Did you know that your gut health affects your entire body, not just your digestion?
Sure, digestion is a big part of it. After all, your body cannot just use food in the form that exists on your plate. Starting with chewing, through to the digestion process, your body needs to break your food down into tiny molecules of nutrients your blood can absorb and carry across your body. Proper digestion is also critical for eliminating waste and toxins through urine and bowel movements.
A healthy good and good digestion are essential for your immune system, energy levels, brain and neurological health, mental health, skin health, and overall well-being. Poor gut health can make you more vulnerable to infections, cause fatigue and sleep issues, impact your brain and mental health, and increase the risk of chronic symptoms and disease.
Prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotics all play a role in a healthy gut, thus affecting your entire body. But what are prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotics?
Probiotics are well-known in mainstream circles. There are commercials for probiotic-rich yogurts, drinks, and supplements all over TV and the internet. There is increased attention on prebiotics as well. Postbiotics, however, are still relatively unknown.
In this article, I want to uncover the secret behind prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotics. You will learn what they are, how they work together, and how to support your body with them. Let’s get into it.
What Are Prebiotics
Prebiotics are a form of non-digestible dietary fiber. They are found in plant-based foods. Your body cannot break these prebiotic fibers down. This means that they will pass through your intestinal tract to your colon in an undigested form. In your colon, they will get fermented by your gut microbiome. Here, prebiotics will feed the good bacteria (probiotics) supporting your gut flora and digestive system health (1, 2).
Benefits of Prebiotics
Benefits of prebiotics may include:
- Feeding beneficial gut bacteria (3)
- Improving intestinal motility (4)
- Reducing the risk of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs) and colon cancer (4)
- Supporting normal blood sugar levels (5)
- Maintaining a healthy weight or supporting weight loss (6)
- Supporting your immune health (4)
- Decreasing blood lipids (7)
While prebiotics are beneficial for most people’s gut health, they are not right for everyone. Some people may find too many prebiotics irritating. If you are currently on a low-FODMAP diet, prebiotic-rich foods are also not right for you. This is usually temporary, though. Once you heal your gut through a low-FODMAP diet and supplementation, you will be able to eat prebiotic fiber-rich foods again.
Prebiotic-rich foods include:
- Jerusalem artichokes
- Jicama root
- Chicory root
- Konjac root
- Burdock root
- Yacon root
- Dandelion greens
- Kidney beans
What Are Probiotics
Your gut is home to trillions of bacteria. Some of these bacteria are beneficial to your health. Other microorganisms are harmful. Your body needs a healthy balance between beneficial and harmful bacteria, with more friendly bacteria than bad ones. Probiotics are live microorganisms that support your health. They are the beneficial bacteria found in your gut that are known for countless health benefits (1, 8).
Benefits of Probiotics
Probiotics have many health benefits, including:
- Improved digestion (9)
- Reduced risk of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), IBDs, leaky gut, and colon cancer (9)
- Better immune function (10)
- Reduced inflammation (11)
- Improved mood and mental health (12)
- Improved cognition, memory, and brain health (13)
- Healthier skin (14)
- Reduced risk of chronic disease (8)
Probiotic Foods and Supplements
Probiotics may come from both food and supplement. Most people can benefit from using both.
Probiotic-rich foods and drinks include:
- Miso soup
- Fermented vegetables and herbs
Most people can benefit from eating probiotic-rich fermented foods on a daily basis. However, they are not for everyone. If you have histamine intolerance, fermented foods may not be right for you. They are high in histamine and can be triggering. You should avoid them during your elimination phase until you reduce your histamine bucket.
Probiotic supplements are not made equal either. Different probiotic supplements have different strains and amounts of bacteria, different doses, and different forms. You want to make sure that your probiotic supplement has a variety of probiotic strains and has billions of colony forming units (CFU), ideally 30 to 50 billion.
If you have histamine intolerance, you want to avoid Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus Bulgaricus, Streptococcus thermophilus, Lactobacillus delbrueckii, and Lactobacillus helveticus. Look for probiotics specifically designed for people with histamine intolerance.
If you have small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), choose soil-based probiotics. Certain bacteria in some probiotics can be triggering if you have SIBO. We generally don’t find this with soil-based probiotics. In fact, research has shown that soil-based spore-forming probiotics may act as antibiotics and reduce inflammation in SIBO and intestinal diseases (15, 16).
Selecting the right probiotic supplement is important. You may try several brands and see how your body reacts. Try it for 7 days and see if you feel better. I sometimes recommend that you rotate your probiotic supplements regularly, every 2 to 3 months, to introduce your gut to different bacteria.
Prebiotics and probiotics are better known in the mainstream. We rarely talk about postbiotics. Yet, they are incredibly important for your health. Postbiotics are the byproducts of the fermentation process of probiotics.
Prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotics work together. They are essential parts of the same three-step process. Prebiotics feed probiotics and probiotics produce postbiotics. A 2020 study published in Nutrients has found that postbiotics can improve your gut health and other areas of your health (17).
Benefits of Postbiotics
Benefits of postbiotics may include:
- Improved microbiota health (18)
- Improved intestinal lining (19)
- Reduced risk of infections (20)
- Lower inflammation (21)
- Reduced oxidative stress (22)
- Decreased risk of food allergies and intolerances (23)
- Improved blood pressure (24)
- Improved metabolic health and reduced risk of diabetes (25)
- Reduced risk of obesity (26)
Types of Postbiotics
There are different types of postbiotics, including:
- Short-chain fatty acids
- Cell wall fragments
- Cell-free supernatants made by bacteria and yeast
- Bacterial lysates
- Vitamins, amino acids, and other metabolites
Postbiotic Foods and Supplements
Postbiotic-rich foods include:
- Apple cider vinegar
- Coconut water
- Fermented herbs and vegetables, including fermented hot pepper, chives, fennel, parsley, cilantro, thyme, basil, dill, or garlic scapes
Beyond food, another great way to benefit from postbiotics is supplementation. Bioactive carbons, including fulvic acid and humic acid, are both postbiotic metabolites. They are made when microbes decompose old plant matter and make soil rich in nutrients. According to a 2018 study published in the Journal of Diabetes Research, bioactive carbons may reduce the risk of inflammatory diseases and diabetes (27).
Himalayan shilajit is another great postbiotic supplement. It is a natural compound found in the Himalayan region created by the gradual decomposition of various plants. It offers various health benefits. According to a 2012 study published in the International Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, Himalayan shilajit may support brain health and cognition (28). According to a 2012 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, it may be beneficial for mitochondrial health and those with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) (29).
Butyric acid is a fatty acid that’s also a great postbiotic option. When the good probiotic bacteria break down prebiotic fiber in your gut, they create butyric acid. Though in smaller amounts than in your gut, butyric acid is also found in vegetable oils and animal fats, such as butter and ghee. According to a 2005 study published in the Alimentary in Pharmacology & Therapeutics and a 2018 review published in Current Pharmaceutical Design, butyric acid is a postbiotic that may be beneficial for inflammatory bowel diseases (30. 31). Butyrate provides fuel for healing the gut lining; supports mitochondrial function; and can suppress mast cell activation and histamine levels (32).
I recommend using prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotics to improve your gut and overall health and wellness. If you are experiencing gut health issues or other chronic health problems, I welcome you to start a functional medicine consultation with me for further personalized guidance to improve your health. You may book your consultation here.