Seed’s Ara Katz Wants You to Go With Your Gut
Ara Katz is changing the way we think and talk about gut health, one probiotic, infographic, and conversation at a time. The co-founder and co-CEO of Seed, an organization known for their scientific and data-driven approach to the microbiome (and the creator of the coveted Daily Synbiotic), Ara is guided by a personal mission to explore the importance of microbes and how they can impact the health of our bodies, our families, and our planet. We paid a visit to Ara’s serene Venice home to soak up her host of holistic gut health knowledge—get ready for an abundance of insight.
- Rip & Tan: From discussions of daily probiotics to recipes featuring kimchi, gut health is a topic that’s ruled the wellness space for years. Why is the microbiome so important?
Ara Katz: There’s a community of 38 trillion microorganisms, mostly bacteria, living in and on your body, and most of them reside in your gastrointestinal tract. Trillions of beneficial bacteria reside along your epithelial wall and maintain your gut barrier integrity, making it difficult for inhospitable bacteria to penetrate. They help maintain an acidic environment to dissuade certain alkaline-loving pathogenic bacteria from taking root. They support the secretion of intestinal mucus and collaborate closely with your gut’s ‘gatekeepers’ to modulate what should or shouldn’t pass through to the body. And certain bacteria even produce neurotransmitters that stimulate muscle contractions—yes, for pooping.
The study of the microbiome also radically redefines our sense of self. Where we once thought ourselves fully human, we now know we are in fact, superorganisms; walking, talking ecosystems—half human, half microbial. This is the new biology. It demands a new approach to medicine, hygiene, diet, and health.
- Rip & Tan: What got you interested in the science of the microbiome?
- Ara Katz: I’ve been a life-long questioner, but an existential crisis combined with my wanting to do something deeply impactful accelerated by my pregnancy and breastfeeding experience is ultimately what led me to the microbiome. It inspired a personal mission to explore the importance of microbes and how they can impact the health of our bodies, our children, and our planet.
- Rip & Tan: Tell us about the inception of Seed.
Ara Katz: I met my co-founder Raja when I was pregnant. My pregnancy and breastfeeding experience, paired with a mutual fascination with the microbiome (especially the critical window of its development in infants) prompted the question ‘how can we set up a child for a healthy life?’. One question led to many around the possibilities of the microbiome and microbes, and culminated in a shared vision to set a new standard in health, building Seed as an ecosystem to leverage the power of bacteria for human and planetary health.
With our combined experience—Raja with his unique expertise in translating scientific research for product development and mine in technology, e-commerce, and consumer brands—we soon realized the potential to expand the vision beyond our initial vision to reinvent infant formula. We have assembled leading scientists in the field and have built a platform that translates microbial science into some of the most sophisticated and rigorously tested probiotics and prebiotics globally.
- Rip & Tan: You’re not just selling a product, you’re changing the way we think and talk about bacteria. What inspired Seed’s larger ethos around scientific advancement?
- Ara Katz: From Germ Theory to the global COVID-19 pandemic we currently find ourselves in, our relationship with microbes has always been complicated. Bacteria have always made us who we are, but in the coming years, bacteria will impact almost every aspect of how we think about and practice health. Our life science approach brings much-needed precision, efficacy, and education to a confusing category of probiotics, one that is also surrounded by a lot of noise. We believe that if we can evolve the way science is taught, synthesized, and absorbed, then perhaps we can nudge humans and science closer together, and our world a little bit forward.
- Rip & Tan: What makes Seed’s probiotics different from others out there?
- Ara Katz: Our Daily Synbiotic is the first to take a first to take a Microbe-Systems Approach with strain-specific benefits beyond digestive health, including skin health, heart health, gut immune function, gut barrier integrity, and micronutrient synthesis. It’s also the first formulation to include strains that synthesize folate and increase production within the body.
- Rip & Tan: You’ve worked at start-ups, in Hollywood, and now in the realm of science. What was it like making that leap from one vastly different world to the next?
- Ara Katz: To me, everything I’ve done is about creating and entrepreneurship. Every time I produced a film, it was like starting a new company, so there has never been a difference—the work always involves creativity, dot-connecting, storytelling, value creation—it’s all just been different expressions in different categories.
- Rip & Tan: What are a few of the most common misconceptions surrounding gut health?
Ara Katz: ‘Gut mania’ is at an all-time high. Despite the ever-increasing number of ‘probiotic’ supplements, foods, and beverages out there, there’s still a lot of confusion about what probiotics are, how they work, and why we should take them.
One of the most common misconceptions about probiotics that we’ve worked to debunk is that they can be found in foods and beverages. Scientifically speaking, many of the products out there that claim to be probiotic, don’t actually qualify as one. Just because something contains live microorganisms, doesn’t mean it satisfies the scientific definition of ‘probiotic’.
You might have ingested some bacteria, but do you know which strains? In what quantities? Have they survived the acidic journey through your digestive system and landed in your colon? Have those strains been studied, in those quantities, to actually do something in your body?
This is, of course, not to say that you shouldn’t eat or drink those foods and beverages. Many are extremely nutritious, not to mention very tasty, additions to your diet (though we do suggest keeping an eye out for excessive sugar content—as many commercial products like yogurts and probiotic beverages are sweetened with added sugars). The distinction is that they are not necessarily reliable sources of beneficial, effective bacteria. The science of probiotics demands precision, accountability, and efficacy (you are putting live bacteria in your body, after all).
- Rip & Tan: What are some simple, everyday actions we can take to get our gut health in check?
- Ara Katz: Common disruptors of your microbial ecosystem include sugar, stress, and alcohol. A simple way to consider your microbiome is to be more mindful when choosing which foods to eat. The healthiest diet for microbiome and human health contains: High abundance of diverse source of plant fibers and polyphenols (like vegetables, walnuts, pomegranate, berries, and green tea); High in fiber and microbiota-accessible carbohydrates (like broccoli, brussels sprouts, beans, and sweet potatoes); High in Omega-3 and monounsaturated fat (like salmon, sardines, avocados, and olive oil); Low in sugar, preservative agents, processed foods, food additives; Low in saturated fat; Low in animal protein.
- Rip & Tan: Many of us have been tasked with rethinking our routines by spending more time indoors. How can we still work to maintain essential healthy habits? How can we support our microbiome with items we have at home?
Ara Katz: When it comes to the health of your microbiome, microbial diversity is a key factor. Your microbiome is constantly shifting—everywhere you go and everything you do can alter your world within.
Due to global circumstances, we’re no longer out in nature, traveling to new places, or interacting with new people, but there are still many ways to care for the 38 trillion microbes that call your body home and take care of you. For ideas, check out our Instagram post here that goes deeper into how to care for your microbiome while you’re at home.
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Photos by Nicki Sebastian