Prebiotics, probiotics & postbiotics: A guide
Your stomach is incredibly important – and no, we’re not talking about how toned your abs are! There’s a whole new area of research dedicated to how the health of your gut can affect the rest of your body.
One of the most interesting research areas is on prebiotics and probiotics, sometimes referred to as ‘friendly’ bacteria.
You might not know it, but deep within your digestive system, there’s 100 trillion bacteria living in your gut. Unfortunately, poor diet, too much alcohol, antibiotics, hormones and stress can all upset the natural balance of this bacteria.
In fact, it’s thought that 4 in 10 of us are experiencing a digestive problem at any one time.1
From stomach aches to indigestion, gut troubles can be incredibly uncomfortable. So, it’s unsurprising we often see new diets, products, or lifestyles that promise a healthier gut.
But as well as pre and probiotics, there are also postbiotics.
So, what’s the difference between prebiotics and probiotics? And where do postbiotics come into the mix? Find out all you need to know about these 3 biotics below.
In this article, you’ll discover:
- What prebiotics are, different types and what they do
- 5 prebiotic foods
- What probiotics are, different types and what they do
- 8 probiotic foods
- What postbiotics do, how to get them from your diet
- 8 foods that can help your gut produce postbiotics
- 9 benefits of pre, pro and postbiotics
- Potential side effects
What are prebiotics?
Let’s get started with the basics of prebiotics. These are defined as a group of nutrients that feed your gut microbiota, and they’re also degraded by it – but this isn’t a bad thing.
The products that are made as a result of this degradation are released into your blood stream, where they can benefit your overall health.2
Different types of prebiotics
There are various types of prebiotics, but most of them are a subset of carbohydrates. 2 The most common prebiotics include:
- Fructans – like inulin and fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS), which may be able to stimulate lactic acid bacteria and other bacterial species
- Galacto-Oligosaccharides – stimulate two key types of friendly bacteria, Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli
- Starch and Glucose-Derived Oligosaccharides – a kind of resistant starch that produces a high rate of butyrate (a short-chain fatty acid) which benefits our health
What do prebiotics do?
Prebiotics can change the composition of your gut microbiome for better. For example, consuming prebiotics has been shown to support the immune system by increasing the number of protective microorganisms.
As well as this, studies have shown that they can even decrease the number of harmful microorganisms, too.2,3
5 prebiotic foods
Fortunately, you can up your prebiotic intake through your food choices. Some of the best sources of prebiotics include:
- Chicory root – 68% of its fibre comes from inulin4
- Garlic – promotes the growth of bifidobacteria5
- Onions – a good source of inulin and FOS6,7
- Artichoke – also rich in inulin8
- Dandelion greens – another source of inulin fibre9
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are live microorganisms that, when taken in the right amount, can provide health benefits for your body.10
They usually come as supplements, although they can be added to food and drinks too.11
Different types of probiotics
While they’re usually just called ‘probiotics,’ there are a lot of different types. The most common probiotics typically include:
- Lactobacillus – usually added to yoghurts and cheese, as well as found naturally in fermented foods12
- Bifidobacterium – usually added to yoghurts and cheese, or found naturally in some fermented food or live yoghurts13
You can also find these probiotics in over-the-counter supplements, capsules, powders, and drinks.
What do probiotics do?
Probiotics can help to maintain a healthy balance in your body. Certain types of probiotics can help to aid digestion and improve some stomach-related health concerns.14
Natural ‘good’ bacteria work to keep you healthy all the time, but supplementing might help address other concerns, especially after you’ve been ill.15
It’s important to note that different strains of bacteria may have specific benefits on certain conditions, whereas others may not. Not all benefits can be delivered by one product or food.
8 probiotic foods
There are plenty of ways to include more probiotic foods into your diet. These might have ‘probiotic’ on the label or include ‘live-cultured’ or ‘active cultures’ too.
Some probiotic food includes:
- Live yoghurt
- Some cheeses
- Uncultured buttermilk
- Fermented olives
There are also probiotic supplements available, which can be taken as a capsule, tablet or powder. If you’re thinking about taking a probiotic supplement, it’s worth talking to your doctor or a specialist.
There are a lot of different probiotics on the market, and not all of them will be right for you.16
Like when taking any new supplement, be aware of the potential side-effects and stop if you notice anything untoward.
Generally, probiotics are thought to be safe to consume for people with healthy immune systems.
The safety of probiotics is also under-researched, so we don’t know exactly how many possible side-effects there could be.
However, if you’re in good health, they could be a safe addition to your diet.17
If you have any concerns about whether you should take a probiotic, speak to your doctor.
What are postbiotics?
First things first, let’s define what postbiotics actually are.
While probiotics are gut-friendly bacteria, postbiotics are by-products of these bacteria. They are bioactive compounds created by probiotic bacteria when they have consumed fibre or prebiotics.18
What do postbiotics do?
Our expert nutritionist Alex Glover explains:
“Postbiotics are compounds produced as the end product of our good bacteria fermenting prebiotic fibres. Compounds such as lactic acid, butyrate and other short-chain fatty acids help to maintain intestinal pH, mucosa, and are being researched for a variety of other beneficial physiological functions.”
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