The Story of Optimum Health...Humble Beginnings {Part I}

I recently had an opportunity to sit down with John Biggs BSc, NCP, OHP who is 57 years young, and the co-founder and president of Optimum Health and Kolya, to ask him about the story of the Optimum Health stores and brand. Here, he shares behind-the-scenes insights into his journey from nutritional counsellor and functional medicine, to business owner and formulator of the OHV-brand of products.

What was the origin of Optimum Health and Kolya? How did your journey into health begin?

I always took supplements growing up, which occurred on a cattle ranch in Coronation, Alberta. My mom, who was a fan of the nutritionist Adele Davis, was the town "health-nut", and would give us supplements in a glass at the breakfast table. We’d swallow them with our frozen concentrated orange juice. I remember we always used to order from Stur-dee Vitamins, it was just a natural part of my life which I accepted, so I never really thought much about it until I moved out on my own to go to high school in Edmonton at age 15.

Then, I started paying a lot of attention to nutrition, because it had been bred into me, so to speak. I noticed how much better I felt when I didn’t eat sugar, and I noticed how much more effectively I could ‘burn the candle at both ends’ if I was eating properly and taking my vitamins.

You were still a teen when you had a significant, life-altering experience. Tell me about that.

I was 18, having just graduated from high school, with plans to go to law school and dreams of becoming a politician - the Minister of Education, specifically - when I was in a serious single-vehicle auto accident.

I broke both femurs, many ribs, my shoulder, sustained damage to kidneys and lungs, among other injuries. I only survived because there happened to be a doctor driving by on the muddy rural road where my car had gone into the ditch and hit an approach. The doctor happened to be a photography buff, and saw the flames of the burning wreck. He drove up, thinking they were burning railroad ties, and that he would get pictures. He found me, thrown clear of the car, which had flipped and burned, and kept me breathing until the ambulance got there. It was definitely a near-death experience.

How did the accident affect your decision to pursue natural health as a career?

My recovery took four years, and seventeen different surgeries, so I had a lot of time to do a lot of learning.


I read Earl Mindel’s Vitamin Bible and many booklets from Dr. Donsbach. The more I read, the more I wanted to learn.

The time I spent learning was also spent doing a lot of experimenting on myself with different herbs and nutrients. Academic knowledge and theories are important, but I was most interested in results. I was always assessing what I noticed short or long-term. i.e. Did the supplement make me feel better, did I experience a positive change? Did it work? Optimum Health’s adherence to results-driven formulas started there.

Do you remember any other pivotal moments early on in your career?

I distinctly remember the day I walked into the old Southgate Health Supplies store and stood in the aisle amidst all the bottles of herbs and vitamins. I felt an intense feeling of abundance, like someone sitting on a pile of treasure. All of these natural health products, with so much potential to help anything! I was extremely excited and motivated to share this knowledge with others it could help.


When and where did the first Optimum Health Vitamins store open?

I entered the BSc.program in Nutrition at the U of A in fall of 1988 and completed my degree in 1992. After graduating, I began doing nutritional counseling out of Dr. Sandhar’s Homeopathy Clinic on Whyte Ave.

From there it was not long (1994) until I moved into a little corner of my own inside Debaji’s...the same location as our Southside store today. It was 420 ft² and it was the first Optimum Health Vitamins store - the tiniest and best-stocked health food store ever. Yet I still did a lot of counselling just over the wall, in the Moonlight Cafe.

Because I had a science degree, I was able to bridge the gap between the two existing and opposing nutrition camps at the time, i.e., academia and university based dieticians, versus the traditional health food store culture of the 1980’s. Since I was very familiar with both I was able to quickly gain the trust of many people in our community who were looking for experienced, well-educated advice about a natural approach to health.

Do you remember the moment when you first had the idea to develop your own line of supplements? What led you to that moment?

Yes. In 1999 I was introduced to the Institute for Functional Medicine, and soon went down to Gig Harbor, Washington to complete their training. Jeff Bland PhD was my role model, and David Perlmutter M.D., now a famous author, was one of my teachers, as was Mark Hyman M.D.. Upon returning from an IFM symposium in 2002, I still remember clearly explaining my ideas about inflammation and mitochondria to a client and when everything just 'clicked' into place - I could clearly see the relationships between the causes of inflammation, the inflammatory effect on  mitochondrial function, which in turn affects pH, and all the different disease processes that can be born out of that dysfunction. The inspiration for the OHV brand was born from that understanding, yet its roots had already been planted by my IFM training.

Tell me about the first product you formulated for the OHV line. Which is it and why was it the first?

Opti-AI was the first formula in the OHV line in 2001, designed to reduce inflammation and protect cells from the oxidative stress it produces. I had been working with people who were going through treatments at the Cross Cancer Institute, but also wanted adjunctive support alternatives. I had success with that, yet then gained a much deeper insight into the inflammatory process through my Functional Medicine training. Opti-AI became Opti-AI Extra, and it remains one of our bestselling supplements to date.

Because of my work with the people seeing doctors at the Cross, I supported many with breast and prostate issues, so it was quite natural that the second product in the OHV line was Opti-DIM in 2002 - the protective phyto-chemical that supports healthy estrogen metabolism and detoxification.

And the OHV line continued to develop from there?

Yes, the line grew naturally from my years of experience counseling, during which I learned which vitamins and supplements worked best in what combinations.

I simply created the synergistic formulas from the combinations that I had seen work so well with my clients. Hence, we already knew the formulas worked before we started producing them ourselves.

I developed my inflammation model for a talk I did in 2005, (Copyright 2014), and continued to counsel clients using its premise to help people get well. In my mind, this was the true test...because it worked! The approach based on my model helped improve the well-being of hundreds of people each year! It was like having a great secret, one I wanted to share!

Fast forward 22 years later: there are 84 supplements in the OHV line and we own well over 100 licenses. The vast majority of our formulas are effective at least 80% of the time, many over 90%. We have been testing them through our customers' and staffs' results for over 30 years, and are committed to results above all.

Coming soon: The Story of Optimum Health {Part II}

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