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Postbiotics, the New Microbiome Hero

Interest in gut health has become popular as more and more studies underline the significance of the gut in health and in whole host of diseases. There are many pieces in this puzzle including, the microbiome, probiotics, and postbiotics. First, let us get definitions and nomenclature out of the way.

The microbiota is the total number of microbes that are present in out entire gastrointestinal tract. These include, bacteria both “good” and “bad”, viruses, fungi, parasites, archaea protozoa, and many other players. Many factors influence the number and diversity of these “guests” including what we inherit from our mother at birth, so the gut bacteria of our mother is highly important as is type of birth whether it was C-section or vaginally born. Other factors are whether we were breast fed, and if so for how long, if there was any use of antibiotics and other drugs during our life, and finally our diet.

Microbiome refers to the total number of genetic information we are exposed to from the microbiota. Microbiome is the more widely used term over microbiota.

A probiotic is a living microorganisms usually bacteria, which when taken in adequate amounts, provides health benefit(s). Probiotics have been around for over one hundred years, and since the 1970’s have become popular as supplements originally to counter the negative effects of antibiotics which would indiscriminately kill the good or the bad gut microbes. Examples include: Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium and Streptococcus to name a few. Generally, probiotics help with mitigating diarrhea and constipation as well as boosting the immune system of the body. More recently, probiotics have been found useful for a bunch of disease conditions.

A prebiotics is food for the beneficial or good bacteria, allowing them to grow at the expense of bad or disease causing bacteria. Generally, any type of fermentable food is a prebiotic e.g. sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, kefir etc. Other prebiotics include, human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs), several dietary fibers like inulin, pectin, gums like guar and xanthan, resistant starches as well as many phenolics present in wide- range of fruits and vegetables like pomegranate, green tea, citrus foods etc.

A symbiotic is a synergistic mixture of probiotics and prebiotics that beneficially assist the host by improving the survival and colonization of the good bacteria. Symbiotics can modulate the gut microbiota composition and help produce microbial metabolites or by-products of the good bacteria which have their own positive health benefits.

Recently, a new category has been created called postbiotics. Postbiotics are not live microbes rather include the cell components or the shell of the probiotic. One can think of postbiotics as “ghost probiotic” because these are just the shell or the cell membrane minus the inside content like the DNA, as well as the metabolites produced by the probiotics. These include short-chain fatty acids, various proteins, cell lysates and other products. All these can influence the microbiome composition just as effectively as a probiotic may be even more powerful! Postbiotics have been evaluated for their anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory, antiobesity, antihypertensive, hypocholesterolemic, antiproliferative and antioxidant benefits just like probiotics have.

The issue with probiotics is their stability as live bacteria tend to die off quickly due to oxygen, moisture and heat during manufacturing as well as upon storage. Health Canada is now taking seriously the stability of finished probiotic products which must meet the label claim. In order to overcome this disadvantage manufacturers often add extra amount (overage) sometimes 300% more just to meet label claim due to the die off of the live bacteria. This is not only costly but also no guarantee that the product will still meet potency claim.

Postbiotics offer a number of advantages over probiotics, as there is no issue in meeting potency claim and no overage is required so cost are minimal. In addition postbiotics are more suitable for hot and humid conditions where probiotics often struggle to maintain their stability. Finally, postbiotics could be an attractive safer alternative to probiotics in immunocompromised or severely ill children pre-term neonates where probiotics may not be suitable due to potential issues of genetic material transfer.

In conclusion postbiotics offer an exciting new avenue to deliver health benefits of microbes and able to meet stability and label claims.


About The Author

Dr. Traj Nibber is the Director of AOR, he has a degree in Pharmacy, a Masters in Toxicology and a PhD in Pathology. Dr. Nibber founded AOR to clear the misdirection prevalent in the nutraceutical world, and provide people with highly effective, research backed products.

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