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What Are Postbiotics? And How Do They Relate To Pre- and Probiotics?

By Dr. Carlie Biggins, ND

In this article:


You have likely never heard the term, but postbiotics represent all the rage in gut health and microbiome science. Prebiotics and probiotics may be more familiar, but all three relate in an interdependent relationship critical to not only our digestive health but also our mental health — thanks to the gut-brain axis. In addition to your mental health, your gut microbiome greatly affects your immune, digestive, metabolic, and heart health.

Let us examine postbiotics and their health benefits.

‌‌‌‌What Are Postbiotics?

Postbiotics represent the byproducts of probiotics eating prebiotics. That’s right! When you eat things such as grains or fresh fruit, the fiber in these foods is considered prebiotic. Probiotics then go and break down the fiber, converting them to metabolites we call postbiotics.

Probiotics create various compounds from the fermentation of prebiotics considered postbiotics. Short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), functional proteins, and extracellular polysaccharides (EPS) include only three examples of what can be described as postbiotics.

With functional bioactive compounds, research has shown postbiotics to have direct beneficial effects on your immune system. Studies also show postbiotics can be used in healthy individuals to benefit overall wellness. Conditions such as atopic dermatitis, diarrhea, and infant colic display relief with postbiotics as well.

‌‌‌‌Fiber Deficiency And Postbiotics

A healthy postbiotic microbiota starts with fiber. Not only is the amount of fiber eaten important for a healthy gut microbiome, but also a variety of fiber is needed to create postbiotic metabolites needed for good health.

Eating a variety of plant-based foods will increase and diversify your fiber consumption, and therefore strengthen your prebiotic health — directly affecting your postbiotic status. Fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes offer good sources of fiber.

You should eat around twenty-five grams of fiber per day, but not more than fifty grams. Too much fiber can bring about symptoms such as bloating, decreased appetite, cramping, and constipation, and may impair absorption of phosphorus and calcium.

‌‌‌‌Healthy Gut Bacteria, The Foundation Of Good Health

A healthy gut microbiome has been linked to everything from a strong immune system to good mental health. Microbiome refers to the microorganisms that live in a particular environment. While trillions of microorganisms (microbes) live in and on your body, including fungi, bacteria, and viruses — trillions more live only inside your intestines, about 100 trillion.

The majority of these microbes live in one area of the large intestine called the cecum. Bacteria alone make up about forty trillion cells in your body, quite fascinating when you realize you only have thirty trillion human cells. This fact alone shows the importance of your microbiota.

Some of these bacteria prove beneficial, which we call good or friendly bacteria; some remain harmful and may cause illness.

We first encounter microbes as we travel down our mother’s birth canal. As you grow older, the more plentiful and diverse your microbiome becomes.

Bifidobacteria, a friendly microbe, begins to grow early in the newborn’s intestines to help digest the sugars in breast milk. This bacterium remains important throughout life, as it creates SCFAs, an essential postbiotic needed for good health.

As you age, more bacteria take residence in your gut bringing with them digestive, immune, heart, metabolic, and mental health benefits.

‌‌‌‌5 Key Health Benefits Of A Healthy Microbiome 

A strong intestinal microbiota proves essential for good overall health.

Digestive Health

Good bacteria, or probiotics, through digesting fiber signifies the cornerstone of good postbiotic health. The SCFAs produced by the fiber digesting bacteria help to metabolize fat and carbohydrates. They represent the primary source of energy for your cells lining the colon.

Weight gain can be caused by dysbiosis, an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the gut. Dysbiosis may also contribute to conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Symptoms such as discomfort, bloating, and cramps relate to dysbiosis.

Taking probiotics with both Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli can help individuals avoid discomfort caused by IBS and IBD.

Immune Health

Your gut microbiota remains essential to your immune health. It regulates immune homeostasis, or balance, in the body. Changes in the intestinal microbial communities can lead to dysregulation of the immune system, contributing to an autoimmune disease of not only the intestines but also systemic autoimmune disease.

Because of this significant relationship between the gut microbiome and the immune system, researchers currently study new microbial therapies as potential treatments for autoimmune disease and other illnesses.

Heart Health

A healthy gut can help contribute to a healthy heart. One study found the gut microbiota promotes good cholesterol, high-density lipoproteins (HDL), and triglycerides. When taken as a probiotic, Lactobacillus may also help to reduce cholesterol levels. Lower overall cholesterol and higher good cholesterol levels remain important for heart and blood vessel health.

High cholesterol and low HDL levels contribute to plaque formation on arterial walls, which can lead to heart attack and stroke. Red yeast rice offers a natural supplement that can help to lower cholesterol levels.

Trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) gets produced by unfriendly bacteria in the gut when they metabolize choline and L-carnitine. TMAO represents a compound that contributes to blocked arteries. Both choline and L-carnitine comprise foods made from animals, especially red meat.

Decreasing your consumption of animal products and maintaining a healthy microbiome can help lower the chances of your gut bacteria creating TMAO.

Metabolic Health

Diabetes and blood sugar levels can also be affected by the gut microbiota. A study found that even though the participants ate the same meals, their blood sugar levels following the meals varied greatly. The researchers noted the difference in intestinal microbes could be the reason for this variation.

Yet, another study found gut microbiome diversity significantly declined before the onset of type 1 diabetes. They also discovered unhealthy bacteria levels of various types increased before type 1 diabetes onset.

Mental Health

Recently, the gut-brain axis has been the topic of many research studies. A hot topic of discussion has been the discovery that gut bacteria play a key role in brain neurotransmitter production.

Neurotransmitters signify chemicals in the brain that inhibit or promote various physiological actions in the body. The neurotransmitter serotonin gets primarily synthesized in the gut. Serotonin has many functions in the body, including mood regulation and promoting feelings of well-being and happiness. It also aids in sleeping and digestive functions.

5-HTP and tryptophan represent natural supplements that can help boost serotonin levels.

‌‌‌‌How to Improve Your Postbiotic Microbiome

Prebiotics

To have a healthy microbiome, you must first have good prebiotics.

Prebiotics represent foods high in fibers like inulin and other compounds such as fructooligosaccharides (FOS). FOS not only supports healthy gut flora but also helps lower cholesterol and supports a healthy immune system.

FOS and inulin have been shown to stimulate the growth of bifidobacteria in the gut. Bifidobacteria promotes inhibitory effects in the gut, helping to resist acute infections.

Another powerful prebiotic that promotes the growth of bifidobacterial involves wheat bran, the outer layer of whole wheat grain. Wheat bran offers a high amount of arabinoxylan oligosaccharides (AXOS). In addition to supporting the growth of friendly bacteria, AXOS also has antioxidant benefits.

Inulin represents a type of fiber that can naturally be found in onions, garlic, Jerusalem artichokes, dandelion greens, asparagus, and chicory root. You can also supplement inulin in case you do not consume enough inulin-rich foods in your diet.

FOS can be found in high amounts in garlic, bananas, blue agave, and leeks.

Pectin and Beta-Glucan

Pectin and beta-glucan represent prebiotics that helps regulate the gut microbiota. Pectin fiber organically comprises apples, pears, guavas, plums, and citrus fruits.

Increase your beta-glucan levels by eating more oats, barley, seaweed, and mushrooms of the reishimaitake, and shiitake varieties.

Pectin and beta-glucan can also be supplemented for prebiotic support.

Glucomannan

Ingesting more elephant yam for its high glucomannan fiber content will also support healthy and diverse postbiotics. Glucomannan supports the growth of good bacteria in the gut while also lowering cholesterol, supporting weight loss, improving immune function, and decreasing constipation.

You can take glucomannan supplements for increased support.

Fermented Foods

Eating fermented foods like kefir, yogurt, kombucha, and sauerkraut can increase your probiotic levels, improving your postbiotic status. Fermented foods primarily boost levels of Lactobacilli. They may also decrease levels of bad bacteria in the intestines.

Avoiding artificial sweeteners like aspartame can also support your postbiotic health. They stimulate the growth of unfriendly bacteria including Enterobacteriaceae in the gut microbiota.

Last by not least, avoid taking antibiotics if you can. Antibiotics destroy both good and bad bacteria in the gut. Only take them when it is medically necessary.

‌‌‌‌The Bottom Line

Postbiotics form the foundation for good overall health. The brain, heart, immune, and gut cells depend on postbiotics to function at optimal levels.

The best way to have a good postbiotic status involves eating more prebiotics and increasing your probiotic flora. Only with good prebiotic and probiotic status can you experience the benefits of a healthy postbiotic microbiome.

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