The human microbiome is home to more than 1,000 species of good bacteria, yeast, fungi, and other microorganisms, and balance within our microbiome is essential to our health. These microbes influence our metabolism, immunity, inflammation, digestion, and absorption of nutrients. Things like infections, toxins, stress, emotions, and diets can influence the balance of the microbiome, and the balance of our microbiome can make the difference between health and disease. To maintain optimal colonization in the digestive tract, your gut needs prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotics. Let’s take a deeper look at the spectrum from prebiotic to probiotic to postbiotic to learn what they do.
Prebiotics are nutrients from plant-based, fiber-rich foods, which act as food for the probiotics and gut microflora. Some examples of prebiotic foods include: Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, onions, leeks, barley, beans, pickles, chicory, garlic, bananas, milk and yogurt, legumes, rye, seaweeds, soybean, tomatoes, complex carbs like resistant starch, and whole grains like wheat and oats. Although prebiotics can be taken as supplements and included in probiotic formulas, they are abundant in a diet rich in soluble fibers. Getting them in your diet is the best method of establishing your gut health and supporting good gut bacteria.*
Probiotics are live microorganisms that supplement our digestive tract with microbes in a healthy microbiome. Probiotics may be found in specific dietary supplements and fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, tempeh, kefir, and kombucha. Many of the microorganisms in probiotic products are the same or similar to the microorganisms that are in our bodies. They help digestion, absorption, detoxification, the creation of vitamins, and immune health. Probiotic supplements and foods contain a variety of microorganisms, and each probiotic capsule may have a different effect on the body. To be effective in benefitting the immune system and digestive tract, they must be taken or eaten regularly. There are specialized probiotic supplements for specific strains to help a specific function.*
Postbiotics result from probiotic activity in the gut, like fermentation. As intestinal microbes consume prebiotic fiber, the result of that fermentation or consumption is what is known as postbiotics. Recent research presents evidence that most of the positive effects we used to attribute to probiotics are actually due to postbiotics. They may also provide the bases for the proper processing of prebiotics, promoting a healthy prebiotic population. Potential benefits of postbiotics include lowering blood sugar, preventing obesity, treating diarrhea, supporting the immune system, and reducing inflammation.*
To put it simply, prebiotics are like the “food,” probiotics are the microorganisms themselves, and postbiotics are the results of probiotics consuming that “food.” Postbiotics, while being a sort of probiotic waste, are what may be exerting many of the health effects on humans. This helps us understand the symbiotic relationship between gut microorganisms and humans on an even deeper level.
A balanced and healthy gut microbiome is essential for optimal immune function and digestion, and both the intestinal microbial community as well as their metabolites impact our entire system. Supporting gut microbiota through a diverse, plant-based diet of fibers, leafy green vegetables, and prebiotic foods may ensure an abundance of not only beneficial bacteria, but also those fermentation by-products, or postbiotics, that demonstrate nutritional, metabolic, and immune health benefits.