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Nutrition

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You've Heard of Pre- and Probiotics, So What Are Postbiotics?

As pre- and probiotics continue to grow in the health world, postbiotics should not go unnoticed. Learn what postbiotics are and why they deserve attention.

You've Heard of Pre- and Probiotics, So What Are Postbiotics?


Prebiotics and probiotics have made a name for themselves in recent years due to the proposed health benefits they offer. However, postbiotics may just as beneficial though tend to be unheard of.

Postbiotics are a new frontier in medicine and are thought to contain powerful properties that play a role in regulating every organ system, from the brain to the immune system. And they assist in renewing the body to function optimally at basic and critical functions.

Read on to learn more about postbiotic supplements, foods, and more!

What Are Postbiotics?

Before diving into postbiotics, knowing what pre- and probiotics are is important to best understand postbiotics.

Prebiotics are dietary fibers the body cannot digest (indigestible carbohydrates), such as resistant starches. Prebiotics serves as a food source for probiotics, which are considered a "good" and healthy type of bacteria that offers health benefits to its host.

Postbiotics are functional fermentation compounds produced by probiotic bacteria. They are essentially the "waste" products of probiotics fermenting prebiotics, including the production of short-chain fatty acids such as butyrate.

Butyrate is a major end product of "good" bacteria in the gut, and it is absorbed and used as a primary energy source by cells in the intestine. Foods that contain butyrate and how to boost butyrate levels are two areas that are extensively studied. Butyrate has been found to enhance gut barrier function and immunity, among other health benefits.

Since research is still accumulating to understand the potential effects and benefits of these compounds, most experts consider postbiotics an evolving term within the functional foods field.

Like pre- and probiotics, postbiotics come in many forms. Since each individual has a unique gut environment, different forms, such as postbiotics powder, may help different people in improving gut health.

Postbiotics Supplements

Postbiotics can be found in supplemental form, including a pill, capsule, or powder. They are often made in combination with pre- and probiotics and should be chosen with caution.

Picking the Right Postbiotic

First, consult with a doctor regarding which postbiotic might be best for you. Baring in mind their guidance, consider these guidelines when looking for supplements:

1. Reliability: Select a product that has research and not just a random brand. Third-party verification, such as the USP stamp, can help signify a quality supplement. This means that the particular product has been tested by an entity outside of the company that can vouch for its quality and standard level. Your doctor can also assist in finding a reputable product.

2. Specific Symptom Management: Especially if struggling with digestive symptoms, it can help to look for a biotic product that has been shown to lessen the symptom of concern. For example, select a product that has research showing it helps with constipation if an individual is experiencing constipation versus one that has been shown to help lessen diarrhea.

3. Dose: As with medicine, look at the dosage deemed effective in research (if the research is available).

4. Sensitivities to Additives: If an individual is sensitive to additives, be sure to check the nutrition label for additives such as dairy, soy, inulin, FOS, chicory root, and others. Some people prefer a vegetable-based capsule to a conventional counterpart.

Keep in mind that postbiotic pills, powders, or other supplemental products are not a magic cure. It is important to maintain a balanced eating regimen in addition to taking the right postbiotic for individual health.

Therapeutic Opportunities

Postbiotics have a unique interaction with both the human host and the "good" gut bacteria. Because of this, many experts expect postbiotics to become an antibiotic alternative in years to come.

Postbiotics have been shown in some studies to have a significant effect when used to influence fermented formula for infant health. The postbiotic compounds in these formulas mimic the prebiotic features of human breast milk, which play a crucial role in shaping the infant's gut health and intestinal regulation. While more extensive study is needed, this research shows that postbiotics can have a great influence on human health. They may inhibit the growth and activity of "bad" bacteria while promoting the “good” growth in the gut microbiome.

Similar to the fermentation process of food, the bacteria in the guts of healthy adults ferments bacteria to produce postbiotic byproducts. Supplemental postbiotics may help some individuals reap the benefits of a healthier gut by allowing "good" bacteria to flourish and ferment to produce these helpful postbiotic products.

Properties such as anti-inflammation, immune regulation, and anti-infection could make postbiotics a powerful therapy option in the near future.

Postbiotics Foods

The bacteria in the gut use genetic information to transform food into other compounds that the body can use. This makes it even more important that "good" bacteria exist for the body to thrive on.

In other words, "bad" bacteria merely allows us to survive while "good" bacteria, such as postbiotic food or supplements, can help us to thrive. While supplements can be a sufficient source of postbiotic bacteria, diversity of diet is a crucial component to overall health.

Adding postbiotic foods into the diet can help to add variety and vitality to overall health and wellness.

Fermented Foods

Familiar postbiotic foods include fermented foods and beverages, which are foods or food components that contain beneficial bacteria or which can help convert other components or compounds into "good" bacteria in the body.

Eating foods that produce postbiotic products in the process of being fermented include the following:

• Bread containing yeast
• Sourdough
• Vinegar
• Some dairy products and fermented dairy products
• Kefir
• Sauerkraut
• Pickles
• Yogurt
• Kombucha tea
• Tempeh
• Kimchi
• Miso and fermented cheeses
• Sour cream
• Olives
• Soy sauce
• Natto
• Wine and beer
• sausage

The fermentation process for these foods increases the potential health benefits, including increased bioavailability of nutrients, increased shelf-life, anti-inflammatory, and anti-infection properties, as well as antioxidant benefits.

Fermented foods can have not only enhanced taste and texture, but their "good" bacteria content and nutritional value can also be increased.

The Bottom Line on Postbiotics

Despite the lack of specific recommendations or federal legislation for the proper dose of postbiotics, findings increasingly indicate that fermented foods and postbiotics used properly as part of a healthy diet are reported to have positive human health benefits.

A recent study even found that postbiotics may "be part of the protection mechanism against excess weight gain", meaning they could potentially play an important role in obesity intervention.

While more evidence is needed to justify general use or therapeutic regimens, postbiotics can be a potential source of gut stability and greater health when properly researched and used at the suggested dosage. Be sure to consult a trusted dietitian and knowledgeable healthcare team before trying a postbiotic product.

References:

Hermann M. Discover the World of Postbiotics. Today's Dietitian. 2020:22(6);20. https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/JJ20p20.shtml.

Marco ML, Heeney D, Binda S, Cifelli CJ, Cotter PD, et al. Health benefits of fermented foods: microbiota and beyond. Current Opinion in Biotechnology. 2017:44;94-102. 

Pelton R. Beyond Probiotics: Postbiotic Metabolites Regulate Your Health. Natural Medicine Journal. https://www.naturalmedicinejournal.com/blog/beyond-probiotics-postbiotic-metabolites-regulate-your-health. 2019.

Puccetti M, Xiroudaki S, Ricci M, Giovagnoli, S. Postbiotic-Enabled Targeting of the Host-Microbiota-Pathogen Interface: Hints of Antibiotic Decline? Pharmaceutics. 2020, 12, 624.

Scarlata K. Fermented Foods for Health: Fact vs. Fiction. For a Digestive Peace of Mind. https://blog.katescarlata.com/2018/11/09/fermented-foods-for-health-fact-vs-fiction/. 2018.

Wegh CAM, Geerlings SY, Knol J, Roeselers G, Belzer C. Postbiotics and Their Potential Applications in Early Life Nutrition and Beyond. Int J Mol Sci. 2019;20(19):4673. 2019. doi:10.3390/ijms20194673.

Sarah Asay's Photo
Written By Sarah Asay, RDN. Published on February 24, 2021. Updated on March 09, 2021.

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