Prebiotic And Probiotics Are Cool But Have You Heard Of Postbiotic?
Updated: Jan 12
At this point, gut health has been the topic of conversation in the wellness world for a while. We all know about drinking kombucha, eating foods and supplements high in probiotics for optimal gut health, and if you’re really deep in the scene, you might even have extensive thoughts about the mind-gut axis connection. However, we have a new topic in the land of gut health that you probably haven’t heard of yet: postbiotics.
Related to prebiotics and probiotics, postbiotics are essentially the endgame goal of all your gut health efforts. When you take prebiotics or probiotics, people don’t realize that at the end of the day, the hope is to get some postbiotics. The entire point is about postbiotics. In short:
What are postbiotics and how are they different from pre- and probiotics?
Before we continue, here’s a quick gut health refresher. Probiotics are live microorganisms (typically bacteria or yeast) that benefit the body by boosting the immune system, reducing inflammation, helping with digestion, and improving mood. They live in your gut, but there are also foods that contain probiotics, such as yogurt, pickled veggies, and miso. (You can obviously also find them in supplement form.)
Prebiotics, meanwhile, feed the good bacteria in your gut. Prebiotics are fuel, or energy, for your bacteria. It helps bring back the good guys as quickly as possible. Some of the most common include beta glucans (found in oats, barley, wheat and rye), psyllium, acacia powder, and wheat dextrin.
Gut health in a nutshell: Prebiotic + Probiotic = Postbiotics
The thing to know about probiotics is that they don’t stick around. They don’t colonize the gut permanently, this is where postbiotics come in. This is a relatively new term (hence why you may not have heard it before) used to describe “functional bioactive compounds, generated in a matrix during fermentation, which may be used to promote health.” The translation of this International Journal of Molecular Sciences (IJMS) article definition: Postbiotics are essentially the byproducts of probiotics. They eat food, it ferments in the gut, and voilà, you have postbiotics.
You can use this formula for understanding postbiotics: prebiotics + probiotics = postbiotics. What this means is that when you feed the good bacteria that live in your colon, that bacteria will turn around and reward you with a gift. And that gift is postbiotics. Unlike pre- and probiotics, postbiotics aren’t something you can consume in food or supplement form; it describes what happens when the two combine and produces compounds that are beneficial for your health. For example, certain strains of Bifidobacterium longum produces acetate (promotes wound heal, promoting healthy skin, reducing inflammation), lactic acid (improve digestive system) and and folate (needed to make red and white blood cells in the bone marrow, convert carbohydrates into energy, and produce DNA and RNA).
There are a lot of different kinds of postbiotics; what is created depends on what exactly your gut bacteria have been eating. Per the IJMS article, they can include short-chain fatty acids, proteins, and metabolites. These different compounds have different functions in the body, and thus can have different kinds of benefits.
What are the potential benefits of postbiotics?
Postbiotics can help with digestion
Your gut has a strong wall that is semi-permeable that allows only certain nutrients to pass through the way. Intestinal permeability is a term describing the control of material passing from inside the gastrointestinal tract through the cells lining the gut wall, into the rest of the body. The intestine normally exhibits some permeability, which allows nutrients to pass through the gut, while also maintaining a barrier function to keep potentially harmful substances (such as antigens) from leaving the intestine and migrating to the body more widely.
The permeability of the wall could become weak and increased the permeability of the intestine. This can trigger inflammation in the body. These symptoms are also well known as leaky gut. One postbiotic, butyrate, can help reverse the effects. Butyrate is a short-chain fatty acid, which is produced when you consume soluble fiber. That soluble fiber gets metabolized and consumed by the healthy bacteria inside of you to produce butyrate. Then, butyrate helps heal your colon.
Postbiotics may help lower inflammation
According to one study published in the journal Clinics in Perinatology, pre- pro- and postbiotics are all connected to lowering inflammation throughout the body by helping to restore the good bacteria population in the gut. (It should be noted that this specific study focused on these compounds for helping prevent or treat an intestinal disease common in prenatal babies, so take these findings with a grain of salt.)
They may help boost the immune system
One study found a connection between postbiotics and a stronger immune system, particularly in infants. This is not too surprising as, after all, a direct link between gut health and immunity has long been established.
Postbiotics may help prevent type 2 diabetes
Postbiotics (specifically Muramyl dipeptide, a type of peptide created by probiotics) have also been found to be successful in preventing diabetes, at least in mice. Researchers explain that having gut bacteria chronically out of balance can contribute to someone becoming insulin resistant, and pre-diabetic. Postbiotics, meanwhile, appear to help insulin work more effectively, bringing balance and stopping the development of diabetes.
Okay, how can you ensure you’re producing enough postbiotics?
Maximizing your postbiotics requires feeding your body’s probiotics with a variety of prebiotics. How to do that, you ask? By eating more fiber, aka the best source of prebiotics there is.
You can get prebiotics from both soluble (the kind that absorbs water) and insoluble (the kind that pushes things through your system) fiber. But you don’t need to stress about hitting a specific quota of each kind into your daily diet. For simplicity’s sake, fiber is often broken into these two main groups, but the truth is, we don’t have a good estimate on how many types of fiber sources there are. The key is to eat a diverse mix of plants, vegetables, and wheat that will bring a unique mix of fiber, both soluble and insoluble.
In other words: Eat lots of plants and fruits so can increase the prebiotic, probiotic and postbiotic nutrients. And when you do, you’re gearing yourself up to reap loads of potential health benefits. Plus, eating lots of fiber itself is good for more than just postbiotic production—you’re gearing yourself up for a healthier gut, better digestion (and less constipation), potentially lower cholesterol, and other benefits.
Taking care of your gut is the gift that keeps on giving and is even more beneficial than we may know. As if we needed another reason to eat more plants.