When it comes to keeping your gut healthy and immunity strong, consuming fermented foods and probiotic supplements is essential. Probiotic foods and supplements fortify the ‘good’ bacteria that live in the gut – the all-important microbiome – which in turn protects the gut wall, regulates inflammation, and assists with hormone and neurotransmitter production.
Also essential to gut health are the somewhat less celebrated prebiotics, those fibrous foods that provide fuel for our gut bacteria via a fermentation process that keeps the microbiome in balance, the ‘good’ guys flourishing at the expense of the ‘bad.’ The ‘pre’s’ and the ‘pros’ come together symbiotically to help give you the microbiome – those trillions of bacteria that mostly live in the colon – that you deserve.
But all this action in the gut doesn’t stop at ‘pre’ and ‘pro.’ There’s another ingredient in the mix (besides some unfriendly bacteria and other micro-pathogens) and that would be postbiotics, the recently discovered but still unsung heroes of the bacterial world that contribute to keeping your gut, and the rest of you, performing optimally.
Here’s a topline on this under-the-radar (but not for long) member of the biotic tribe – and some tips on how to tap into the health-supportive power of postbiotics:
Meet your postbiotics.
Postbiotics are byproducts, lowly compounds released by bacteria as they go about their business of fermenting fiber in your gut. Until recently, postbiotics were thought of mostly as do-nothing waste products, the space junk of your microbiome universe. Within the past few years, however, researchers have found that these postbiotic compounds (think enzymes, amino acids, vitamins, short-chain fatty acids, etc.) are performing crucial tasks like supporting friendly bacterial growth, building up the protective lining of the gut and taming inflammation. All this makes postbiotics the bacterial health equivalent of ‘one man’s trash is another’s treasure.’
Postbiotics support health from head to toe.
Among the inflammatory conditions which appear to benefit from the therapeutic effect of postbiotics are:
- Gut problems – i.e., irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ‘leaky’ gut; bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
- Skin conditions – like eczema, acne, dermatitis
- Metabolic issues— such as obesity, prediabetes and diabetes
How, exactly, individual postbiotic compounds work is still being researched, but the take-home is becoming clear. When you keep pre, pro and postbiotic levels high with a healthy, whole foods diet, you positively impact virtually every system in the body and can tame or even reverse a range of chronic conditions. Postbiotic benefits include:
- Supporting and promoting the growth of friendly bacteria and, in some instances, mimicking the action of probiotics, providing additional gut health support
- Providing protection from pathogens, inhibiting their growth and reducing their population
- Reducing inflammation and offering a potentially safer, gentler alternative to treating acute inflammatory GI issues
- Reducing blood sugar levels by reducing liver insulin resistance and possibly encouraging insulin sensitivity in the obese and diabetic.
Belly up to the pre, pro and postbiotic bar.
In order to boost production of these valuable bacterial byproducts, aka the postbiotics, you’ll need to boost your intake of pre and probiotics – and here are a few pointers on how to do it:
- To get your prebiotics, make sure your diet includes plenty of fiber-rich plants like asparagus, onions, leeks, garlic, dandelion root, apples, Jerusalem artichokes and so on.
- To get your ‘pros,’ be sure your plate includes a daily dose of probiotic-rich fermented foods like coconut milk yogurt, kim chi, olives, sauerkraut, fermented pickles, and fermented non-GMO, organic soy products like natto and tempeh. And you can ‘seed’ your gut with additional ‘good’ bacteria by taking a high-quality probiotic supplement.
- To get your ‘posts’, relax, if you pay attention to your pre and probiotics, the postbiotics will follow naturally – but you can boost production by adding some apple cider vinegar, coconut vinegar, moderate amounts of butter and cheese from grass-fed, organic sources, and the nutrient-dense algae super foods spirulina and chlorella to your daily mix. Postbiotics can also be found in pill form but, as their efficacy has not been well studied yet, I recommend sticking to edible, food-based sources for the time being.
These treatments work best when combined with lifestyle changes, especially eating a healthy diet, reducing intake of toxins or unnecessary medications, and controlling stress.
Remember that when it comes to supporting your microbiome and maintaining a healthy gut, keep your eye on the big picture. Eat a nutrient-dense diet, limit or avoid processed foods, and consider other lifestyle changes that you can afford to make in order to better your health.
Final Thoughts on Postbiotics
- Postbiotics are byproducts of probiotic bacterial fermentation. The microbiota naturally releases postbiotics, which in turn helps regulate the composition of the microbiome.
- Benefits of postbiotics include reducing inflammation, modulating the immune system, killing pathogens, regulating hormone and insulin levels, and possibly anti-obesogenic, antihypertensive, and antioxidant activities.
- These properties suggest that postbiotics may contribute, to the improvement of host health by improving specific physiological functions, even though the exact mechanisms have not been entirely elucidated.