety of probiotic “strains” in the product that begin with L’s and B’s, like lactobacilli and bifidobacteria. Also, make sure the capsule is designed for delayed release, so it gets through the stomach acid intact to begin dissolving in the small intestine where it is needed most. Finally, check for potency at time of expiration—not date of manufacture. Few brands remain at full strength through their expiration date.

JS: You advocate the Ultimate Flora probiotics from Renew Life. They fulfill the demands you mentioned?

CF: Yes that’s right. Renew Life is a company focused only on digestive care, and they do it very well. They have some of the best products available. Ultimate Flora is an award-winning line of probiotics designed for the whole family, with specific formulas for children to seniors. They also have very high-potency, targeted products to treat specific bowel issues such as constipation, IBS, Crohn’s disease and diarrhea, and for women who suffer from urinary tract infections and yeast issues.

JS: People often assume that eating yogurt provides enough probiotics. Is this true?

CF: Plain, organic yogurt is great—but it’s not enough. You would need to consume dozens of containers of yogurt daily to obtain the amount of beneficial probiotics in a single high-potency probiotic supplement!

JS: What about safety or interactions. Is there anyone who shouldn’t take probiotics?

CF: Probiotics are safe for almost anyone, but depending on a person’s state of health, some may find that taking them causes gas, bloating and abdominal discomfort. This is usually short term while the bacteria balance out in the gut. People with a severe health condition should always check with their health practitioner first. As far as interactions go, if you are taking an antibiotic or a supplement with antibacterial properties, you should take it two to three hours away from a probiotic supplement to avoid killing off the probiotics. It is important to take probiotics while on antibiotics to repopulate the good bacteria in your digestive tract. Think of it like “planting good seeds as you get rid of the bad weeds.”