Previously I talked about prebiotics and probiotics. A quick recap – probiotics are live organisms (bacteria or yeast) that support our gut, by keeping the bacteria in balance and enhancing nutrient absorption. Prebiotics are forms of soluble fiber and indigestible starches that feed the good bacteria in our gut. Probiotics are dependant on prebiotics to thrive. When prebiotics feed probiotics, the probiotics create a byproduct or metabolite called postbiotics.
Why are postbiotics helpful? Postbiotics provide multiple benefits. Vitamin K and B vitamins are examples of metabolites created by bacteria in our gut. Enzymes, which serve as catalysts for reactions, are another example postbiotics. If you have done a comprehensive stool test, beta-glucuronidase may sound familiar. This enzyme measured on the stool test, helps clear toxins from our bodies. But the most influential postbiotic byproducts created as a result of the bacteria feeding on starchy, fibrous foods are short chain fatty acids (SCFAs).
Some examples of Short Chain Fatty Acids are: butyrate, propionate, and acetate. When individuals experience gastrointestinal disorders, often they avoid high fiber foods that contribute to GI symptoms. As a result of avoiding these foods, bacteria is not fed, postbiotics are not produced and over time they can become depleted in SCFAs. This becomes problematic not only for gut health but for overall health too. There are many benefits of SCFAs:
- Appetite control, satiety and weight loss
- Gut barrier function and leaky gut repair
- Gut motility regulation
- Cognition and mood support
- Cytokines and inflammation reduction
- Promotes cancer protection, specifically in the colon
- Insulin sensitivity
- Lower cholesterol
When we have a healthy gut (i.e., bacteria is balanced, nutrients are being absorbed) we can increase postbiotics through diet. Certain foods can help facilitate postbiotic production:
- High fiber foods – apples, oats, legumes, avocados, cooled rice, green bananas, nuts and seeds
- Fermented foods – sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, miso
- Spirulina and chlorella – algaes help boost gut health by increasing SIgA (a marker found on the comprehensive stool test, which manages the microbiome and protects against gut pathogens)
- Polyphenols (plant nutrients with antioxidant benefits) found in dark colored berries, cherries, plums, cacao, olives, red onion, kale, parsley, grapes, turmeric, and green tea
While there are postbiotic supplements, I typically only recommend them when prebiotic and probiotics are not tolerated.
By facilitating the production of postbiotics through a healthy gut and a nutrient dense fiber rich diet, we are also getting the added bonus of many other health benefits.