Our health is critically dependent on the health of our gut. A great deal of research has focused on how to improve the health of our gut, specifically, the gut microbiome. While practitioners have focused on prebiotics and probiotics for many years, a newer interest in gut support has emerged. Postbiotics are showing growing promise as a newer way of improving gut health.
While most people are familiar with prebiotics and probiotics, let’s do a brief review before we head into the discussion of postbiotics. Prebiotics are non-digestible foods that feed our existing gut microbes. Probiotics are strains of microbes that are naturally found in the gut microbiota that when taken, are intended to have beneficial effects on the person’s gut if taken in adequate quantities. While both can be obtained from diet, they are also available as separate supplements as well as combined into a form called a synbiotic.
There have been numerous studies on the benefits of probiotics in managing disease and healing the gut. However, there has been some concern about the consumption of probiotics and the development of antibiotic resistance.1,2 This addition of probiotic microbe strains to the gut is not without some risk, especially to those who may have immune system issues, and is dependent on many factors including processing, numbers, survivability, and ability to establish in the gut. Some newer thinking suggests that the addition of postbiotics can be a safer and easier alternative.
So, what are postbiotics? Postbiotics are by-products of the interaction between prebiotics and probiotics in the intestine and are essentially waste products of probiotics. Postbiotics are a complex mixture of healthful metabolic products or secreted components of probiotics and include a variety of different substances such as amino acids, proteins/peptides, vitamins, organic acids or short-chain fatty acids (SCFA’s), neurotransmitters, and bacteriocins.
SCFAs are produced by the fermentation of non-starch polysaccharides from dietary fiber and resistant starch within the intestine. Butyric acid, or butyrate, is considered an SCFA. These help the healthy bacteria in our microbiome flourish. Other examples of postbiotics include nutrients such as vitamins B and K, amino acids, and antimicrobial peptides which are part of our immune defense system and help kill foreign bacteria.
Postbiotics are generated by the gut microbiota and may have a number of positive effects on body tissues and organs. Various benefits of postbiotics may include anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-hypertensive, and anti-cholesterol effects, among others. 3,4 What’s important, is to have an adequate composition of microbiota in your gut to support gut health. The outcome of a healthy microbiome is the production of postbiotics that support health.
Due to their ability to be absorbed and metabolized by the body, and their stability, postbiotics may potentially be a better and safer alternative to probiotics to be incorporated within a number of food products.5–7 In addition, compared to live bacteria from probiotics, postbiotics have no risk of bacterial contamination of the blood, do not promote antibiotic resistance, and are more natural to extract, standardize, transport, and store, among other advantages.8
While postbiotics may achieve the same health benefits as prebiotics, it is important to consider that this could avoid the issues that may present with probiotics. However, as this is a newer area of research, despite their relative advantages to probiotics, their safety, and their stability, more research is needed to understand how they work and to be able to optimize their effectiveness. 9
Postbiotics can be naturally found in fermented foods. You can naturally increase your postbiotics by consuming foods that contain butyrate, which is an example of a postbiotic. Butter and ghee are good sources of butyrate. As postbiotics are an outcome of a healthy gut microbiome, consuming a diet adequate in prebiotics and probiotics is important. However, dietary intake and any supplementation should consider whether you have underlying immune conditions or Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO). Refer to your healthcare provider for guidance.
At this time, foods and supplements are not being mass-produced with postbiotics, although it is thought that producing foods fortified with naturally-derived postbiotics in the future may be more effective than with man-made manufactured vitamins and other substances. As more studies identify the advantages of postbiotics, we may be seeing the introduction of these into prepared foods and more supplements.
In summary, a healthy gut requires a healthy microbiome with prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotics to support the gut and overall health. The newer study of postbiotics and their impacts on health may open up a better way to enhance our health and food supply.
1. Daniali M, Nikfar S, Abdollahi M. Antibiotic resistance propagation through probiotics. Expert Opin Drug Metab Toxicol. 2020;16(12). doi:10.1080/17425255.2020.1825682
2. Montassier E, Valdés-Mas R, Batard E, et al. Probiotics impact the antibiotic resistance gene reservoir along the human GI tract in a person-specific and antibiotic-dependent manner. Nat Microbiol. 2021;6(8). doi:10.1038/s41564-021-00920-0
3. Nataraj BH, Ali SA, Behare P v., Yadav H. Postbiotics-parabiotics: The new horizons in microbial biotherapy and functional foods. Microb Cell Fact. 2020;19(1). doi:10.1186/s12934-020-01426-w
4. Scarpellini E, Rinninella E, Basilico M, et al. From pre-and probiotics to post-biotics: A narrative review. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022;19(1). doi:10.3390/ijerph19010037
5. Malashree L, Angadi V, Yadav KS, Prabha R. “Postbiotics” – One Step Ahead of Probiotics. Int J Curr Microbiol Appl Sci. 2019;8(01). doi:10.20546/ijcmas.2019.801.214
6. Hernández-Granados MJ, Franco-Robles E. Postbiotics in human health: Possible new functional ingredients? Food Research International. 2020;137. doi:10.1016/j.foodres.2020.109660
7. Rad AH, Maleki LA, Kafil HS, Zavoshti HF, Abbasi A. Postbiotics as novel health-promoting ingredients in functional foods. Health Promot Perspect. 2020;10(1). doi:10.15171/hpp.2020.02
8. Piqué N, Berlanga M, Miñana-Galbis D. Health benefits of heat-killed (Tyndallized) probiotics: An overview. Int J Mol Sci. 2019;20(10). doi:10.3390/ijms20102534
9. Karbowiak M, Zielińska D. Postbiotics – properties, application and impact on human health. Zywnosc Nauka Technologia Jakosc/Food Science Technology Quality. 2020;27(2). doi:10.15193/zntj/2020/123/332
I am a Master’s prepared RN, National Board-Certified Health & Wellness Coach, Board-Certified Functional Wellness Coach, and Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner. I help people fix their chronic inflammation & pain with in-home lab testing, client assessments, personalized natural healing protocols, and online coaching to help them move from pain to peace so that they feel better, move better, and live better.