If you’re curious (we sure are), you might have come across the topic of postbiotics, which is starting to become available in supplement form.
The science of postbiotics – including what they are, how they work, and whether they’re worth taking the pill – is still early in its development. There is much that scientists do not know yet. We’ll get into that. But to understand what we know about postbiotics, you need to understand the basics of microbiome science, so we’ll start from there.
The gut microbiome
The gut microbiome is made up of groups of different microbes – mostly bacteria and yeasts – that live in the lining of the digestive tract. This microbiome evolves and changes throughout our lives: our first microbes usually come from our mothers during the process of vaginal delivery and breastfeeding, and we gain more during childhood, most of it from the foods we eat. Genetics play a role, too. In adulthood, the gut microbiome tends to stabilize, but it can still be changed through some lifestyle habits, such as diet, as well as disturbances such as stress, travel, antibiotic use, and certain prescription medications.
In a healthy microbiome, the bulk of these microbes are either beneficial or somewhat neutral to us. They live in harmony with our bodies and perform functions that we cannot do on our own, such as digesting certain foods and producing certain nutrients. Microbes that are not good for our bodies are usually controlled by beneficial organisms because they compete for space in our bodies. Certain disruptive events may lead to an overgrowth of these poorer microbes, leading to: Yeast infection And terms like Overgrowth of intestinal microflora (SIBO).
(Our bodies also contain a microbiome outside the gut: We have communities of microbes almost everywhere, like the skin, mouth, and vagina.)
While they often consist of types of bacteria similar to those found naturally in the microbiome, probiotics are live and active cultures grown in a facility with the specific purpose of modifying the body’s natural microbiome. You find it most often in capsules. Some of them need to be cooled; Others are shelf-stable. The types of microbes found in a probiotic supplement vary. If you are taking probiotics for a specific purpose, the type you take is important: Like the microbes naturally present in your gut, the microbes in probiotics perform different functions in the body.
We measure probiotics in active colony forming units or active fluorescent units rather than volume or weight. Both CFU and AFU calculate the number of viable microbes per serving – which typically falls in the billions. Expect CFU vision more than AFU: AFU takes advantage of the latest and most accurate technology and includes microbes that may not count in CFU (if the microbe is active but not cultivable, CFU does not count), but it is not particularly common yet. Higher numbers of CFU or AFU are not necessarily better. The best dosage of any given probiotic strain is one that has shown results in scientific studies.
The microbes in probiotics are transient, meaning that they pass through the body and do not usually form permanent colonies in the intestine. This is why it’s so important to consistently take probiotics – the probiotics you take today won’t last long.
If you’re looking for a probiotic to cover all your bases, Seed’s Daily Synbiotic is a great choice. The researchers at Seed do their homework: The Daily Synbiotic contains 24 clinically researched probiotic strains, many of them in the quantity proven to be effective in scientific studies. Each two-capsule dose contains 53.6 billion AFU. That’s a lot, so if you are new to probiotics, start with one capsule daily as your body acclimates. (This supplement also contains biomaterials, which we’ll cover later.)
Prebiotics are any compound that feeds bacteria in the gut. Usually, the fibers that our bodies cannot digest otherwise, such as inulin and some polysaccharides, are those fibers that bacteria grow on. This process is part of the reason gut microbes exist in the first place. We do something good for them by providing them with food and a place to live, and they do something good for us by supporting various functions in our bodies, such as digestion and immunity. (In biology, this type of reciprocity is called a symbiotic relationship.)
Prebiotics are found naturally in many plant foods. If you eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, you are likely to get a lot of prebiotics from food alone. If you want extra support, you can look for a supplement that contains prebiotics. (Consult your doctor first: For people with certain intestinal disorders, such as SIBO, prebiotic supplements can worsen symptoms.)
It may be helpful to pair probiotic and probiotic supplements. Science suggests that prebiotics may help improve the viability of probiotics as they make their way through the gut. Some groups have begun using the word “synbiotic” to describe a supplement that contains both prebiotics and probiotics, such as Seed’s Daily Synbiotic.
To summarize: Fungal and probiotic microbes are active bacteria and yeasts. These bacteria and yeasts thrive by consuming prebiotics. Postbiotics is what remains after those prebiotics are digested and fermented in the intestine.
Postbiotics is an emerging and developing field. Most of the scientific research on postbiotics has been published over the past decade, and unlike prebiotics and probiotics, there is no consensus yet on what is postbiotic and what is not. Currently, “postbiotic” is an umbrella term that represents all types of functional compounds that have been metabolized by microbes and fermented in the gut. Some of them may have significant benefits for our health and our potential applications in medicine, while others may be just waste. It’s exciting stuff – Goop’s registered dietitian, Thira Burns, thinks postbiotics might be the next big thing in dietetics. “We already know that eating fermented foods is good for the gut,” says Burns. “Researching postbiotics may help us figure out why.”
Like the prebiotics and probiotics before them, some Postbiotics have begun to be available as supplements. We want to be completely clear: Scientists do not yet know if there is an overall benefit to taking postbiotics as dietary supplements, and we have not explained how or why these compounds work the way they do in the body. If you are looking for a supplement that contains postbiotics, it is important to ask questions and do your research before purchasing. Some postbiotics have shown functional results in research settings and may be worth a try if the results of these research are consistent with your health goals. For example, there is a whole foods fermented yeast called EpiCor that is considered postbiotic, and it has been studied in relation to a healthy immune system. We included EpiCor in the perfect attendee formula, our immune support tools, because of this research. A short-chain fatty acid Buttercream– A compound commonly found in the intestine as a post-biotic substance – studied to support healthy bowel function.
This article is for informational purposes only. It is not and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. To the extent that this article presents the advice of doctors or medical practitioners, the opinions expressed are those of the said expert and do not necessarily represent the opinions of goop.