Prebiotics, Probiotics, Postbiotics, and Gut Health
You may have heard the word probiotics before, and something about their role in promoting health. Many people around the world are turning to probiotics to prevent or treat a variety of digestive maladies. Many products on grocery shelves are now loudly advertising the presence of probiotics in their formula, and in the pharmacy there’s all sorts of pills and supplements touting their probiotics and benefits. It is estimated that product development and sales will reach $50 billion within the next five years.
But while it’s all but certain you’ve heard of probiotics, and certainly companies are eager to sell them to us, it’s far less likely that you know what probiotics really are, or how they can help improve and maintain health. And it’s even far less likely you’ve heard of, let alone know exactly what, prebiotics and postbiotics are.
We all have heard the familiar saying “You are what you eat.” And what we are is trillions of microscopic organisms that have established residence in our digestive system, commonly referred to as our “gut”. These organisms are mostly bacteria, and they make up a micro-ecosystem called the microbiome, or gut biome. This biome plays an extremely important role in our health.
When you consider what makes up our gut, it’s easy to understand why a good gut is crucial to have good health. The gut is made up of the gastrointestinal system, also known as the gastrointestinal tract, digestive system, or digestive tract. It includes the mouth, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, small and large intestines, colon, and rectum. The gut serves many essential roles in sustaining and protecting the overall health and wellness of the body, and it starts with the intake and absorption of nutrients and water.
When the gut microbiome is stable, it protects us against invading harmful microorganisms, and helps regulate our immune systems. When the gut biome is disrupted by things like any changes in diet, a prescription of antibiotics, or infection, a slew of inflammatory, pathogenic, and metabolic conditions, such as inflammatory bowel diseases or colorectal cancer can result. Dysbiosis, which is when there are too few beneficial bacteria and too many bad bacteria, is found in various chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease.
The theory is that using prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotics can keep your gut biome healthy. But what are they, and what do they do to help keep your gut healthy?
Probiotic foods contain live organisms, such as bacteria and yeasts that are intended to have health benefits. Helpful bacteria do things like help to digest food, destroy disease-causing cells, or produce vitamins.
Prebiotics are essentially the food that probiotics consume. Prebiotics are nondigestible food ingredients that promote the growth of beneficial microorganisms like bacteria and fungi in the intestines. They come mostly from indigestible fiber, which the beneficial bacteria in our guts eat.
Postbiotics, naturally, are the product of fermentation carried out by probiotics. Prebiotics are food for probiotics, which produce postbiotics. Postbiotics are like probiotic waste, but with health benefits.