You Know About Probiotics, But What About Postbiotics?

Cassie Shortsleeve
by Cassie Shortsleeve
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You Know About Probiotics, But What About Postbiotics?

By now, you probably know probiotics and prebiotics lead to good gut health. And you also know gut health is an integral part of overall health — and a healthy microbiome can help support your weight-loss goals. Diet plays an important role in optimizing gut health, in particular, focusing on foods rich in probiotics (aka “good” gut bacteria) and prebiotics (the food probiotics eat). But there’s another ‘biotic’ on the block. If you haven’t heard about them yet, postbiotics are beginning to pop up in supplements and research studies alike.

Postbiotics are essentially non-living metabolites produced by microorganisms during the fermentation process, says Keri Gans, RD, author of “The Small Change Diet.” Before we dive into postbiotics, it’s important to fully understand prebiotics and probiotics. Prebiotics are foods that promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut, explains Gans. They’re the fuel for probiotics, which can be thought of as the workers in the gut — live microorganisms that have been linked with all kinds of health benefits from digestion and immunity to mood-boosting and mental health. So: Probiotics need prebiotics (their food source) to thrive. Postbiotics are the end result of all of the hard work done by the probiotics. “The postbiotics are the goods that are created,” Gans says.

THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF POSTBIOTICS

While further research is needed, “postbiotics may help you maintain a healthy immune system, support a healthy digestive system and help balance the microbiome in our gut,” says Gans.

The research, thus far, indicates postbiotics can improve overall health and relieve symptoms related to a whole range of diseases from atopic dermatitis to Irritable Bowel Disease. Other preliminary research in mice also shows certain postbiotics can help prevent Type 2 diabetes, possibly by helping insulin work more effectively. Postbiotics may also play a role in making certain active microorganisms more potent, contributing to better overall gut health.

What’s more, “postbiotics could also trigger your immune system, activating an anti-inflammatory response,” adds Dana Ellis Hunnes, MPH, RD, a dietitian at Ronald Reagan-UCLA Medical Center. “Some studies in patients with ulcerative colitis also seem to indicate fermented bacterias [like postbiotics] improved gastrointestinal functioning,” says Hunnes. “Anyone who has GI problems may benefit from postbiotics.”

Still, it’s worth noting benefits can vary from person to person, depending on the bacterial makeup in your gut. After all, not everyone’s gut makeup or genetics are the same, so it’s hard to say exactly how someone would benefit from postbiotics.

HOW TO GET POSTBIOTICS

Basically, if you’re eating prebiotic-rich foods that probiotics feed on, you’ll end up with postbiotics. In other words, try prebiotic-rich foods such as jicama, unripe bananas, apples, legumes, whole wheat, oats, barley, cocoa and flaxseeds, as well as certain starchy foods that have been cooked and cooled, such as potatoes (which contain gut-friendly resistant starch). Other great sources of probiotics are Greek yogurt, kefir and fermented foods like sauerkraut, miso, tofu and kimchi, says Gans.

If you don’t love these foods, or have a hard time fitting them into your diet, speak with a registered dietitian or your doctor about a supplement. Some brands, such as Gut Connection by Country Life and Healthy Origins actually include a postbiotic called EpiCor, made from fermenting plant-based materials.

THE BOTTOM LINE

“It’s clear postbiotics are an important part of the gut health equation, playing a role in maintaining your health and supporting immune function. But it’s hard to say exactly how effective they are since there’s still plenty of research to be done,” says Hunnes.

For now, your best bet to keep your gut health primed is to make sure you’re filling up on pre- and probiotics and focus on maintaining a healthy, diverse diet (Read: different kinds of healthy fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, fermented foods and lean proteins).

Discover hundreds of healthy gut-friendly recipes via “Recipe Discovery” in the MyFitnessPal app.

About the Author

Cassie Shortsleeve
Cassie Shortsleeve

Cassie Shortsleeve is a Boston-based freelance writer and editor. She has worked on staff at both Shape and Men’s Health and contributes regularly to a slew of national print and digital publications such as Women’s Health, Condé Nast Traveler, and Furthermore for Equinox. With a degree in English and creative writing from the College of the Holy Cross, she has a passion for reporting on all things health, lifestyle, and travel.

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