Understanding prebiotics, probiotics, postbiotics and synbiotics

Beneficial healthy intestinal bacterium micro flora that benefit from prebiotics, probiotics, postbiotics and synbiotics

Remember when the only “biotic” we were talking about were anti-biotics? Today, we are navigating biotics ranging from pre and post to syn and pro. So what do these words mean and what do these biotics do to promote or degrade health?

While the advent of antibiotics changed medicine and our survival rates for infectious disease, the use of antibiotics has become so widespread in healthcare, agriculture and the like, that our own healthy gut microbes and bacteria have suffered significant degradation and reduced diversity. This has led to negative effects on our cognition, metabolism, cardiovascular function, digestion and elimination, detoxification pathways, immune function, and overall health throughout life.

However, we are industrious creatures and as we have realized the negative effects of not only antibiotics, but processed food on our microbiome over time, we’ve also developed a deeper understanding around the factors that improve the health of the microbiome.

All hail the Pre-, Pro-, Post- and Syn-biotics

What are prebiotics?

Prebiotics are food-based compounds that promote the growth and activity of beneficial microorganisms, including bacteria and fungi. Think of pre-biotics as the food your microbes eat.

Feeding healthy microbes does lead to better diversity, but it can lead to a better balance between the families of microbes in your mouth and digestive tract. The more robust your beneficial microbes are, the less vulnerable you are to infection, damaged gut tissue (leaky gut) and overgrowth of unhealthy microbes.

What are food sources of prebiotics? Highly fermentable prebiotics are found in garlic, bananas, onions, chickpeas, lentils, fruit, grains and bamboo shoots (can cause gas and bloating if your microbiome is unhappy).

Food and supplement prebiotics that work better for those that experience bloating and GI distress, include; Berries, mushrooms, green bananas, acacia gum, partially hydrolyzed guar gum, oats, apples, citrus, chia seeds, flax seed, avocado, psyllium, glucomannan, barley, high quality fish oil, polyphenols from eating a rainbow of vegetables and fruits.

Florasophy is a blend of organic soluble fermentable fibers that have been shown to feed and grow healthy microbes so our customers can reach beneficial levels of prebiotic intake each day.

What are Probiotics?

Probiotics are live microorganisms (bacteria and yeasts) that have beneficial effects on your body. They naturally reside in your gut and throughout many areas of the body such as the skin and mouth and help support virtually every system in the body. These friendly microbes can control harmful types and promote good health throughout life. Probiotics are available in many of the foods we eat such as yogurt, kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh and miso (raw). Research has shown probiotics from fermented food make it into the colon and increase diversity. That said, probiotic supplements do not increase diversity.

There are countless probiotics on the market in supplement form that do different things for health based on the strains within the probiotics. You can learn more about strains for various conditions in this article from the NIH. In a clinical setting, our cofounder, Megan, cycles different probiotics and gives her clients breaks such as one month one and one month off. This has been shown to let the natural microbes thrive. Probiotic supplements do not colonize the GI tract. They are like friends that come to help you move, they help and then go home. There are benefits, but fermented food is the only option for improving diversity.

What Are Postbiotics?

Postbiotics are health-promoting compounds produced by your gut microbiota. They result from the activity of probiotic bacteria (the beneficial microbes) when they feed on prebiotic foods in your colon. These compounds include short-chain fatty acids like butyrate, acetate, and propionate, enzymes, vitamins (such as B and K), amino acids, and antimicrobial peptides.

Production of SCFA, in particular, has been linked to improved cardiovascular health, increased metabolism, better immune function, reduced risk of cancer, improved digestion, better brain health.

To ensure a high production of beneficial postbiotics, it’s essential to focus on eating a diet that provides sufficient pre and probiotics. However, some people with severe imbalance and reduced diversity may benefit from novel products such as Thaenabiotic, the first postbiotic available to consumers through their provider. This restorative blend of postbiotics can help “reprogram” a damaged gut to encourage a healthier microbiome and therefore healthier body.

What are Synbiotics?

Synbiotics are a combination of probiotics (beneficial gut bacteria) and prebiotics (non-digestible fibers that help these bacteria grow). They work together to promote a healthy gut microbiome. While several companies now offer a supplement that combines prebiotics with probiotics, you can create this within your meals by combining any form of fermented foods with prebiotic-based foods, such as those listed above.

Putting it all together: the Florasophy plan for optimal gut health

If you’re working to improve or optimize your gut health and microbiome, focus on these four core nutrition principles:

  1. Eat a rainbow of plants and consider a Mediterranean-style diet.
  2. Avoid sugar and processed foods.
  3. Eat fermented foods twice per day.
  4. Aim for 40 grams of fiber daily, 20 grams of soluble and 20 grams of insoluble.
  5. Take Florasophy as a prebiotic to feed your good microbes: 3 teaspoons a day will make a world of difference in your wellbeing and help your healthy microbiome to thrive.

About Megan Barnett, MS, CNS

Megan Barnett, MS

Megan Barnett, MS, CNS is a clinical nutritionist, research writer, public speaker and educator with over ten years in the field of nutrition science and functional medicine. She co-owns BioLounge, a functional medicine clinic in Portland, Oregon, and she is the co-founder and product developer of Florasophy organic soluble fiber blends. She sits on the board of directors for the American Nutrition Association where she supports the credentialing and professional development of her colleagues while providing leadership in the treatment and prevention of disease using evidence-based nutrition science.