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Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Postbiotics - How they work?

Adil Naeem
Reviewed by Adil NaeemReviewed on 15.12.2023 | 6 minutes read
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Probiotics, prebiotics, and postbiotics represent a trinity of microbial-based therapies that are revolutionising our understanding of health and nutrition.

Probiotics are live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host. They are often referred to as ‘good’ or ‘friendly’ bacteria and are typically found in fermented foods or dietary supplements. Prebiotics, on the other hand, are compounds in food that induce the growth or activity of beneficial microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi. They act as food for probiotics and are found in fibre-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Postbiotics are the biochemical byproducts of probiotic bacteria, which can also have health-promoting properties. These include substances like organic acids, bacteriocins, enzymes, and other metabolic products that can influence the gut environment.

Together, these biotics play a crucial role in maintaining gut health, supporting digestion, and enhancing immune function, marking a significant shift towards a more holistic approach in dietary science and medicine.

How do Probiotics Work?

Probiotics, often hailed as the heroes of the gut, function through mechanisms that support our overall health. Understanding how these beneficial microorganisms work can illuminate their potential in promoting gut health and beyond.

Probiotics exert their effects through various methods, each contributing to their beneficial impact on our bodies. At their core, probiotics are live microorganisms that provide health benefits when taken in correct amounts.

Mechanisms of Action

  1. Restoration of microbial balance - Our gut is home to trillions of good and bad bacteria. Probiotics help restore the delicate balance of these microbes, particularly after disruptions caused by factors like illness, stress, or antibiotic use. By replenishing beneficial bacteria, probiotics fortify the gut environment, making it less hospitable to harmful pathogens.

  2. Enhancement of gut barrier function - The gut lining acts as a barrier, selectively allowing nutrients to pass while avoiding harmful substances. Probiotics bolster this barrier by promoting the production of mucin, a protective layer that coats the intestinal walls. This reinforcement helps prevent toxins and pathogens from crossing into the bloodstream, reducing the risk of inflammation and infection.

  3. Modulation of immune response - Most of our immune system resides in the gut. Probiotics interact with immune cells, stimulating the production of anti-inflammatory compounds while suppressing the activity of inflammatory molecules. This immunomodulatory effect helps regulate immune responses, promoting a balanced and appropriate reaction to threats.

  4. Production of bioactive compounds - Probiotics are proficient producers of bioactive compounds, such as short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) and bacteriocins. SCFAs, produced through the fermentation of dietary fibres by probiotic bacteria, serve as an energy source for intestinal cells and exhibit anti-inflammatory properties. On the other hand, bacteriocins are antimicrobial peptides that inhibit the growth of bad bacteria, further reinforcing microbial balance.

In summary, probiotics exert their beneficial effects through an approach encompassing restoration of microbial balance, enhancement of gut barrier function, modulation of immune response, and interaction with the gut microbiota. By understanding these mechanisms, we can harness the full potential of probiotics in promoting gut health and overall well-being.

How do Prebiotics Work?

Prebiotics are not to be confused with probiotics. While probiotics are live microorganisms that provide health benefits when consumed, prebiotics are non-digestible fibres that serve as food for probiotics, helping them thrive in the gut. In essence, prebiotics act as fertilisers for the good bacteria in your digestive system.

Role in Promoting Probiotic Activity

Imagine your gut as a garden and probiotics as the beneficial plants you want to cultivate. Prebiotics are like the nutrients in the soil that these plants need to grow and flourish. They selectively nourish the good bacteria, such as lactobacilli and bifidobacteria, encouraging their proliferation and activity in the gut.

Research has shown that prebiotics can increase the abundance of beneficial bacteria in the gut, promoting a healthy balance of microorganisms. Prebiotics indirectly support various functions, including immune regulation, nutrient absorption, and mood regulation, by providing a favourable environment for probiotics to thrive.

Effects on Gut Health

A flourishing garden of beneficial bacteria in the gut is essential for overall digestive health. Prebiotics play a crucial role in maintaining this balance, which can have far-reaching effects on our well-being.

  1. Improved Digestion - Prebiotics can help alleviate digestive discomfort by promoting regular bowel movements and reducing symptoms of constipation. By supporting the growth of beneficial bacteria, they contribute to the breakdown of food and the production of short-chain fatty acids, which nourish the cells lining the intestine and support intestinal health.

  2. Enhanced Immunity - The gut is home to a significant portion of our immune system. By fostering the growth of probiotics, prebiotics indirectly support immune function. They help regulate inflammation in the gut and enhance the gut barrier function, reducing the risk of infections and inflammatory conditions.

  3. Weight Management - Some studies suggest that prebiotics aid in weight management by influencing appetite-regulating hormones and promoting the growth of bacteria associated with leanness. While more research is needed, incorporating prebiotic-rich foods into your diet could support your weight management goals.

  4. Mood and Mental Health - Emerging evidence suggests a link between gut health and mental well-being. Prebiotics may play a role in this connection by influencing the gut-brain axis, the communication pathway between the gut and the brain. Prebiotics could improve mood regulation and mental health by nurturing a healthy gut microbiome.

Incorporating prebiotic-rich foods into your diet, such as garlic, onions, bananas, oats, and asparagus, can fuel your gut bacteria to thrive. Additionally, prebiotic supplements are available for those looking to boost their prebiotic intake. As always, it's essential to consult with a healthcare professional before making any significant changes to your diet or supplementation routine.

By understanding the role of prebiotics in promoting probiotic activity and supporting gut health, you can take proactive steps towards nurturing a thriving ecosystem within your digestive system, ultimately reaping the benefits of improved overall well-being.

Formation and Benefits of Postbiotics - and how they work

Postbiotics, a term gaining recognition in gut health, refer to the metabolic by-products produced by probiotic bacteria during fermentation in the gut. Unlike probiotics, which are live microorganisms, and prebiotics, which are indigestible fibres that feed beneficial gut bacteria, postbiotics are the compounds and substances resulting from fermentation.

The formation of postbiotics occurs when probiotic bacteria metabolise prebiotic fibres or other dietary components within the gut. This metabolic activity generates diverse substances, including SCFAs such as acetate, propionate, butyrate, as well as vitamins, enzymes, peptides, and organic acids.

One of the primary benefits of postbiotics is their ability to modulate the gut environment and exert physiological effects promoting health. For instance, SCFAs, particularly butyrate, play a crucial role in maintaining the integrity of the intestinal barrier, regulating immune responses, and providing energy for the cells lining the colon.

Moreover, postbiotics exhibit antimicrobial properties, helping to inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria in the gut, thereby contributing to maintaining a balanced microbial ecosystem. By promoting the development of beneficial bacteria and suppressing harmful pathogens, postbiotics support overall gut health and function.

Contribution to Overall Health

The impact of postbiotics extends beyond the confines of the gut, exerting systemic effects that influence various aspects of health and well-being. Research suggests that these bioactive compounds may contribute to the prevention and management of multiple conditions, including inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

Furthermore, postbiotics regulate metabolic processes, such as glucose and lipid metabolism, helping to prevent the development of metabolic disorders like type 2 diabetes and dyslipidaemia. By modulating these metabolic pathways, postbiotics may help mitigate risk factors associated with cardiometabolic diseases.

Additionally, the immunomodulatory properties of postbiotics have garnered attention for their potential role in enhancing immune function and resilience. By influencing immune cell activity and cytokine production, postbiotics may contribute to maintaining immune homeostasis and preventing immune-mediated disorders.

Conclusion

In conclusion, prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics represent a fascinating area of research within gut health and microbiome science. These bioactive compounds are pivotal in shaping the gut environment, shaping host physiology, and supporting overall health.

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Adil Naeem
Reviewed by Adil Naeem
Reviewed on 15.12.2023
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