Millions of health-conscious Canadians go on diets designed to get rid of their guts. But more of them should be changing their eating habits to improve their guts. Few people give much thought to the digestive tract, the gut, yet it plays a critical role in overall health.

Digestion is a long and complex process that ensures the body absorbs all the nutrients it needs. Once consumed, food passes through the digestive tract, — esophagus, stomach, small intestine and large intestine — where it is broken down into essential components such as carbohydrates, proteins, fats, and vitamins.

There are also other ways in which the digestive tract plays a critical role in overall health. Nearly 80 percent of the body’s immune system resides in the digestive system, which is often the entry point for bad bacteria and viruses (pathogens) that cause disease. Someone with a compromised immune system is at increased risk for contracting colds; flus; autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel diseases, and type 1 diabetes; and even cancer.

In addition, gastrointestinal health is important for brain and mental health. For example, some researchers now believe the gut contains 80 percent of the body’s serotonin, which is often described as the “feel good transmitter.”

Probiotics help restore bacterial balance

Those Canadians who are aware of the importance of digestive health take steps to maintain it by eating high-fiber fruits, vegetables, and grains and boosting the good bacteria that covers the inner surface of the intestine. It ensures that nutrients are absorbed and the immune system is sustained.

Good bacteria can be found in fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, kombucha, and fermented vegetables or in supplements. “The gut bacterial community includes good as well as bad bacteria that live in balance,” says biologist Danielle Morissette. “In a healthy digestive tract, the balance should be around 85 percent good bacteria and 15 percent bad bacteria. When a digestive problem occurs, it’s often due to an imbalance which may bring the bad bacteria to take over. A supplementation of probiotics may help to restore the balance.”

Morissette adds that because antibiotics kill good as well as bad bacteria, a person taking these drugs is prone to get diarrhea and would benefit from taking probiotic supplements. When good bacteria are lacking from the surface of the intestine, it weakens and carbohydrates accumulate. This, in turn, creates an imbalance that triggers the flow of water that causes diarrhea.

Natural active ingredients boost probiotics

Good bacteria can also be found in supplements that come in pills, capsules, powders, and liquids. Supplements carry various strains of bacteria, each of which influences the individual’s health, so it’s important to choose a supplement carefully.

Sante Naturelle A.G. Ltd., which manufactures and markets natural health products, recently introduced a line of probiotics called Adrien Gagnon GO Probiotics, which includes probiotics fortified with natural active ingredients.

Adrien Gagnon Go Probiotics Regularity is fortified with inulin, a soluble fiber known to stimulate the growth of good bacteria and to provide gentle relief from constipation and irregularity.

Adrien Gagnon Go Probiotics Immune System is fortified with astragalus, one of the most commonly used plants to boost energy and support the immune system. Astragalus has been proven to boost the immune system’s ability to fight pathogens.

Adrien Gagnon Go Probiotics Irritable Bowel is fortified with prunella, a plant that soothes irritable bowel symptoms such as diarrhea and hemorrhoids.

The company has gone a step further, offering a free naturopathic service that enables customers to find the right products for their needs. “It’s not a conventional consumer service that simply encourages the individual to purchase an Adrien Gagnon supplement,” says Natural Health Practitioner Lyne Bujold. “It’s a service in which certified naturopaths ask people questions to determine what natural product(s) would best suit their needs. They even consider potential interactions with medications.”

“Because we care,” she says, “we take extra steps to ensure we meet consumers’ expectations and keep them healthy.” Canadians interested in improving their gut health, she says, could start by visiting