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Diet & NutritionWellness

Prebiotics vs Probiotics vs Postbiotics

6 Mins read

The world of “biotics” is more complicated than most people realise. 

You know about probiotics and how good they are for your digestion. But how much do you know about prebiotics or even postbiotics?

Don’t worry. We’re here to share everything you need to know about the world of biotics and the impact they have on your versatile gut microbiome. 

What is the Gut Microbiome?

Prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics are all linked to an important ecosystem in your stomach. 

Your gut is full of microbes that scientists consider to be markers of good or bad health. The balance of different microbe species in your gut can determine whether you’re more likely to have immune system problems and indicate how quickly your body will respond to illness. 

Interestingly studies reveal that the gut microbiome differs from one person to the next.

Like genes, your microbiome is unique to you. 

Prebiotics vs Probiotics vs Postbiotics - gut health
How’s your gut feeling – pun intended.

A report even found that identical twins only share about 34% of the same microbes (you share about 30% on average with an unrelated stranger). 

Experts tell us that the composition of every person’s microbiome is as unique as our fingerprint. It’s something that’s usually shaped in our early lives through diet, environmental exposure, and the habits that we practice every day. However, it’s also something that we have more control over than our standard DNA. 

As researchers examine the functionality of each microbial species and the different genetic variants that these microbes might come in, we’re beginning to learn more about how we can manage our health through our guts. 

While you can’t change your genes, you can take steps to modify your gut microbiome and improve your health in the process. 

Enter probiotics, prebiotics, and postbiotics. 

The difference between Prebiotics, Probiotics, and Postbiotics

To understand the prebiotics vs probiotics vs postbiotics debate, you need to know what each substance does for the gut microbiome. 

Let’s begin with a closer look at all 3 of them.

What is Prebiotics?

Prebiotics are nutrition for the microbes in your gut. Prebiotics exist in foods that you can’t digest yourself (such as fibre). Contrastingly, they feed your gut bacteria and assist them in producing nutrients for your digestive system

Prebiotics contain valuable substances, like short-chain fatty acids (acetate, butyrate, and propionate), which are excellent for boosting metabolic health. 

Your microbiome functions just like any ecosystem: with the strongest microbes rising to the top. The microbes with the biggest impact on your health are the ones you feed the most. Prebiotics increase the diversity of the organisms in your gut and drive positive outcomes. 

Some of the most common (and valuable) prebiotic molecules include:

  • Beta-glucans: beta-glucans are sugars found in the cell walls of bacteria. They can reduce cholesterol, support the immune system, and reduce inflammation. You’ll find beta-glucans in whole grains, mushrooms, and oats. 
  • Inulin: A starchy substance frequently used in medicines for diabetes and to aid weight loss. This dietary fibre controls the way you digest food. You can find Inulin in onions, leeks, asparagus, bananas, and garlic. 
  • Galactooligosaccharides: These prebiotics assist with improved digestion and the proper functioning of the metabolism. You’ll find them in legumes like lentils and chickpeas.
  • Fructooligosaccharides: These low-calorie short-chain acids improve immunity, bone health, and the growth of beneficial bacteria. You’ll find them in leeks, onions, asparagus, chicory root, and even garlic. 
Prebiotics vs Probiotics vs Postbiotics Flat-lay Photography of Vegetable Salad on Plate
Prebiotics exist in foods that you can’t digest yourself, such as fibre.

Then what is Probiotics?

Probiotics are among the better-known biotics in the world today. 

The WHO (World Health Organization) defines probiotics as live microorganisms that can support beneficial health outcomes for the host. They’re essentially living creators that make your gut healthier. Although it sounds odd, it’s true. 

Eating probiotics is how you increase the diversity of the bacteria in your gut and clear out some of the more dangerous substances that can set up camp there. 

Probiotics are naturally supportive of the beneficial bacteria in your stomach. 

In fact, some foods naturally contain probiotics, such as:

  • Yoghurt: The most common source of probiotics. You can even find certain yoghurts enhanced with probiotic substances and enzymes. 
  • Fermented foods: Sauerkraut, kombucha tea, kefir, kimchi, and some pickled vegetables are all packed full of beneficial bacteria. 

If you’re going to improve your gut health using probiotics, make sure that they’re not pasteurised, as this will kill the bacteria. On the other hand, there are even substances out there that contain a combination of both probiotics and prebiotics. These substances are known as synbiotics

Prebiotics vs Probiotics vs Postbiotics yoghurts
Yoghurt – the most common source of probiotics.

Here comes the one that everyone’s talking about – what are Postbiotics? 

Now we come to the lesser-known product in the biotic ecosystem: the postbiotic. 

As the microbes in your gut consume the prebiotics in your foods, they produce metabolites – waste molecules that are better known as post-biotics. 

Postbiotics can also come from dead cells and parts of cells created by the gut microbiome. 

Ultimately, postbiotics might not sound like a good thing for your body, but they’re more beneficial than you’d think. Scientists have identified hundreds of postbiotic chemicals produced in the microbiome that improve overall health. 

What Do Postbiotics Do?

The creation of positive postbiotics is supported by a healthy and diverse microbiome that you feed regularly (and well) using prebiotics and probiotics. If you keep your microbiome healthy, then you can access more:

  • Bacterial fragments and cells: These substances prime the immune system to reduce the risk of lasting infections and improve immune strength. 
  • Antimicrobial molecules: These products will kill the harmful microbes that throw your gut microbiome off balance. 
  • Shortchain fatty acids: These are excellent substances that can protect the gut lining and act as valuable signals to your brain and body. Short-chain fatty acids reduce inflammation and improve your metabolic function. 
  • Vitamins K and B: These are two significant vitamins in the human body responsible for supporting blood clotting and cell health. 
Prebiotics vs Probiotics vs Postbiotics   yoghurts and fruits
Enter the lesser-known product in the biotic ecosystem: the postbiotic.

Why Do We Need the Best Prebiotics, Probiotics, and Postbiotics?

The gut microbiome has a direct impact on how you feel and your overall wellbeing. 

In the gut, bacteria create something called “neuroactive compounds”, which include about 90% of the neurotransmitter serotonin, responsible for regulating emotions. Similarly, the brain can send signals to your gastrointestinal system, which suppress or stimulate digestion. 

The connection between your gut and your brain can influence how you think and feel, while the microscopic critters in your gut support the positive digestion of food, nutrient processing, and even immune system response. 

The healthier your microbiome is, the more likely it is that you can:

  • Fight off disease and heal wounds rapidly
  • Deal with chronic inflammation and reduce the risk of illness
  • Maintain good cognition and brain performance
  • Fight off Alzheimer’s disease and improve memory management
  • Handle emotional turmoil and bypass feelings of stress and depression

So We Should Have Prebiotics, Probiotics, and Postbiotics in Our Gut?

A healthy gut microbiome is a diverse one, equipped with the right collection of prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotics. These live microbes will work together to protect your body from all kinds of negative side effects while enabling your body to fight against diseases. 

Not only does your gut microbiome affect your mental and physical health, but it can also make a difference to your skin and how you look, as explained in this video by Doctor Anne: 

Can You Take Probiotics with Prebiotics?

Unfortunately, you can’t take postbiotics like you would prebiotics and probiotics. Instead, you’ll need to think carefully about your nutritional choices. Be sure that you’re consuming the right combination of probiotics and prebiotics. This, in turn, will create the waste products or “postbiotics” that have a long-term impact on your health.

Have you been wondering whether to take prebiotics or probiotics more regularly? In that case, the best option might be to get a decent dose of both. Around 4 million adults now use probiotics for health. However, prebiotics are responsible for feeding and enhancing the performance of probiotics. So you could strengthen your gut microbiome response by taking them combined. 

How So?

Some research indicates that prebiotics and probiotics taken together can help to reduce the symptoms of things like irritable bowel syndrome, the common cold, and even allergic disorders. Moreover, further studies also believe that these substances may be effective for controlling the development of obesity. It can even help to reduce the risk of inflammatory arthritis

The CDC note that the consumption of commercial prebiotics and probiotics is usually safe for most people. Nonetheless, there are rare instances where you might not have the best response to these substances. Additionally, there are also some probiotics that aren’t regulated by the standards that the FDA use for food. It is common that many are nervous about taking probiotics or prebiotics in pill form. Consequently, you might want to consider seeking out natural sources instead. 

On another note, it’s also worth noting that synbiotic regimens of probiotics and prebiotics can sometimes cause slight side effects. They happen in the form of gas or constipation, particularly as the microbiome in your gut starts to change. 

How to Get Probiotics and Prebiotics

For most people, probiotics and prebiotics will be a natural and safe way to improve the performance of the gut microbiome and simultaneously boost your overall health. While there are countless pills and substances out there that can allow you to add more prebiotics and probiotics to your schedule, you can also easily access these substances in your daily diet.

Remember to speak to your doctor before changing your diet if you have any concerns. Do speak to a medical professional if you notice any discomfort when using prebiotics and probiotics. 

To improve your gut health, find out your dietary sensitivities and eat accordingly.

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