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Trio for Gut Health: Pre-, Pro- and Post- biotics

Updated: Feb 2


prebiotics probiotics postbiotics gut health microbiome butyrate fiber

Prebiotics, Probiotics, and Postbiotics - that’s a lot of biotics. And we’re not even going into synbiotics and psychobiotics! 

The first thing to know about these three main biotics is that they work in a continuum: prebiotics feed probiotics, which create postbiotics. And only one of these, probiotics, are actual living organisms. The prebiotics and postbiotics are the nutrient imports and exports that feed and are produced by probiotics.


What Are Prebiotics? 

Prebiotics are the fuel for the probiotics and mostly take the form of certain whole foods we eat, but we can also synthesize certain prebiotic compounds and add them to supplements or processed foods. The whole food sources are usually plant foods and are high in fiber, which probiotics love to feast on. 


What Is a Probiotic? 

The word “probiotic” comes from Greek, meaning literally “for life.” That alone gives you an idea of how important probiotics are for our health. In expanded terms, a probiotic is a beneficial microscopic organism, usually bacteria but also some species of fungi, that live within or on our bodies and confer a health benefit to us, its host. Basically, we give the probiotics a place to live, and they give us nutrients and maintain their environment, whether that’s our skin, gut, sinuses, etc. It’s a win-win for both of us. 


What Are Postbiotics? 

Postbiotics are what probiotics produce when they consume prebiotics. While research is still developing around this brand-new subject, postbiotics are generally classified as beneficial substances to both the host and the microbes that produce them. So we definitely want to keep postbiotics around and encourage our probiotics to make more of them. So far, the most popular postbiotic for its health-promoting effects is butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) that has been shown to have anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory, and protective effects on the gut lining.


Why You Need Pre, Pro, and Postbiotics for Better Health


Okay, now that we have the basics down, let’s review why you actually need prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotics for outstanding health — and how you can get them. 


Examples of Prebiotics


As I mentioned above, prebiotics are mostly plant foods high in Fiber - a complex carbohydrate. Fiber is not usually classified as a macronutrient in the traditional sense because our bodies don’t actually digest fiber on our own, but the probiotics can. So when you hear that you need to get more fiber into your diet, that’s why. You feed your probiotics fiber, and they give you postbiotics that benefit your health. Let’s take a look at a few prebiotic foods you can incorporate into your diet regularly.  


Delicious and nutritious prebiotic foods include: Apples, Almonds, Artichoke, Barley, Beets, Beans, Broccoli, Chicory root, Dandelion greens, Garlic, Mushrooms, Oats, Onions, Whole grains.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but you get the idea. 


In fact, no one in America is getting adequate fiber. The average woman is getting 15 grams a day, and should be getting at least 25 grams.  The average man is getting around 18 grams a day and needs at least 38 grams. This is a MASSIVE deficiency! Most likely, in order to get a sufficient dose of fiber in your diet, you need to supplement with fiber.


Avini's Plus Fiber is a natural, whole-food fiber drink mix accompanied with micronized and activated zeolite. Plus Fiber is scientifically formulated to help maintain healthy cholesterol, blood sugar levels, and support digestive gut health. Plus Fiber delivers a superior matrix of ingredients and fibers. The result is a delicious, easy-to-use drink mix that delivers 10 grams of dietary fiber (6 grams soluble, 4 grams insoluble) per daily dose.


Types of Probiotics


Types of probiotics commonly include bifidobacteria and lactobacillus, and less commonly lactococcus, streptococcus, and enterococcus. Saccharomyces is beneficial yeast strain that is also commonly found in probiotic supplements. 


Common strains you’ll see in probiotic supplements and probiotic-enriched foods include: L. acidophilus, L. casei, L. gasseri, L. plantarum, L. reuteri , L. rhamnosus, B. bifidum, B. breve, B. infantis, B. longum, Lactococcus lactis, Streptococcus thermophilus, Saccharomyces cerevisiae (boulardii).


Soil-based probiotics 


Soil-based probiotics have been touted as superior to other probiotics due to their survivability through the stomach and small intestine as well as their sourcing from nutrient-rich soil, where we naturally should be getting our probiotics on the food we consume.


Soil-based probiotics form spores, which are able to resist the harsh acidic environment of your stomach and make it all the way to your colon, where they can actually go to work making those beneficial postbiotics for you.


There’s no definitive answer on whether soil-based probiotics are better or worse for you; the response is individual. One person may respond well to a soil-based probiotic, while another may have GI-related side effects like bloating. 


If you are immunocompromised or already dealing with significant health issues, you may be better off focusing on eating the prebiotic foods that work for you to increase the probiotics in your gut. [4]


Probiotic foods

Then there are certain foods we can eat that already contain the beneficial probiotics we need. These are called fermented foods and may include:  Yogurt, Kefir, Kimchi, Sourdough, Sauerkraut, Kombucha, Raw cheese, Miso, Tempeh.


Should You Take a Probiotic Supplement for Gut Health? 

My answer: Probiotic supplements are often more trouble than they’re worth.

 

Most probiotics operate under one of two models:

  1. The “throw every strain at the gut and see what sticks” model (multi-species probiotic)

  2. Or “use this very targeted strain and hope it’s what your individual gut ecosystem needs” model (single species probiotic)


This often leads to a lot of trial and error with different probiotics, and you might end up worse off (more dysbiosis) than where you started [5]. 


Probiotics work best when you know exactly which species/strains your microbiome needs — which is still pretty hard to test for and inaccessible for most people. Even if a certain strain or even multiple strains have good research backing them, it’s hard to know whether the intended effects will apply to YOU and your microbiome [6]. 


Instead of appointing yourself the probiotic supplement tester, I suggest finding a few probiotic foods that taste and feel good to you and incorporating them regularly. Only use probiotic supplements when medically necessary, such as during/after a course of antibiotics. 

To encourage a long-term positive shift in the gut ecosystem (which is more than just your microbiome), you want to prioritize prebiotics and postbiotics to nurture the commensal bacteria in your gut.


Types of Postbiotics


Now for the new kid on the block: postbiotics. There are a number of types of postbiotics, including exopolysaccharides (EPS), enzymes, short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), vitamins, aromatic amino acids, and more. Since the research is still relatively new (and complex), I mostly focus on the category of SCFAs. 


Health benefits of postbiotics


Short-chain fatty acids, including acetate, propionate, and butyrate, are postbiotics with incredible health benefits. In general, SCFAs have anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-tumor effects. They modulate cellular activity and the immune response. They help control glucose stability, appetite, and cardiovascular effects. 


While acetate is the most abundant SCFA in the human body, butyrate has been studied the most due to its presence in the gut as the primary fuel source for the colonocytes, cells in the lining of the colon. Butyrate has been found to enhance intestinal barrier structure and function as well as mucosal immunity, which is great news for anyone with a leaky gut. [7]


Postbiotic foods


Just like prebiotics and probiotics, you can get some postbiotics from the foods you eat. There aren’t a lot of foods that contain postbiotics (SCFAs) themselves, but there are many foods that provide the fuel for probiotics to produce postbiotics, especially SCFAs. 


Some postbiotic foods are: Cooked, cooled oats, Cooked, cooled rice, Cooked, cooled potatoes, Legumes, Bananas, especially underripe ones, Onions, Asparagus.


The grains, potatoes, and legumes contain resistant starch, which ferments in the colon and produces SCFAs. The bananas, onions, and asparagus contain fructo-oligosaccharides, which also fuel butyrate production. [8]


Postbiotics supplements


Finally, you can get postbiotics from high-quality supplements. So far the postbiotic market is focused on butyrate for its gut-protective effects, which we could all use in our high-stress, toxic world. 


Still, this category of supplements is relatively new, and there are many unreliable products out there. BodyBio has been making BodyBio Butyrate for 25 years. You can get  Calcium/Magnesium Butyrate by BodyBio at a 15% discount, use promo code SMILA at the checkout.


Are Postbiotics the New Probiotics? 


For now, postbiotics are relatively undefined and a bit of a dark horse in the health and wellness and supplement world. As a product of probiotics, the question naturally arises: should you skip probiotics altogether and go straight for the postbiotics? 


The answer, as you might expect, is not cut and dry. If you are using a probiotic supplement or regularly incorporating probiotic foods and find that it is helping you, by all means continue. But if you are one of the many that have not found relief from digestive issues using probiotics, postbiotics may be a better option. 


Since everyone’s microbiome is unique, probiotics can sometimes make digestion worse by adding the wrong kind of probiotic bacteria to an already imbalanced microbiome. But everyone needs postbiotics, especially SCFAs like butyrate, for gut health. So, for most people, postbiotic supplementation or increasing pre - pro- and postbiotic-rich foods may be more beneficial and natural approach.



Sending Optimal Health & Ultimate Wellness,

Julia Smila, FDN Practitioner & Pranic Healer

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