Postbiotics – the old, new kids on the block

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Postbiotics – the old, new kids on the block

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We’ve all heard of PRObiotics, and even PREbiotics, but POSTbiotics? Is this just an attempt to trade on the ‘biotic craze or is there solid science around the potential for postbiotics to support digestive and immune health? Let’s find out…

What are postbiotics?

Postbiotics are beneficial waste products (metabolites) from gastrointestinal microbes that are simply going about their business (mind the pun!). Whilst we have microbes throughout our digestive system, indeed, virtually everywhere in and on our body, the bulk of our gut microbiome is in the first part of our colon. The predominant type of microbe in our body is bacterial and it is thought that microbial diversity is important for digestive function and overall health.

The microbiome is a complex ecosystem of bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms, which play a crucial role in supporting gut function and immune health. Gut microbes are “probiotic”, and feed on certain types of undigested fibres – “prebiotics” from both plant and animal foods – releasing “postbiotic” waste products and beneficial ferments, which support the digestive and immune systems. The remains of dead microbes are also classed as postbiotics.

What are examples of postbiotics?

These microbial remains and metabolites include short chain fatty acids, bacteriocins, carbonic substances, some nutrients, and enzymes. Butyric acid, or butyrate, is one of the most well-known short chain fatty acids. The most abundant fatty acids are acetate and proprionate and these are produced by bacterial fermentation of resistant starch, dietary fibre, and dietary proteins like collagen. The nutrients that are “postbiotic” include amino acids, vitamin K2 and the B vitamins biotin (B7), cobalamin (B12), folate (B9), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine (B6), riboflavin (B2), and thiamine (B1).

What do postbiotics do?

Despite it being one of the most researched areas in the human health sphere, we still do not know a fraction of what there is to know, especially about the role of postbiotics and the mechanisms for beneficial effects. For example, research has shown butyric acid to be supportive of the immune response in the colon, microbial balance, mucosal layer health, and is a food for colonocytes (colon cells); however, it also seems to have paradoxical weight management effects in obese individuals, so more research is needed.

Proprionate and acetate are supportive of metabolism and homeostasis (balance) in the gut; Bacteriocins act as antimicrobials, supporting microbial balance; and carbonic substances like carbonic anhydrase are zinc-containing enzymes that have been shown to support pH balance and a healthy immune response in the colon. Postbiotic amino acids, and B and K2 vitamins, must still be obtained from the diet, as amounts produced are useful but insufficient. Cobalamin (B12) appears to be supportive of the balance of the gut microbiome in the colon, but cannot be absorbed into the body, and so all human B12 must be obtained from animal foods in the diet.

How can we support our postbiotic production?

Anything that supports microbial balance and diversity will support postbiotic production. You can try increasing your intake of fermented foods, such as kefir, yoghurt, cheese, tempeh, sauerkraut, and kimchi. Research comparing fermented foods with high fibre foods and vegetables, found that only the fermented foods supported microbial diversity. We generally only need small amounts of plant fibre to feed our beneficial microbes. In fact, one randomised controlled trial found that those who eliminated fibre completely experienced a resolution of constipation symptoms, so that shows we still have more to learn.

Consuming the collagenous, golden liquid in traditional broths made from bones, meat, and tendons has been shown to support the proliferation of beneficial microbes. Evidence also suggests that supplemental collagen has similar effects.

Sunlight has been studied around its role in microbial balance and the production of vitamin D, which is known to support the gut microbiome. Limiting or avoiding medications supports the microbiome, as does sticking to a whole food diet, and saying “no” to processed foods, seed/vegetable oils, and excess sugar. Other factors are stress, sleep, and exercise, as they are when addressing any health topic.

But you may want to make things a little easier and that’s when specialised supplements containing postbiotics come in handy.

Postbiotics as supplements?

It is always better to focus on foods, environment, and stress-relief to support homeostasis; however, sometimes we, uncover substances in the natural world, that can provide extra support in times of need. One such substance is EpiCor® postbiotic. This was discovered in a factory that made fermented livestock feed. The factory floor employees had significantly fewer sick days than their colleagues in the office. Researchers found that it was the exposure to the yeast ferments that supported their immune systems and gut function. The company developed EpiCor® postbiotic, and further research around the efficacy and safety of EpiCor® confirmed the findings.

Butyrate supplements are increasing in popularity and other types of exogenous postbiotics include lipopolysaccharides, enzymes, bacterium lysates, and cell-free supernatants. Well-researched postbiotic supplements contain no live organisms and therefore, like prebiotics, display beneficial effects with minimal risk. Adding some supplemental postbiotic may just be the “cherry on top” of your family’s wellbeing routine.

Always read the label and use as directed. If symptoms persist see your healthcare professional. Good Health, Auckland.

TAPS No. PP1393

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