Just when we were all starting to feel like masters of our gut health, another participant has joined the mix. Probiotics? Familiar. Prebiotics? We’ll take those, too. They say good things come in three’s and that is true for gut things, as well. We introduce to you: postbiotics.
If you’re thinking to yourself, “Oh, another “biotic?” you’re not alone, gut health has its complexities that aren’t always easy to understand. So, when a new word or association comes our way, we naturally have a lot of questions. Is it safe? Is it necessary? What does it do? A gentle spoiler alert for your inner annoyed-civilian-who-ignores-marketing-calls, you cannot purchase postbiotics—currently, anyway.
First, let’s refresh on the mechanics of the digestive system.
Why Does My Gut Need Help?
We know that the digestive tract is extensive in its functions. Being that it is responsible for breaking down, absorbing, and processing nutrients—it affects each system in the body, respectively. Its impact is dependent on the functioning ability of the bacteria present within it. These bacteria make up the collective gut microbiome.
The gut microbiome does a lot for the body. It can be thought of as somewhat of a control center. The bacteria within contains a baseline of bacteria unique to its host. This bacteria begins its formation at birth and stabilizes in the early years. Stabilization occurs once the host assimilates with its surroundings, influencing how nutrients will be processed going forward. This then instructs the digestive system on how to process nutritional value. Once a baseline of bacteria cultivates, it then changes throughout life. It evolves based on the cues it receives.
The Cues Are on You
The range of these cues is where the waters get murky. While the physical contents of food that we put into our bodies have a significant influence, dietary signals are far from the end of it. Your gut takes commands from other aspects of the body, for example, mental health.
Conditions like stress and anxiety may promote the release of hormones that affect the function of the microbiome. These kinds of hormones may also create cravings for foods that are unusual or harmful for the gut, which may provide further cues.
How often do you consider how your microbiome will react to your physical actions and daily choices? It would be strange to consider how your microbiome would respond to say, a few potato chips, before eating them. It might be even stranger to consider how it would respond to how you’re feeling on any given day based on your environmental stressors.
Your Microbiome Controls It All
However, this is exactly what occurs. When you’re going through everyday life, making decisions that benefit you externally
, your internal being is processing the data at hand. The microbiome is an incredibly sophisticated system that is constantly updating. It is advanced in its ability to adapt, and what research shows is that its high adaptability can work for and against it.
It is from this research that the development of supplements has come in. With supplementation, we can carefully manipulate the colonies of bacteria in the gut, and therefore—influence all of its byproducts.
Understanding Probiotics and Prebiotics
Probiotics are a ways away from being a product someone whipped up and threw onto supplement shelves to sell. People have been consuming probiotics for decades. Exclusively, probiotics are live microorganisms that interact with the bacteria in your gut. They facilitate the production of new (updated, if you will) bacteria. Probiotics may be especially helpful if you’ve been giving your digestive system mixed or unhealthy cues.
Probiotics are present in foods that naturally contain them or fermented foods such as yogurt, kimchi, or kombucha. However, they are available as a food-grade supplement in powder, liquid, and capsule form. Their primary function is to be a game-changer. They switch up the controls, balance where needed, and make for an optimally functioning gut.
What about Prebiotics?
Prebiotics is food for probiotics. They are tiny, dietary fibers that consist of carbohydrates that the body cannot digest. So, they are a source of nutrients for probiotics as they pass through the digestive system. Bananas, artichokes, garlic, and onions are just a few foods that contain them. Just like probiotics, they may be purchased in supplement form.
It’s important to note that taking probiotics and prebiotics alone will not result in better gut health. Other changes, such as increasing water intake, reducing stress, and being conscious of dietary decisions overall, are necessary.
Where Postbiotics Come in
In reviewing the function of probiotics and prebiotics, they are very much related to each other in function. Prebiotics are an asset to probiotics. While the two work in tandem, postbiotics serve a different purpose. The “post” refers not to the fact that they are preceded by probiotics in ingestion but rather left behind.
Postbiotics are the metabolic byproduct of what remains from probiotics. In other words, they are the waste of probiotics in the body. The body does not discard this waste like other forms.
Research has found that these compounds are, in fact, incredibly useful, and may even be a part of what makes probiotics themselves so influential. Postbiotics contain soluble byproducts secreted by probiotics that contain beneficial enzymes, proteins, acids, and peptides.
Their molecules contain the following benefits:
- Fight inflammation.
- Regulate high blood pressure.
- Support healthy weight.
- Help prevent cancer growth.
- Promote Immune defense.
The waste of probiotics is only as good and useful as the probiotics ingested. So, it is possible supplementation with precision probiotics may make a difference.
There are currently no supplement versions or ways to ingest postbiotics on their own, as they are only present after being processed in the gut.