Do you suffer from stomach cramps, heartburn, diarrhea, or constipation?
Is listlessness, brain fog, bloating, or excess hunger a problem?
Are you struggling to shed excess weight, even though you train and follow a strict diet?
These are common signs of an unhealthy gastrointestinal tract, or “gut”.
Research has shown that 61% of Americans had experienced at least one gastrointestinal symptom in the previous week. Heartburn, pain, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation were common. Nausea, vomiting, trouble swallowing, or bowel incontinence also affect at least one in 20 people. Gut problems, then, are incredibly typical. Scary, right?
But, for many people, relief is possible. Restoring healthy gut function often revolves around the microbiota — the bugs that live in your gastrointestinal system. This is where prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotics come in.
What are prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics?
The gut is filled with trillions of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and helminths. Collectively they are known as the microbiome. When a microbial imbalance occurs — when too many “bad bugs” flourish — the health and function of the gut suffers. Symptoms like those above can occur.
However, restoring gut bug balance can reverse the problem. The study of the various “biotics” has revealed potential and solutions. Which begs the question… What are they?
What are prebiotics?
“Prebiotics are a group of nutrients that are degraded by the gut microbiome.” In short, prebiotics are the foods that feed the gut’s good microbes providing them with the sustenance required to flourish.
What are probiotics?
The World Health Organization has defined probiotics as “live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host”.
Whereas prebiotics are food, probiotics are the health-giving live bugs themselves. Probiotics are (usually) formed from the same type or types of good bugs as those already found in the gut, given in a sufficient dose to improve wellness.
What are postbiotics?
While you’ve likely heard of pre and probiotics, the term postbiotics is relatively new. So, let’s define it now…
An article published in the journal, Nutrients, stated that postbiotics “include all substances of bacterial or fungal origin that confer beneficial effect to the host and do not meet the definition of a probiotic and are not exclusively of a prebiotic nature.”
That’s a long winded way of saying that postbiotics are the “by-products” of the microbiome that aid health, not including pre or probiotics.
If you’re a science lover, an article in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences described the products that may act as postbiotics, including:
— extracellular polysaccharides (EPS)
— parts of the microbial cells (called microbial cell fractions)
— proteins that have effects of the body (called functional proteins)
— short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs)
— and more
What are the benefits of prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics?
The benefits of pre and probiotics have been established. While research into postbiotics, as a new entrant to the biotics field, is beginning to uncover exciting possibilities! Let’s take a look…
Benefits of prebiotics
Most people have heard about the benefits of a high fiber diet. But have you ever wondered why? One of the reasons is the prebiotic content in certain types of fiber.
Prebiotics have a range of health benefits, which may include:
— reduction of cholesterol levels (including total cholesterol, LDL (the “bad” cholesterol), and triglycerides)
— improvement in insulin resistance in women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
— moderation of blood sugar (glucose) level
— lowered body weight
Benefits of probiotics
Supplementing with targeted live microbes has been shown to have a wide range of positive outcomes, which may include:
— prevention of antibiotic-associated diarrhoea
— improvement of hayfever (allergic rhinitis) symptoms
— management of inflammation of the gums
— improvement in blood pressure
— effective treatment for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
— lowered fasting blood glucose
— improvement of liver function in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)
— reduction of body weight and body mass index (BMI)
Benefits of postbiotics
As we discussed, postbiotics are a new concept. Research is still in its infancy, but early studies point to important potential benefits, including:
— increased anti-inflammatory responses
— support of healthy immune regulation
— protection of the lining of the gut
— reduction in the episodes of diarrhea
— improved stool consistency and regularity
— reduced pain and bloating in IBS
Where can you find prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics?
That’s a great question!
Given the incredible benefits that are on offer, let’s take a look at their sources…
— Chicory root
— Cocoa (cocoa flavanols)
— Dandelion greens
— Jerusalem artichokes
— Pistachio nuts
— Red kidney beans
When you think about probiotics, think about fermented foods. Remember, probiotics are live bugs so food sources must be rich with a living thriving colony. Probiotic-rich foods include:
— Cottage cheese
Postbiotics are the bioactive compounds produced by probiotics. Prebiotics increase the production of healthy gut bugs, which in turn produces the health-giving postbiotic by-products. So, increasing your intake of prebiotics may boost your level of postbiotics.
Plus, probiotics add a hearty dose of the live bugs that produce postbiotics. So, supplementing with probiotics may also boost your postbiotics level.
You could also opt for a synbiotic — a supplement that contains both pre and probiotics…
Or, you could supplement with postbiotics directly. These can be found at certain health food stores and online.
The biotics takeaway
When you have enough good gut bugs, plus the foods that feed them, and the by-products they produce, you have the power to protect and enhance your gastrointestinal function. As your gut health improves, this has positive knock-on effects for the rest of your body.
Together, the biotics may boost your immunity, reduce high blood sugar and insulin levels, balance cholesterol, reduce inflammation, slim your waistline, and improve your quality of life…
That’s wonderful news for your digestive health and your general wellbeing. Remember, your gut is one of the most important organs in your body. Yes, it’s often overlooked. But a healthy digestive tract can supercharge your wellbeing!