How postbiotics could be the game changer your gut needs

They’re the latest wellness buzzwords. Discover why experts are buzzing about postbiotics and tribiotics and how they could be the missing link in your gut health regimen.

You’ve probably heard of prebiotics and probiotics, but what about postbiotics and tribiotics?

Over the last decade or so, science has shown the connection between gut health and wellbeing, from your mood and how well you sleep to your immunity, and even to how successful you’ll be if you’re trying to lose weight.

As a result, probiotics, which introduce good bacteria to the gut, and prebiotics, which feed the healthy gut bacteria you already have, have gained a high profile in recent years.

But there’s another “biotic” it pays to know about: meet postbiotics.

So, what exactly are postbiotics?

Postbiotics are generated when probiotics digest foods rich in prebiotic fibres – and they’re really good for you.

“Postbiotics are considered ‘inanimate’ or not-living substances, but they still convey a health benefit,” dietitian and Verde Nutrition Co. founder Chloe McLeod says.

“This includes the provision of certain vitamins and minerals, as well as amino acids and short-chain fatty acids, which have incredible anti-inflammatory properties.”

This means postbiotics can support the growth, activity and function of “good” gut bacteria, but they’ve also been shown to stimulate the immune system and help protect against bowel cancer.

The role of postbiotics in cancer treatment

The results of a 2023 study suggest that postbiotics may even assist in the treatment of certain cancers.

“In our study, we show that Lactobacillus paracasei, one of the bacterial strains of the intestinal microbiota, induces cancer cells to show their receptors and thus become ‘visible’ again to the immune system,” study lead author Professor Maria Rescigno says.

And because the effectiveness of cancer drugs called immunotherapies is limited by the immune system’s ability to recognise tumour cells, this increased visibility can improve the efficacy of treatment.

“The mechanism is mediated by postbiotics, metabolic substances produced by the bacteria,” Prof Rescigno, of Italy’s Humanitas Research Hospital, explains.

Where do ‘tribiotics’ fit into the gut-health picture?

“Tribiotics are supplements that contain the ‘three Ps’ you need to consider when it comes to gut health – prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics,” Chloe says.

“We know that probiotics are only part of the picture when it comes to gut health; pre- and postbiotics have other health benefits, so it’s important to include all three.”

Achieving that doesn’t have to involve taking a supplement – some probiotic-rich foods such as sauerkraut and yoghurt also contain postbiotics.

Plus, postbiotics are also the natural result of your gut bacteria digesting prebiotic compounds found in foods such as apples, bananas, asparagus, garlic, leeks and legumes.

“Following a balanced nutrition intake that includes enough nutrients and foods from all groups is essential,” Chloe says.

“Taking a tribiotic can help, but it’s not a replacement for a healthy diet.”

When to use supplements for gut health

Tribiotic supplements may be particularly useful for people who don’t enjoy or can’t tolerate eating probiotic- or prebiotic-rich foods due to the side effects they can cause, including a temporary increase in gas and bloating.

“This is a really interesting area of research that is very new,” Chloe says.

“It seems that supplementation of postbiotics can still convey health benefits, and (postbiotics) seem to be more stable than probiotics, due to their inanimate nature, making them very safe and potentially effective.”

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Written by Karen Fittall.