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How Do Prebiotics and Postbiotics Make Probiotics More Beneficial to Us?

Beverley has a degree in Science. She's also a published author off- and online. Topics include health, food, inspiration, and religion.

Scientists have referred to our digestive system as a “second brain” because of its importance to our health and well-being. In fact, they believe that it is where our health “originates.” Trillions of diverse microorganisms, most of which are bacteria, call our gut home. Collectively they are termed microbiome or microbiota. For us, as human hosts, to enjoy optimal health, the microbiome must be kept in balance. That’s the job of prebiotics and postbiotics.

Gut Bacteria

Gut Bacteria

Defining Probiotics, Prebiotics and Postbiotics

Probiotics

Probiotics refer to the live, good or beneficial bacteria that exist naturally in our gut’s microbiome. They help break down certain parts of the foods we ingest via fermentation. This enables the tissues and cells in our bodies to get the nutrients they need to be healthy. Of the microorganisms, beneficial bacteria Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium make up the two most prominent types. The yeast Saccharomyces boulardii is also significant. The relationship between the microbiota and us is symbiotic. Our survival is intertwined.

Probiotics is also the term used to describe certain foods that promote good or beneficial gut bacteria.

Grapes on the vine

Grapes on the vine

Sweet potato

Sweet potato

Prebiotics

Prebiotics have received a lot of attention over the last decade. They are the soluble but non-digestible fibers or carbohydrate components of our food. These dietary fibers flow through the small intestine to the large intestine, where they are fermented. The fibers are primarily inulin, fructooligosaccharides, and galactooligosaccharides, according to a 2018 article published in “Current Developments in Nutrition” (see Sources: Dr. Axe).

Postbiotics

Postbiotics are defined as the refuse or byproducts of fermentation on certain dietary fibers in our large intestine by the naturally-occurring probiotics or beneficial bacteria in the microbiome. Researchers have only recently begun to investigate how they benefits us. Postbiotics are sometimes called inactivated probiotics, ghost probiotics, or paraprobiotics. Waste products derived from lysis of the probiotic bacteria are also considered postbiotics.

The Role of Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Postbiotics in Our Health

Probiotics

Probiotics combat what is termed bad or unfriendly bacteria and prevent them from wreaking havoc in our microbiome. If the bad bacteria out-populate the good, it will ultimately lead to serious health issues such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS, inflammation, and infection in the host. Probiotics establish and maintain an ecosystem that allows themselves to thrive. In doing so, the host’s organs and cells can digest nutrients, protect its immune system, produce hormones and neurotransmitters, and control cell lysis.

Prebiotics

Prebiotics’ role is to provide sustenance to our probiotics or beneficial gut bacteria, so they flourish. Our bodies reap the benefits as opportunities for disease are reduced. Without food, beneficial bacteria and other friendly gastrointestinal microorganisms will perish, allowing the bad bacteria to take over, and sacrifice gut biodiversity.

Postbiotics

Postbiotics also help create and regulate a favorable environment in our gastrointestinal system that leads to greater overall health. As mentioned, research on postbiotics are still in the early stages.

Yogurt

Yogurt

Probiotic cranberries

Probiotic cranberries

How Do Prebiotics Make Probiotics More Beneficial?

The probiotics, such as yogurt, which we consume, contain live bacteria that are subject to destruction by stomach acids, heat, light, humidity, and time. But scientists believe that the hearty prebiotic fibers can defy those elements and reach the natural probiotics, where they can be fermented to provide food and support the growth of these microorganisms. The process converts the tough fibers into short-chain fatty acids that are then gobbled up.

The nourishment enables the natural probiotics to:

(1) Decrease the growth of unfriendly bacteria.

(2) Become stronger and more effective in increasing the functionality of our immune and digestive systems, which in turn help to improve our brain health and bone density (they prevent osteoporosis due to loss of necessary minerals); control our bodyweight; lower dental caries, cholesterol levels, stress, the risk of allergies, skin issues, mood swings (maintains hormonal levels), and chronic ailments such as atherosclerosis, heart disease, diabetes, Crohn’s Disease, and even some cancers like colon.

(3) Promote the growth of friendly bacteria that has been lost through the use of antibiotics.

How Do Postbiotics Make Probiotics More Beneficial?

We learned that postbiotics are the waste material produced by natural probiotics. How can their refuse benefit their human host? It is organic and contains compounds such as enzymes, peptides, polysaccharides, and acids, which are used to “regulate the composition and growth of the microbiome,” according to the article “Interaction of probiotics and pathogens – benefits to human health?” (see Sources).

It does so by signal transduction: allowing certain cell molecules to communicate with the microbiome. This enables the beneficial gut microorganisms to stave off or treat inflammation, allergies and chronic diseases, including those mentioned under prebiotics. Research has not fully determined exactly how cell signaling works.

Three things to keep in mind: (1) Dietary probiotics are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). There are no restrictions on the strain-type of live bacteria, the purity of those strains, and the quantities used. Some people can be negatively affected. (2) Dietary probiotics must be refrigerated so that the live microorganisms they contain remain viable. With postbiotics, neither of those statements apply.

Mangos

Mangos

Apples

Apples

Garlic

Garlic

Radishes

Radishes

Foods Rich in Prebiotics

Non-digestible dietary fiber, which makes up prebiotics, is found in foods such as apple skins, grape pomace, bananas, mangos, asparagus, beans/legumes, radishes, sunchokes/ Jerusalem artichokes, leeks, onions, garlics, sweet potatoes, chicory root, burdock root, dandelion root, oatmeal, wheat bran, barley, other whole grains, nuts, and seeds. They supply fibers such as inulin, pectin, bran, fructans, and oligosaccharides. If these foods are fresh and organic, they’ll provide more benefits to the microbiome and to us as hosts. By the way, consuming processed and refined foods will have the adverse effect. They will annihilate all possible benefits.

Some foods contain both prebiotics and probiotics. Examples are kefir, certain kinds of yogurt, cheeses, and high-fiber bars and cereals.

There are also prebiotic supplements in the form of powders, liquids, and capsules. Choose these wisely to avoid GMOs, artificial food coloring, and other unhealthy additives. Again fresh, organic foods that contain natural dietary fiber are best for optimizing the fragile balance of our gut microbiota.

It's Alive with Brad, S1 E18: Brad Makes Kimchi

Kefir

Kefir

Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple Cider Vinegar

Beginners Guide To Fermentation. Kombucha Making

Can We Increase Postbiotics?

Increasing the intake of prebiotics and probiotics can boost postbiotic production. High prebiotic foods have already been listed. Good probiotics are fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, certain yogurts, olives, pickles, kombucha, apple cider vinegar; and kefir or buttermilk. Algae like spirulina and chlorella and mycelium/ mushrooms are also great postbiotics generators.

There are few postbiotic supplements commercially available. They include short-chained fatty acids such as the most-studied butyrate and propionate, as stated in the article “Therapeutic Use of Prebiotics, Probiotics, and Postbiotics to Prevent Necrotizing Enterocolitis: What is the Current Evidence?” (see Sources).

Side Effects of Prebiotics and Postbiotics

Consuming prebiotics can cause acid reflux, bloating, gas, constipation, or diarrhea, especially if you’re not used to using them. Also, all bacterial strains are not alike. Some may have adverse effects.

There are currently no reported side effects of supplemental postbiotics.

Conclusion

Most health professionals and researchers suggest that the synergistic relationship between prebiotics, probiotics, postbiotics provide the most overall health benefits. They also recommend consuming prebiotics and probiotics simultaneously. It is worth noting, that the rate at which positive changes in health occur once a pre/ postbiotic regimen is started, depends on the individual host. Benefits may appear days later for some and weeks or months later for others.

Your Gut Microbiome: How Well Do You Know It?

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. How many microorganisms live in our gut microbiome?
    • Trillions
    • One thousand
    • Billions
  2. What are prebiotics?
    • Good bacteria
    • Dietary fibers
    • Yogurt
  3. What are postbiotics?
    • Unfriendly bacteria
    • Microbiota
    • Probiotics refuse
  4. What are probiotics?
    • Natural gut microorganisms and foods with live bacteria
    • Natural gut microorganisms and prebiotics
    • Prebiotics and postbiotics
  5. Signal transduction is defined as
    • Cell lysis
    • Prebiotic fermentation
    • None of the above
  6. Foods rich in prebiotics
    • Broccoli, sweet potatoes, radishes, garlic, seeds, asparagus
    • Grape pomace, apple skins, mangos, nuts, oatmeal
    • All of the above

Answer Key

  1. Trillions
  2. Dietary fibers
  3. Probiotics refuse
  4. Natural gut microorganisms and foods with live bacteria
  5. None of the above
  6. All of the above

Sources

“Probiotics,” Cleveland Clinic, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/drugs/14598-probiotics

“Top 5 Probiotics of 2019,” Consumers Health Report, https://consumershealthreport.com/probiotic-supplements/bestprobiotics/

Lewis, Sarah, RD. “Probiotics and Prebiotics: What’s the Difference?” https://wwwhealthline.com/nutrition/probiotics-and-prebiotics, 6/3/17.


“Postbiotics: a new class of active molecules,” Postbiotica, https://postbiotica.com/postbiotics/

Salminen, Seppo; Nybom, Sonja; et al. “Interaction of probiotics and pathogens – benefits to human health?” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20413293, 2010.

Patel, Ravi Mangal, MD; Denning, Wei Patricia, MD. “Therapeutic Use of Prebiotics, Probiotics, and Postbiotics to Prevent Necrotizing Enterocolitis: What is the Current Evidence?” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3575601/, 2013.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2019 Beverley Byer