What are Postbiotics? How do They Compare to Probiotics?
Discover the Latest Nutritional Strategy for Supporting Gut Health and Beyond
In the ever evolving world of biotics research, postbiotics have emerged as the latest nutritional strategy for supporting gut health and beyond — providing a number of key advantages over probiotics. But what exactly are postbiotics?
Below we take a closer look at the gut microbiome and differences between probiotics, prebiotics and postbiotics; and why postbiotic supplements may be the biotic of choice, especially when it comes to functional foods.
Say Hello to Your Gut Microbiome
Living within your gut are trillions of microorganisms, including bacteria and fungi, that work behind the scene to keep you healthy. Collectively they are known as your gut microbiome (or gut flora). And, while researchers are still determining the exact role these tiny, living organisms have in specific health conditions, the evidence is conclusive: the delicate balance of good and bad microbes residing in your gut microbiome influence your overall health.1
This understanding has led to the growing popularity of probiotic and prebiotic supplements for maintaining and improving gut health. Probiotics, and their partner prebiotics, help ensure a healthy balance of good, or friendly, bacteria living in your gut microbiome. And, as you may have guessed, it’s the friendly bacteria that provides all of the health benefits to the host (that’s you).
Most recently, scientific research indicates that postbiotics are equally important for a thriving gut ecosystem and have been linked to several health benefits. Postbiotics may help boost your immune system, lower inflammation, reduce symptoms associated with irritable bowel disease, and prevent and treat diarrhea, among other potential health benefits.2,3
Not sure what postbiotics are, here’s what you need to know.
What are Postbiotics?
Along with living microorganisms, there are also non-living microbes within your gut microbiome. Postbiotics are nonviable microbial cells (and/or cell components) that provide health-promoting effects in the body. They are the natural byproducts of the fermentation processes, created when the friendly bacteria in your gut feeds on various types of fiber leaving behind a beneficial compound.
As you may have guessed, postbiotics can also be found in fermented foods, and their presence may even be a large reason why fermented foods have been associated with human health.4 Most recently, as postbiotic research has increased, postbiotic supplements have emerged as a nutritional health strategies, leading to the following agreed upon definition by the International Scientific Association of Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP):
A postbiotic is a preparation of inanimate microorganism and/or their components that confers a health benefit on the host.
The Relationship Between Probiotics, Prebiotics and Postbiotics
In order to fully understand the benefits of postbiotics, it’s helpful to know what probiotics and prebiotics are, and how they influence your health.
Probiotics are they friendly bacteria we’ve been discussing that resides in your gut. Sometimes referred to as probiotic bacteria, these microscopic organisms selectively ferment certain things, converting fiber and other prebiotic material into various compounds beneficial to the host. One of those compounds are postbiotics.
Prebiotics are a group of nutrients (mainly fiber) that feed and promote the growth of the healthy bacteria residing in your gut. Essentially prebiotics are food for probiotic bacteria, that when fermented, produce a beneficial compound. And while probiotics may work without prebiotics, the presence of prebiotics in the gut microbiome make probiotics more effective.5
Postbiotics, as stated above, “are preparation of inanimate microorganism and/or their components that confers a health benefit on the host.”6
The Advantages of Postbiotics Over Probiotics
As mentioned above, ingesting probiotics can help maintain the population of helpful bacterial in your microbiome, influencing gut health and more. However, probiotics by definition are living organisms and must be delivered “live” in order to confer benefits. And therein lies the problem.
“Postbiotics are very stable because they are not live probiotic species. They have a stable shelf-life and efficacy is not based on viability of the product,” explains Heather Moday, MD, gut-health expert, functional medicine physician and author of The Immunotype Breakthrough.
“Postbiotics can be more effective than probiotics, as they don’t require prebiotic fibers to be present, and they can help when people cannot tolerate eating many fibers due to SIBO and other food sensitivities. In addition, some people don’t tolerate live probiotics due to significant dysbiosis of the gut, so postbiotics can be more effective with less side effects.”
Keeping live microorganisms both alive and stable can be quite challenging, especially at high doses. Everything from temperature, moisture and even oxygen can affect the survival rate of probiotic organisms (which is why so many probiotic products require refrigeration). And according to ISAPP’s consensus statement, probiotic die-off is inevitable for products with a longer shelf-life.
Postbiotics, on the other hand, are inherently more stable and heat resistant, making them both easy to formulate with and store. And since they are non-living, there are no viability issues associated with postbiotics. That said, they are the ideal biotic ingredient to include in functional food products.7
Furthermore, while probiotics have a long-standing safety record and are generally well-tolerated, they do present some degree of risk to more vulnerable populations. Since postbiotics don’t contain any live microorganisms, there’s no risk of a bacterial infection.8
Lastly, not all probiotics can be heat-treated and turned into postbiotics. Postbiotics are unique strains of non-living microbes that confer benefits to the host.
“Probiotics are microbes that are alive when consumed (or applied to skin), while postbiotics are inanimate as the result of a deliberate inactivation step. The single most important thing about probiotics and postbiotics is that their consumption (or application) must result in a health benefit to the host,” explains Colin Hill, pHD , microbiome expert and board member of ISAPP.
“For both probiotics and postbiotics the health benefit will be the result of molecules or structures produced by the microbes interacting with other molecules or structures in the host or host microbiome. Obviously in the case of postbiotics these microbial molecules or structures must already be present in the postbiotic preparation since the inanimate microbes cannot produce anything in the gut.”
Postbiotic for Immune Support
IMMUSE™ (LC-Plasma) is a science-backed postbiotic with a unique mechanism of action for more comprehensive immune support.
Scientist at Kirin discovered a unique strain of lactic acid bacteria, known as Lactococcus lactis strain Plasma (or LC-Plasma), that activates a rare type of immune cell called pDC (plasmacytoid dendritic cell), which acts as a leader of the immune system. Once activated, pDCs stimulate an entire army of immune cells for more comprehensive immune support.
Developed using proprietary fermentation technology, the unique strain was then heat-treated, making it nonviable and easier to both store and formulate for versatile application. And now the postbiotic ingredient can be found in a wide variety of dietary supplement and functional food products.
Click the button below to learn more about the science and research behind IMMUSE.
1Valdes A. M., et. al. Role of the gut microbiota in nutrition and health. BMJ. 2018 June 13; 361: k2179. 2Wegh C. A. M., et. al. Postbiotics and Their Potential Applications in Early Life Nutrition and Beyond. Int J Mol Sci. 2019 Sep 20 ;20(19) :4673. 3Żółkiewicz J. et. al. Postbiotics—A Step Beyond Pre- and Probiotics. Nutrients. 2020 Aug; 12(8): 2189. 4Vinderola G., et. al. The Concept of Postbiotics. Foods. 2022 Apr; 11(8): 1077. 5Żółkiewicz J. et. al. Postbiotics—A Step Beyond Pre- and Probiotics. Nutrients. 2020 Aug; 12(8): 2189. 6Wegh C. A. M., et. al. Postbiotics and Their Potential Applications in Early Life Nutrition and Beyond. Int J Mol Sci. 2019 Sep 20 ;20(19) :4673. 7Salminen S., et. al. The International Scientific Association of Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) consensus statement on the definition and scope of postbiotics. Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2021 Sep;18(9):649-667. 8Wegh C. A. M., et. al. Postbiotics and Their Potential Applications in Early Life Nutrition and Beyond. Int J Mol Sci. 2019 Sep 20 ;20(19) :4673.