Probiotics and Gut Health: Q & A with J Biggs BSc, NCP, OHP

Over the years in the stores, one of the areas that our clientele have had the most questions about is probiotics.

In this blog, I sit down with John Biggs BSc NCP OHP, who has over 35 years of experience research and training with probiotics, to get answers regarding the most common queries we get about them...along with gut health, and the role of the microbiome in our overall wellness. Join us as we navigate through the internal world of our microbial co-inhabitants.

How do probiotics work?

Probiotics, (i.e. healthy, "friendly" bacteria), essentially take up space in the gut, and on the gut wall. You can think of these as "parking spots"... which are right beside the largest repository of immune tissue in the human body! A common estimate is that 70-80% of your body's immune system is found here.

Healthy bacteria prevent harmful bacteria and yeast from establishing themselves. If these negative "critters" get set-up, it can cause the immune tissue to become inflammatory and reactive. This can create susceptibility to poor digestion, constipation, diarrhea, bloating, infection, and in more pronounced situations, pain, discomfort, and systemic reactions...and further inflammation. Such challenges can occur individually or in any combination, i.e. you may have one without the other.

(Remember that your gut has its own nervous system called the enteric nervous yes, this can happen!) 

Conversely, protection and calming of the gut lining with probiotics improves your intestinal integrity by getting your gut cells, (i.e. the epithelium), to produce a healthy mucous barrier. In turn, by protecting the gut, this barrier allows it to be more tolerant, without excess inflammation or reactivity, thereby improving its resilience and function. (1) (2)

Should I take a probiotic formula with many strains, or just one strain?

Definitely not a one-size-fits-all answer!

For generally healthy individuals, broader-spectrum formulas will increase gut diversity, which allows for greater immune exposure and tolerance. It's like exercising your you do it, it becomes stronger.

However, those dealing with poor digestion or gut problems, (eg. reactivity  inflammation, or leaky gut syndrome) may not do well on a broad-spectrum probiotic, containing many strains/species. This is because contact with the gut, or entry into the bloodstream through the gut wall, may activate their immune response. There can also be competition between incompatible strains. For these people, a narrower spectrum of beneficial bacterium may be preferable.

Which probiotic supplement do you recommend and why?

I have been working with the DDS strains of acidophilus since 1988, and shortly after, when they became available, I added the UABla stains of bifidobacterium. I chose these strains, found in our Opti-Elite Probiotics, initially because I found them to be, by far, the most helpful for allergies, and immune reactivity to things like Candida yeast, in both myself and my clients. In fact, there was nothing that even came close to their effectiveness for this.

Yet, as we continued to use and recommend them at Optimum Health, we found that these strains produced beneficial results in a high percentage of people for a wide variety of needs and challenges! So, even though finding the best probiotic for you may take some trial & error, going with the odds can be very helpful in reducing guesswork.

In 2017 we had the good fortune of adding Opti-Elite Probiotics to our own line of supplements. Though it doesn't work for everyone, in our experience it has the highest % positive response rate, (which I would also put somewhere between 70 to 80%, i.e. 7-8 people out of 10 report good or desired results/positive feedback.)  Repeat sales since the 1990's provide supporting evidence for this.

In fact in all of the 15,000+ products that we stock, Opti-Elite Probiotics is our top seller (right up there with some magnesium that we sell!)

Should I take probiotics everyday?

The ultimate goal of probiotics is to get them to reproduce on their own. However, most probiotic supplements are relatively transient (they pass through and don’t successfully "set up camp").

For somebody suffering from gut problems or allergies/immune responses, daily probiotics can be a life-saver! Also remember that immune responses which started in the gut can easily become systemic, and spread anywhere in the body. (Hence never under-estimate the gut's potential involvement in any inflammatory condition!)

On the other hand, for those without such problems, the occasional probiotic is a definitely a great idea. But don't forget that prebiotics (i.e. health food for your gut bacteria) can be just as impactful, and may do a better long-term job of maintaining your positive resident bacteria. You can think of this like adding seed to a healthy flower garden occasionally, but using fertilizer often. 

This of course is a different story when you are taking antibiotics. Here additional supplementation is strongly recommended, and often crucial to reestablish beneficial colonies.

Can I take too much?

Though you can get too much of anything, probiotic studies, even on infants, use massive amounts, safely. Practically speaking, you would likely run out of money before you took too much.

Should healthy children take probiotics? In what situations or circumstances?

The more appropriate question is: can children benefit from probiotics…. in what situations, and to what extent?

Yes, they can definitely benefit!

Healthy gut bacteria is a huge component of a developing immune system. (Were they delivered via C-section? Were they breast-fed?... The answers to these questions can be pivotal determining a healthy probiotic population.) Even though healthy kids may not need to supplement all the time, getting probiotics through cultured foods or supplements can be very helpful for all of us in prevention of, and recovery from illness.

Your gut bacteria is often said to be an integral part of your first line of immune defense! It can be considered to be part of your "inner skin", (i.e. the gut), versus the outer skin. So even a happy healthy child can benefit. BUT a good diet is more important, as the issue is addressed automatically with good nutrition, including soluble fibre in fruits and vegetables, and some cultured foods.

Yet if a child is suffering from gut/immune-related health challenges, or particularly those children (and adults) experiencing recurrent infection, the right probiotics can be a godsend.

It has been my experience in the 35+ years I have been working with probiotics, that if a person has recurrent infections, the first and most important thing for them to consider IS their gut bacteria!

Will I actually notice a difference if I supplement with a probiotic? How long will it take? (Should I notice a difference?)

The answer is again a resounding YES!

If you are not noticing a benefit from your probiotic and are taking it on faith, you haven't; found the right one for you. Our microbiome is like our fingerprint - everyone’s is unique! Hence, “what works for one may not work for another” is especially true for probiotics.

Benefits you may look for are:

  • Better (“quieter”) digestion
  • Decreased transit time (ie. normalized bowel habits)
  • Reduced reactivity and increased energy/better metabolism, particularly for those who are sensitive (Wanna get tired? Become inflamed!)

Is there anyone who should not take probiotics?

Those with dramatically compromised gut permeability - eg., Crohn’s, severe IBD, or those in an immuno-compromised situation. Such individuals need to be highly selective choosing the correct supplements, and should, without question, consult a qualified health practitioner, and/or physician.

How can taking an oral probiotic affect the vaginal microbiome, and decrease yeast infections? (is this backed up by science?)

Yes! However, science is still looking for definitive answers on the mechanism by which translocation of beneficial bacteria from the gut to the vaginal tract occurs. (3) 

If I had to posit an educated guess, bacterial translocation is mediated by tissues in the gut like Peyer’s Patches (specialized lymphoid tissue that functions as the immune sensors of the intestine) which is involved in constant sampling and surveillance of gut contents. (4)

In Conclusion

After hearing John's responses to our Q& A, it's clear that understanding the intricacies of our microbiome is key to helping us achieve comprehensive health and wellness. The role that a robust and healthy gut flora plays in strong digestion, mood regulation, and immune and inflammatory responses cannot be understated!

Remember that the best methods of probiotic support can vary from person to person; as we have learned, there is incredible diversity inherent in each of our microbiomes, and that there is no "one-size-fits-all" approach to gut health!



1.) Adv Nutr. 2020 Jul; 11(4): 1054

2.) BMJ 2018;361:k2179

3.) Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol 2008141547.

4.) Int J Inflam. 2010; 2010: 823710.



Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published