Health Benefits of Postbiotics

Postbiotics are the byproducts the body naturally makes after processing probiotics and prebiotics.

Postbiotics are non-living waste products the body makes after processing probiotics and prebiotics. Probiotics are the good microbes in yogurts and fermented foods. Some evidence suggests probiotics promote digestive health, immune function, sleep, and mood.

Prebiotics are non-digestible components in foods like asparagus, garlic, onions, and bananas. Prebiotics stimulate the growth or activity of friendly bacteria in the gut. In other words, prebiotics are food for probiotics.

Research has suggested that, like probiotics and prebiotics, postbiotics offer health benefits, such as improved immune, gut, and skin health. As a result, postbiotic supplements as emerged on the market.

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What Are Postbiotics?

In 2019, the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) defined postbiotics as the byproducts left over after probiotics feed on prebiotics.

"Post" means "after," while "biotic" means "relating to or resulting from living organisms." Together, the terms suggest an "afterlife." In other words, unlike probiotics, postbiotics are not live microorganisms. 

There are many types of postbiotics, such as:

  • Short-chain fatty acids
  • Cell membrane fragments
  • Bacterial lysates
  • Enzymes
  • Supernatants
  • Lipopolysaccharides
  • Exopolysaccharides
  • Short-chain fatty acids
  • Vitamins
  • Amino acids

Benefits of Postbiotics

Some evidence suggests that postbiotics help support immune, gut, and skin health. Postbiotics may also reduce the risk of and treat health conditions such as diabetes, cancer, overweight, and obesity.

Research involving postbiotics, using postbiotics in various formulations to treat several health conditions, is promising but limited. More studies are needed to fully understand the possible benefits and uses of postbiotics. 

May Support the Immune System

In a study published in 2022, researchers noted that compounds might promote communication between the gut microbiome and the immune system. The gut microbiome is the balance of "good" and "bad" microorganisms in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The researchers stated that postbiotics could be a strategy for preventing or treating COVID-19.

Another study published in 2014 found that postbiotics reduced acute infectious episodes and the use of antibiotics in people with recurrent respiratory tract infections.

Helps Reduce Gastrointestinal Distress

Some evidence suggests that postbiotics help alleviate irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms and chronic unexplained diarrhea. IBS often causes uncomfortable symptoms like stomach cramps, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea.

In one randomized, controlled study of 443 people with IBS, those who received a postbiotic saw substantially improved IBS symptoms. For example, people who consumed postbiotics had fewer IBS flares and abnormal bowel habits than others.

Helps Manage Atopic Dermatitis Flares

Some evidence suggests that topical postbiotics may alleviate atopic dermatitis symptoms. Atopic dermatitis is a type of eczema, a skin condition that causes swollen, itchy, and red patches of skin.

People with atopic dermatitis have a weak skin barrier that makes them sensitive to specific allergens and irritants. Atopic dermatitis may sometimes lead to bacterial, fungal, or viral skin infections and scarring.

One review published in 2020 found that a moisturizer made up of postbiotics helped restore the skin barrier and supported the growth of "good" bacteria that protect the skin. In another study published in 2022, researchers administered a moisturizer of prebiotics and postbiotics to 396 people with atopic dermatitis. The researchers noted that the moisturizer was effective after three months and had few side effects.

Might Control the Growth of Cancer Cells

Research has found that postbiotics may have anticancer properties. Your body is constantly repairing and creating cells. Sometimes, cells grow out of control and form a tumor. Some tumors are benign and not harmful. In contrast, other tumors can be malignant and cancerous. Cancer cells can spread to other body parts, called metastasizing.

According to a study published in 2021, postbiotics help stop the growth of cancer cells. The researchers noted that, in GI cancers, postbiotics might get rid of cancer cells by supporting a process called apoptosis. Apoptosis is the death of unnecessary or malignant cells.

Helps Control Blood Sugar 

Some evidence suggests that butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid, can help control blood sugar levels. High blood sugar is common among people with diabetes. Blood sugar rises if the body makes little insulin or does not respond to insulin as it should. Insulin is a hormone that unlocks cells, allowing sugar from the food you eat to enter your cells.

Typically, your cells store sugar to later use as energy. Without insulin, sugar builds up in the blood. If uncontrolled, high blood sugar can lead to complications, like a weak immune system and frequent infections.

In a study published in 2021, researchers also noted that postbiotics have anti-inflammation properties. Inflammation affects diabetes, so reducing inflammation might help treat the condition.

Has Been Shown To Help Manage Weight

Research has suggested that short-chain fatty acids, which comprise postbiotics, play a key role in weight loss and management.

Overweight and obesity are common risk factors for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. Factors like diet, sleep quality, and exercise often affect weight risk. Certain health conditions, medications, and genetics can cause overweight and obesity, too.

In one review published in 2015, researchers found that short-chain fatty acids can affect appetite and metabolism. According to the researchers, eating sources of prebiotics, like fermentable foods, can help lose weight. Still, most studies have only looked at animals. Research on the effects of short-chain fatty acids on humans is limited.

Might Be Stored Easier Than Probiotics

Postbiotics are more stable than probiotics since they are not live organisms. In other words, postbiotics have a lengthier shelf life than probiotics. Manufacturers can store postbiotics at higher temperatures than probiotics and store and transport them easily.

Risks of Postbiotics

You may be tempted to skip the go-between and jump directly to a postbiotic supplement. Still, postbiotic supplements are newer than probiotics themselves. There are products on the market that claim to support digestive health and immune function. Still, some experts warn that more research is needed to fully understand the efficacy and safety of postbiotics.

Some experts advise certain people against taking probiotics, such as:

  • People with weak immune systems
  • Those who have severe illnesses
  • People who recently had surgery

In an immune-compromised state, probiotics could cause an infection. Those people may need to avoid postbiotics, as well. Research is limited on whether postbiotics have interactions with certain health conditions.

Consult a healthcare provider if you have a health condition and consider a postbiotic supplement. They may be familiar with the type and form of postbiotic that may fit your needs, how long to use them, and if there are any potential interactions.

Good Sources of Postbiotics

One of the best ways to produce postbiotics in the body is to eat more prebiotic foods that feed probiotics. Prebiotic foods include:

  • Apples
  • Asparagus
  • Bananas
  • Cocoa
  • Garlic
  • Nuts
  • Oats
  • Onions
  • Pulses (e.g., beans, lentils, peas, chickpeas)
  • Seaweed

Probiotics exist naturally in your body. You can consume some types of probiotics in the form of supplements and certain foods, such as non-pasteurized fermented foods. Fermented vegetables, kefir, kombucha, and miso are also sources of probiotics. 

According to the ISAPP, probiotics include live microorganisms that have demonstrated health benefits. As such, not all fermented foods are sources of probiotics. An unpasteurized fermented food may contain live microbes but not meet the probiotic criteria.

A Quick Review

Postbiotics are an inspiring area of nutrition research. Scientists are still discovering how these bioactive compounds may protect or support health, from optimizing wellness to disease management. 

As of 2023, there are no guidelines about using postbiotic supplements for general health and wellness. Instead, you can produce postbiotics internally by consuming a nutrient-rich diet of prebiotic foods.

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