What Are Postbiotics?

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on September 08, 2021
3 min read

It's no secret that the human body is impressive. But did you know that trillions of living microorganisms are working behind the scenes to keep you healthy?‌

Sometimes, those microorganisms need help. Probiotics have been the go-to when it comes to maintaining your body's microbiome, but postbiotics are gaining traction as the new influencer of your microbiome. 

Your body's microbiome is a delicate system of "good" and "bad" microorganisms. They work together to maintain your health. If the balance between good and bad microorganisms is imbalanced, you'll feel it.‌

The organisms in your microbiome are bacteria, fungi, viruses, and protozoa. Every person has a different combination of microorganisms, so your microbiome is unique. This uniqueness makes treating problems with your microbiome difficult.‌

Dysbiosis. An imbalance in your microbiome, or dysbiosis, can have severe complications. Dysbiosis can lead to:

  • New allergies
  • Autoimmune diseases (inflammatory bowel disease or type 1 diabetes)
  • Cancer
  • Psychiatric disorders

Probiotics. Probiotics are good bacteria. When you get sick, you may have too much bad bacteria. Probiotics help fight the bad bacteria until you feel better.‌

When you have an imbalance in your microbiome, you can take probiotic supplements to restore balance. A well-balanced diet generally provides enough good bacteria to maintain your microbiome. Make sure your diet is adequate before seeking supplements. ‌

Prebiotics. The microorganisms in your body need to eat. Probiotics feed on prebiotics, complex carbohydrates such as inulin, pectin, and starches.‌

Postbiotics. Postbiotics are a byproduct of probiotics when they eat prebiotics. Their goal is the same: maintain your microbiome. ‌

Postbiotics achieve their goal with more control and fewer risks compared to probiotic supplements. ‌

Factors that affect your microbiome. For most people, their microbiome is a stable balance. Your unique microbiome, age, diet, and environmental factors can influence your microbiome's stability. You can use probiotics and postbiotics to restore your microbiome's balance.

Don't forget that microorganisms in your microbiome are living. Postbiotics are substances produced by your microorganisms while they go about their business. These substances are not live microorganisms, but they are still beneficial to your microbiome.‌

Other names for postbiotics. You may see postbiotics referred to by different names. Some of these names include:

  • Paraprobiotics
  • Non-viable microbial cells
  • Fermented infant formulas (FIFs)

Health benefits. The health benefits of postbiotics aren't fully understood, but they tend to mimic the health benefits of probiotics. Postbiotics:

  • Support your immune system. 
  • Prevent inflammation.
  • Have anticarcinogenic qualities. 
  • Are antimicrobial and prevent infections.
  • Can lower the risk of cardiovascular events.
  • Can support oxytocin formation, which helps heal wounds and supports birthing functions.

One of the benefits of postbiotics compared to probiotics is the risks involved. Since postbiotics don't contain microorganisms, there's a lower risk of complications from adding new bacteria to your microbiome.  ‌

Probiotics are safe for most people. But people with weak immune systems, severe illness, or recovering from surgery can get an infection from probiotics.‌

Practical benefits of postbiotics. The production of postbiotics is more economical than probiotics. Postbiotics:

  • Have a long shelf-life
  • Are easily stored
  • Are easily transported
  • Aren't as sensitive to cold temperatures
  • Can be more reliably produced

You can get postbiotics from food or supplements. Supplements can be harmful to some people. Before buying probiotic or postbiotic supplements yourself, talk with your doctor. 

Genetics, environment, age, medication, and more determine the bacteria in your microbiome. Supplements and certain diets may not be suitable for you, but certain foods can increase the postbiotics in your microbiome.‌

Gradually change your diet. The best way to balance your microbiome is through a well-rounded diet. If you feed the right foods to your probiotic bacteria, they'll produce postbiotics for you.‌

If you're able, eating a high-fiber diet can improve your microbiome. Whole fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains are significant sources of fiber. ‌

Additionally, the following foods contain prebiotics, which feed your microbiome:

  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Leeks
  • Asparagus
  • Bananas
  • Seaweed‌

When changing your diet, introduce new foods slowly. Eating too many prebiotic foods can cause gas and bloating. People with gastrointestinal conditions should be cautious with drastic diet changes.‌

Eating foods with probiotics won't necessarily increase the postbiotics in your body, so be careful when adding probiotic supplements to your diet.  

It bears repeating that postbiotics need more research. Studies have shown positive results, but there's still much to learn. Before taking your microbiome into your own hands through postbiotic supplements, talk with your doctor.