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What Are The Differences Between Prebiotics, Probiotics And Postbiotics? 

21 June 2023

Last Updated

Author: Warren Gouin

Prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics.

As parents, we all want to ensure that our families are as healthy as possible. One way to do this is by improving our gut health. But with so many terms out there - prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotics - it can be hard to know where to start.

At their core, prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotics all relate to the health of our gut microbiome. This refers to the collection of microorganisms that live in our digestive tract and play a key role in our overall health.

By understanding the differences between these terms, we can make informed decisions about how to best support our gut health and overall wellbeing. It's important to prioritize natural therapies, a healthy diet, and lifestyle choices that promote gut health.

Let's work together to ensure that our families are as healthy as possible, starting with our gut health.


Key Takeaways

  • Prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotics are all important for maintaining a healthy gut and overall well-being.
  • Prebiotics are non-digestible fibres that feed beneficial bacteria in the gut.
  • Probiotics are live microorganisms that help maintain a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut.
  • Postbiotics are the beneficial substances that result from the interaction between prebiotics and probiotics.
  • Fermented foods are an excellent source of prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotics.  


Basics of prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics.  How are they different?

Prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotics are all essential components for maintaining a healthy gut. Prebiotics provide the fuel for probiotics to thrive, and the interaction between the two results in beneficial postbiotics. Understanding the differences between these three components is crucial for making informed decisions about our gut health. So, what exactly are the differences between prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotics? Let's explore further.

Prebiotics are non-digestible fibres that feed the beneficial bacteria in our gut. They are found in many plant-based foods, including fruits and vegetables. Prebiotics are not digested in the small intestine and instead make their way to the colon, where they serve as food for the beneficial bacteria.

Probiotics, on the other hand, can be found in fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, and kimchi. They can also be taken in supplement form. Probiotics are live microorganisms that help maintain a healthy balance of bacteria. They work by introducing beneficial bacteria into the gut, which can help improve digestion and boost the immune system.

Postbiotics are the beneficial substances that result from probiotics eating prebiotics. These substances include short-chain fatty acids (such as Butyrate), which have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties and promote gut health. Postbiotics can improve our health, boost our immune system, reduce inflammation, and lower the risk of some diseases.

 In the next section, we'll discuss what prebiotics are and how they function in the gut ecosystem.


What are Prebiotics?

Incorporating prebiotics into our diet can support our gut health and overall well-being. Prebiotics are a type of dietary fibre that our bodies can't digest, but which our gut bacteria can. These prebiotics serve as a source of food for the beneficial bacteria in our gut, helping to keep our gut microbiome balanced and healthy.

Eating a diet rich in prebiotics can help increase the number of beneficial bacteria in our gut. Eating fibre can be good for health, promoting digestion, immunity and helping to prevent chronic diseases.

One of the best sources of prebiotics is fibre-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables. These foods not only provide us with prebiotics, but also other important nutrients that our bodies need to function properly.

Another way to get more prebiotics into our diet is by taking a prebiotic supplement. These supplements are specifically designed to provide our gut bacteria with the nutrients they need to thrive.


Foods that are high in Prebiotics.

Discover which foods are rich in prebiotics and start incorporating them into your diet for a healthier gut. Don't worry if you're not a fan of some of the vegetables on the list, there are plenty of tasty options to choose from. Vegetables like garlic, leeks, onions, and asparagus are all great sources of prebiotics. These foods contain inulin, a type of soluble fibre that feeds the good bacteria in your gut.

Legumes like chickpeas and lentils are also high in prebiotics. These foods contain oligosaccharides, another type of soluble fibre that helps feed the good bacteria in your gut. If you're looking for some fruit options, plantains and pomegranates are good choices.  However, in general, focus on vegetables to increase prebiotic intake.

Below is a table of some good food sources of prebiotics.

Vegetables       Onions
  Jerusalem Artichokes
  Cooked and cooled potatoes (with resistant starch)      
Legumes Chickpeas
  Kidney Beans
  Baked Beans
Fruits Plantains


Adding these prebiotic-rich foods to your diet can help improve your gut health and overall well-being. Now, let's dive into the next section and learn about probiotics.


What are probiotics?

If you're looking to improve your gut health, probiotics can be part of your strategy. As mentioned in the background information, probiotics are living microorganisms that can provide health benefits when consumed. They work by improving the balance of bacteria in the gut microbiome, which can positively impact overall health.

Common probiotic strains include bifidobacteria, lactobacillus, lactococcus, some beneficial strains of streptococcus, enterococcus, and saccharomyces. Probiotics can be found in fermented foods, supplements, and certain dairy products.

Fermented foods are a natural source of probiotics, such as yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso and kombucha. Fermentation allows beneficial bacteria to proliferate, changing the flavor, texture, and nutritional value of the food. Probiotic supplements can also be a convenient way to increase the intake of beneficial microorganisms.

However, it's important to note that probiotic supplements may not be appropriate for everyone. Those with significant gut issues such as SIBO or dysbiosis may not respond well to probiotic supplements and may even worsen their symptoms. It's important to talk to a healthcare professional before starting probiotic supplementation to determine if it's the right choice for you.

As mentioned in much more detail in the post - "Why you shouldn't start with probiotics", supplementing with probiotics can be a big waste of money.  If you're taking the wrong probiotics for your body, and you don't have the right gut environment to support their colonization, probiotics won't help.

Now let's dive into the topic of postbiotics and their potential health benefits.


What are postbiotics?

Postbiotics refers to beneficial substances produced by probiotics when they consume prebiotics. These substances are a new and exciting area of research in the field of gut health.

Postbiotics can be categorized into several groups, including enzymes, short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), vitamins, and aromatic amino acids. SCFAs, in particular, are crucial for gut health, as they have anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-tumor effects.

One of the most well-known postbiotics is butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid produced by gut bacteria when they consume fibre. Butyrate enhances structure and function of the gut wall.  It also enhances mucosal immunity. It is the primary fuel source of the cells that line the colon. Butyrate has been shown to protect against colon cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, and other gut-related conditions.

Other important postbiotics include EPS (exopolysaccharides), which can improve gut barrier function, and aromatic amino acids, which play a role in gut-brain communication.

Fermented foods are an excellent source of postbiotics. During the fermentation process, bacteria break down the prebiotics in food, producing SCFAs, enzymes, and other beneficial compounds. Examples of fermented foods that contain postbiotics include yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, sourdough, and kombucha. Consuming these foods can help support gut health and overall well-being.

Postbiotics are a new and exciting area of research in the field of gut health.  There is one particular postbiotic that I take, as a supplement, Urolithin A, because it enhances the function of mitochondria.  Some people's guts make Urolithin A from a component of pomegranate (ellagitannins).  However, most people don't.  Supplements containing ellagitannins have been suggested for people needing a mitochondrial boost, such as people with cancer and mitochondrial dysfunction.  However, results are varied due to variation in our ability to make Urolithin A.  Currently we don't know which combination of microbes are needed to produce Urolithin A, so that's why I choose to take it and provide it for my son on the Autism Spectrum.


Best Postbiotic Supplements

Sometimes postbiotic supplements are more important than probiotic supplements.  Rather than taking probiotics, to provide bacteria to make nutrients for us, sometimes it's best to take the nutrients as a supplement.  My two favourite posbiotic supplements are listed below.

  • Mitopure.  Mitopure contains Urolithin A which has been shown in numerous studies to improve the activity of mitochondria.  Mitochondria are not only the powerhouse of our cells, they play a big part in gene expression.  They instruct cells which proteins to make, which helps our overall health.
  • Sodium Butyrate.  Butyrate is a short chain fatty acid that is normally produced in our gut.  Many people don't produce enough butyrate and benefit from supplementation.  It improve the health of our gut wall and promotes a healthy microbiome.  It also support a healthy immune system.


Next, what are the most important, prebiotics, probiotics, or postbiotics? Let's explore this question in the next section.


What are the most important, prebiotics, probiotics or postbiotics?

Even though probiotics are the most common for people to supplement with, they get more attention than they warrant. Probiotics are important, but for most people the other two may be more important.

To improve health, ultimately the most important of the three are postbiotics. The types of postbiotics being produced give a good indication of the balance of prebiotics and probiotics in the gut. 

It's not really the types of probiotics that the gut has that are the best measure of gut health, it's what they are doing.  To measure what they are doing, you need to measure what they produce (postbiotics).

I believe the future of gut testing will be to test for which postbiotics are being produced. Good postbiotics are the substances that the body uses to support health.

Bad postbiotics from pathogenic microbes can hinder health as well. Having bad bacteria in the gut is not what causes illness. It's when the bad bacteria produce a lot of unwanted postbiotics that illness can occur.

We all have a mix of good and bad probiotics in our gut, however when they work together in a balanced and harmonic way, we are more likely to be healthy.

For a well-rounded probiotic performance and optimal generation of beneficial postbiotics, providing prebiotics is crucial.  Prebiotics determine the activity of probiotics which in turn produce the all important postbiotics.

Although postbiotics are ultimately the most important, you can't produce them without getting the activity from probiotics.  You can't get great activity from probiotics unless you provide the right food in the form of prebiotics.

Getting prebiotics right can be done cheaply with food. When you achieve this, you don't need to spend much money on probiotics or postbiotic supplements. You will only need probiotic supplements to supply bacteria that you're missing. Likewise, you will only need postbiotic supplements to supply postbiotics nutrients that you are low in.



So, there you have it: the differences between prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotics. While each plays an important role in maintaining a healthy gut, it's important to remember that they work best in synergy.  Since we need to eat every day (unless me are fasting, but that's another story), it's important to eat well and supply the gut with quality foods full of prebiotics.


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