Gut Health

Postbiotics 101: The Missing Piece In Your Gut Health Puzzle

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Postbiotics 101: The Missing Piece In Your Gut Health Puzzle about Colon Ultra Cleanse

Beyond Probiotics: A Comprehensive Guide to Postbiotics, The Future of Digestive Health and Disease Prevention

Foods, beverages, and supplements containing probiotics continue to explode in popularity. We're not surprised. We've been talking about the importance of consuming these "good bacteria" called probiotics for two decades. The research is clear: Probiotics are essential to creating good health by supporting digestion, immunity, memory function, and overall wellbeing.

But now, the probiotic story isn't complete without mentioning the new kid on the block-- postbiotics.

Postbiotics aren't bacteria. They're the waste created when probiotic bacteria in your gut feed on prebiotic carbohydrates and sugars. But far from being useless or harmful - waste you’d want to dispose of - postbiotics actually have multiple health benefits that probiotics alone can't create.

Key Takeaways

  • Postbiotics are beneficial by-products of probiotics and prebiotics that promote human health.

  • Postbiotics are found in a variety of fermented foods and offer a variety of health benefits including immune system support, digestive health improvement, and better overall physical health.

  • Incorporating postbiotics into your diet through food sources or supplements can help you achieve better digestion and give your health and wellness a big boost.

What Are Postbiotics? Understanding The Missing Piece In Your Gut Health Puzzle

At first blush it's easy to confuse postbiotics with probiotics. But unlike probiotics, postbiotics are non-living microorganisms or parts of microorganisms. More specifically, they're metabolic by-products of microbes that work by influencing the gut microbiota and immune system, which have remarkable effects on overall health. More on that in a minute, but first, let's take a look at the differences between the various forms of "biotics," as they're often called.

Differentiating Postbiotics from Probiotics and Prebiotics

Probiotics are living microorganisms, often called "good bacteria" that are found in fermented foods such as natural yogurt and kefir that boost the population of healthy bacteria in the gut and prevent the overgrowth of bad bacteria that can cause digestive distress. Probiotics are linked to a variety of health benefits from a healthier liver to a stronger immune system.

Prebiotics are indigestible fibers and sugars in food that provide fuel for these beneficial probiotic bacteria to promote their growth and activity. The best-known prebiotic is dietary fiber found in whole grains, oatmeal, beans, nuts, fruit and vegetables. Prebiotics help probiotics work better and deliver more health benefits to the body.

Postbiotics are bioactive compounds produced by both prebiotics and probiotics, but unlike probiotics, they offer potential health benefits without the need for viable bacteria (living bacteria). Postbiotics are so new that they only gained an official definition in 2021 when the International Scientific Association of Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) defined a postbiotic as a “preparation of inanimate microorganisms and/or their components that confers a health benefit on the host.”

While it may have taken scientists a while to define postbiotics, they've been documenting their numerous health benefits in the human body for years, starting with improving digestion.

The Role of Postbiotics in Gut Health

Research shows that postbiotics significantly contribute to better gut health by:

  • Regulating the microbiota - this is the complex and dynamic population of microorganisms living in your gut. And there are lots of them-- to the tune of 100 trillion microbes!

  • Boosting the function of the epithelial barrier - the cells lining the intestines that regulate nutrient absorption and prevent invasion of pathogenic bacteria.

  • Supporting immune responses to maintain health of the entire body.

  • Restoring a healthy balance of gut microbiota.

  • Stimulating the growth and activity of beneficial bacteria.

  • Promoting homeostasis and balance throughout the entire gastrointestinal system.

Interestingly, scientists have found that postbiotics have a greater capacity to regulate the gut microbiota than probiotics themselves! And since the health of the gut influences the brain through the gut-brain axis, a healthy microbiota not only supports your digestive system, but the health of your brain as well as your whole body.

For instance, not only is there considerable evidence showing the gut microbiota regulates our sleep, mood and brain function, but the make-up of our gut microbiota - if out of balance with a preponderance of "bad" bacteria - has recently been linked to the development of Alzheimer's disease.

The ability of postbiotics to achieve a more comfortable gut and better whole-body health comes from the various biological components they contain. Let's have a look at these in more detail.

Components of Postbiotics

Postbiotics are found in a variety of foods, mostly thanks to the process of fermentation. The fermentation process involves microorganisms converting carbohydrates-- sugar and fiber-- into postbiotics. When scientists took a closer look at postbiotics and their health-giving components, they found a variety of amazing natural compounds with a wealth of health benefits such as:

  • Short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) – SCFAs are a subset of fatty acids that are produced by the gut microbiota during the fermentation of partially and nondigestible carbohydrates and sugars. According to a study published in the journal Advanced Immunology, an abundance of evidence shows SCFAs play an important role in the maintenance of health and the prevention of disease. For example, SCFAs support intestinal epithelial cells to help digest food, absorb nutrients, produce mucus, prevent a leaky gut and defend against infections. Scientists also think they have roles in glucose control, maintaining a healthy weight, and reducing inflammation.

  • Exopolysaccharides – sugar-based compounds shown in lab research to enhance natural killer cells, lower high cholesterol and high blood pressure, as well as reduce the risk of cancer.

  • Enzymes – these proteins that support healthy metabolism and other chemical reactions in your body have an abundance of health benefits. They produce antioxidants, lower inflammation, and block chemically induced colon cancer in mice.

  • Cell wall fragments –  many components of the cell wall of good bacteria produce a positive immune response, and have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties.

  • Cell-free supernatants (CFSs) – CFSs are liquids that contain metabolites and unabsorbed nutrients left behind from all the compounds microbes such as probiotics produce. They have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antibacterial and anticancer properties according to a 2018 study in the journal Evidence Based Complementary Alternative Medicine.

  • Bacterial lysates – made from broken down bacterial cells bacterial lysates stimulate the immune system to recognize and fight infections. They were shown in recent research to lower the frequency of recurrent respiratory tract infections in children, and have positive effects on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

  • Other metabolites – Bacteria produce vitamins B2, B6, folate, B12 and vitamin K. Gut microbes also break down amino acids (phenylalanine, tryptophan, tyrosine) to produce numerous metabolites that may regulate immune, metabolic, and neuronal responses at local and distant sites.

While much of this research is in laboratory research, the evidence leads scientists to believe that postbiotics have tremendous potential. Of course, not all of the studies are in the laboratory. There are a number of clinical studies with amazing results.

Clinical Studies Reveal Remarkable Health Benefits of Postbiotics

Human studies suggest postbiotics can help treat:

  • Diarrhea

  • Irritable bowel syndrome

  • Inflammatory bowel disease

  • Allergies

  • Respiratory tract infections

  • Immune deficits

Improving Gastrointestinal Symptoms

A review of seven randomized controlled trials containing 1,740 children found that one strain of postbiotic reduced the duration of diarrhea, and another reduced the risk of developing diarrhea compared to those taking a placebo formula.

A type of short chain fatty acid (SCFA) called butyrate was given to 2,990 patients with irritable bowel syndrome. This produced a significant improvement in the severity of abdominal pain. Flatulence, diarrhea, constipation, urgent pressure for bowel movements, nausea, and vomiting also decreased significantly.

A small study on 12 patients with Crohn’s disease found seven (53 percent) achieved remission and two had a partial response when taking butyrate tablets for eight weeks.

Reducing Allergies

A high level of butyrate-producing bacteria in the microbiota at age 3 to 15 months was linked to the resolution of milk allergy by the time the kids reached the age of eight. Clinical evidence also supports the use of postbiotics in preventing asthma and wheezing in children. A high abundance of butyrate-producing bacteria was associated with milder eczema in infants, and after nine months, bacterial lysates improved atopic dermatitis in children aged 6 months to seven years. Compared to placebo, children with seasonal allergic rhinitis taking bacterial lysate had a significant lowering of symptom severity. It's exciting news, but it's not surprising. We've written before about the benefits of using probiotics to relieve hay fever and allergy symptoms.

Easing Respiratory Tract Infections

A postbiotic strain was given to 537 healthy children. This reduced the incidence of pharyngitis, laryngitis, and tracheitis compared to placebo. Low or high dose postbiotics or placebo were taken by 280 seniors. After five months, the number of common colds was significantly reduced in the postbiotic groups, especially those taking the high dose version. A systematic review of 22 randomized clinical trials on 4,571 patients found that Lantigen B, a bacterial lysate taken from bacteria that commonly cause respiratory infections, convincingly reduced the incidence of recurrent respiratory tract infections.

Immune System Support

As if all of these other benefits aren't enough, postbiotics can do amazing things for your immune system. Specifically they can stimulate the innate and adaptive immune systems, maintain immune homeostasis, and modulate the immune response. These immune benefits are produced from postbiotic's ability to stimulate the production of regulatory T-cells and anti-inflammatory cytokines, thereby providing protection against infections and reducing inflammation.

While these results come largely from laboratory studies, there are a few human studies that support this. One study of twenty healthy young adults showed that a diet high in SCFAs was associated with changes in the circulating B- and T-cell compartments. Another was shown to increase the amount of immunoglobulin A (IgA) in the saliva of older adults. IgA is the body’s first line of defense against pathogens trying to invade the nose and mouth. This could explain why postbiotics have been shown to help prevent colds and other respiratory infections.

Potential Benefits For Other Health Problems

The research into postbiotics and human health is ongoing and very exciting. Human trials are planned or in progress to test the immune modulating effects of a preparation called ImmunoFOS and a yeast-based whole food supplement we’ve previously written about called EpiCor. Other types of postbiotics are being studied for the treatment of obesity, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, Type-2 diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety, acute stress management, influenza and even macular degeneration. We have no doubt that this is just the beginning of what we'll be hearing about the health benefits of postbiotics.

Incorporating Postbiotics Into Your Diet

It's easier than you might think to increase your levels of postbiotics. It starts by simply looking after the health of your gut microbiota. One way of achieving this is through regular exercise. Exercise helps improve the composition and balance of your gut microbiota. Another way to increase your levels of postbiotics is by controlling chronic stress, which can damage your gut microbiota. Another surprising way is to own a pet! That's right, studies show the bacteria you pick up from a dog or cat may also help. According to researchers, dogs can endow you with about four dozen potentially mood-boosting varieties of probiotic microbes and cats contribute about two dozen or so.

But the best way to achieve an increase in your postbiotic levels is through your diet. By consuming prebiotic and probiotic foods and supplements you can naturally increase postbiotic levels in your gut. Let's start with foods...

Postbiotic-Boosting Food Sources and Serving Suggestions

A good place to start setting the dietary stage for an increase in postbiotics in your diet is by eating more prebiotic foods. These include:

And fermented foods are another important dietary staple. These naturally contain probiotics and postbiotics or they have live cultures added to them, such as:

  • natural yogurt

  • kefir

  • kombucha

  • miso

  • tempeh

  • kimchi

  • sauerkraut

  • pickled vegetables

  • sourdough bread

  • some cheeses

Combining Postbiotics with Prebiotics and Probiotics

Remember, consuming prebiotics encourages the proliferation of beneficial intestinal bacteria, and feeds the probiotic bacteria which generate postbiotics through these metabolic activities. In other words, the ideal strategy is to incorporate both prebiotics and probiotics in your diet. One of the easiest ways to do this is through supplements.

Prebiotic, Probiotic and Postbiotic Supplements

Prebiotic and probiotic supplements are available in various forms, such as tablets, powder, capsules, and liquid. Currently, postbiotic supplements aren't widely available. However, by taking high-quality probiotic and prebiotic supplements, you can increase your levels of postbiotics naturally.

That's another reason why Green Valley Naturals offers ComfortPro: Premium Probiotic Formula to address all of your gut health needs. ComfortPro features a prebiotic along with seven strains of probiotics including BB-536, the ONLY probiotic clinically proven in six human studies to alleviate hard stools, constipation and bad bacteria overgrowth and the only probiotic strain with over 110 studies documenting its health benefits-- that makes BB-536 the most researched probiotic in the world and the #1 best-selling probiotic in Japan.

Safety Assessment and Guidelines

Postbiotics, prebiotics and probiotics in the diet are generally considered safe as they contain metabolites the body recognizes and interacts with every day. But supplements contain concentrated versions, and can cause minor side effects of bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, or nausea in some people. Usually these side effects resolve quickly with continued use.

Summary

Postbiotics are an emerging area of gut health with promising benefits to your whole body, from better digestion to a stronger immune system, easier breathing and a sharper memory. By incorporating postbiotics into your diet through the addition of fermented foods and prebiotic and probiotic supplements, you can unlock a comprehensive approach to gut health and overall well-being. As research continues and more is learned about how to best increase your levels of postbiotics, they will no doubt become a valuable tool in promoting good health and preventing disease.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are postbiotic supplements better than probiotics?

Postbiotics are believed to be just as important as probiotics in terms of human health benefits. At the time of this writing, postbiotic supplements aren't widely available. Increasing levels of postbiotics through diet and supplementation of prebiotic and probiotic formulas is essential.

Does yogurt have postbiotics?

Yes, yogurt with live cultures such as lactobacillus and bifidobacterium contains postbiotics like lactic acid which is why it is recommended by the California Dairy Research Foundation, among others.

What is the significance of postbiotics?

Postbiotics are the beneficial compounds created when probiotic bacteria break down prebiotic fiber. They aid digestion, reduce inflammation, bind to the gut to prevent pathogenic damage and inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria. Combined with a healthy lifestyle, exercise and stress management, postbiotics help to create an environment conducive to good health and fewer illnesses and chronic diseases.

What are some food sources of postbiotics?

Fermented foods such as yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, tempeh, pickled vegetables, and kombucha are excellent sources of postbiotics. Consuming prebiotic and probiotic foods, as well as foods rich in postbiotics is recommended for good health.

What potential health benefits are associated with postbiotics?

Postbiotics have been linked to various health benefits, such as supporting immunity, treating diarrhea, reducing the severity of allergies, and providing relief from irritable bowel diseases. They may also be capable of treating common infectious diseases.

Braido F et al. 2023 Prevention of recurrent respiratory tract infections: a literature review of the activity of the bacterial lysate Lantigen B Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/37667954/

Tan J et al. 2014. The role of short chain fatty acids in health and disease. Adv Immunol. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24388214/

Janeczek K et al. 2023 Effect of immunostimulation with bacterial lysate on the clinical course of allergic rhinitis and the level of γδT, iNKT and cytotoxic T cells in children sensitized to grass pollen allergens: A randomized controlled trial Frontiers in immunology https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/36733480/

De Marco, Stefania et al. Probiotic Cell-Free Supernatants Exhibited Anti-Inflammatory and Antioxidant Activity on Human Gut Epithelial Cells and Macrophages Stimulated with LPS. Evidence Based Complementary Alternative Medicine. 2018 Jul 4. doi: 10.1155/2018/1756308 https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2018/1756308/

Lewandowski K et al. 2022 The effectiveness of microencapsulated sodium butyrate at reducing symptoms in patients with irritable bowel syndrome Prz Gastroenterol https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35371361/

Ma L et al. 2023 Postbiotics in Human Health: A Narrative Review Nutrients https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9863882/

Thorakkattu P et al. 2022 Postbiotics: Current Trends in Food and Pharmaceutical Industry Foods https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9564201/

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