Postbiotics: What are their benefits and how you can get them?

October 07, 2023 8 min read

Postbiotics: What are their benefits and how you can get them?

For many around in the last millennium, the word ‘biotic’ was really only seen preceded by the antecedent, ‘anti’, and if you are like many others, you would have associated the word antibiotic with illness, or combat of illness, in particular bacterial infections.

Now, fast forward through the first two-and-a-bit decades of this new millennium, and the word biotic has not only grown at a rate of knots in its use in publications, it is now being bounded around with a whole array of different antecedents, with pre-, pro-, and post to name but three. Prebiotic, probiotic, and postbiotic are all known as affixes, but what are the meanings behind these different word configurations?

If you are intrigued, then join us in this article as we aim to identify the difference between the three, but in particular we will delve into what postbiotics are, their benefits, and how you can get them.

What are prebiotics?

Prebiotics are resistant starch, complex carbohydrates and fibre compounds consumed in the diet. These compounds are broken down in the colon by the colonic bacteria, a process that encourages their growth and activity, promoting specific health benefits for the host[i].

What are probiotics?

These are live microorganisms that when consumed in high enough quantities help to bolster the already present gut bacteria. They are found in yeast and other fermented products, as well as probiotic supplements[ii].

What are postbiotics?

In a nutshell, postbiotics are the result of the interaction of our gut bacteria (probiotics) with prebiotics, leading to the process of fermentation. This process results in the production of postbiotics and the release of many health-promoting metabolites[iii].

Examples of postbiotics and their benefits

There are several postbiotics produced when probiotic bacteria ferment prebiotics, all of which have different roles in the maintenance of our health.

Short chain fatty acids

Short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) are the main metabolites that the colonic bacteria produce. SCFAs are the result of complex carbohydrates, dietary fibre, and resistant starch, all prebiotics, being broken down by gut bacteria. As they are broken down, fermentation begins resulting in a product consisting of less than six carbon atoms, hence the short chain.

These SCFAs then become the main energy source for the cells that line the colon. This energy source promotes good gastrointestinal health. An increasing number of studies are showing that in many instances of chronic disease, SCFAs are in reduced numbers[iv]. This shows just how important it is to keep them in good supply as they are not only beneficial to our gastrointestinal wellbeing but to our overall health.

The three main SCFAs produced by your gut microbes are:

  1. Butyrate
  2. Propionate
  3. Acetate

Let’s take a quick look at some of their unique benefits.


  • Main energy source for colonocytes
  • Supports the immune system
  • Helps to reduce inflammation
  • Improves sensitivity and metabolism to insulin, thus helping combat obesity and diabetes
  • Regulates cell growth and death, aiding in the prevention of cancer
  • Strengthens the gut barrier membrane


  • Has a strong anti-inflammatory effect on immune cell function
  • Interacts and supports the health of the pancreatic beta cells. These are responsible for releasing insulin, an important hormone that controls blood sugar.


  • The most abundant SCFA found in the colon
  • Benefits both the host's substrate metabolism and energy by secreting peptide-1 and peptide-YY, hormones responsible for appetite
  • Anti-inflammatory properties
  • Nourishes the colonic epithelial cells[v]


Probiotic bacteria are also able to synthesise some vitamins and amino acids during the breaking down of prebiotics. These are also examples of postbiotics and include, vitamin B12, folate, and vitamin K[vi].

Vitamin B12

  • helps to protect us from megaloblastic anaemia, a condition of the blood that leads to tiredness and feeling weak.
  • keeping your nerve cells and blood cells healthy. A
  • As a methyl-donor (single carbon metabolism) it is a key ingredient in the production of our DNA.

Folate B9

  • Needed for red blood cell production, this is important at times of rapid growth like foetal development.
  • Plays a main role in breaking down excess homocysteine, an amino acid that can be harmful in high quantities.

Vitamin K

  • Plays a role in the production Osteocalcin a protein required for bone construction.
  • Produces Prothrombin, a protein required for blood clotting.

Amino Acids

Considered to be the building blocks of proteins, amino acids are paramount to good health[vii]. There are 20 proteinogenic amino acids including nine which are essential for us to sustain life. The 9 essential amino acids must be acquired through our diet and so, these can all be synthesised by the production of postbiotics[viii].


Found in vegetables, fruits, herbs, spices, and nuts, polyphenols are famous for their antioxidant properties. Consuming foods that are rich in polyphenols gives gut bacteria the opportunity to break them down and synthesise postbiotic compounds, such as Urolithin A.

Urolithin A is linked to aiding the health of the mitochondria, the structure from which we age. As the mitochondria decline, the numerous signs of ageing become apparent. Urolithin A has been shown to initiate mitophagy, a process that sees defective cells of the mitochondria being recycled and improving mitochondria health, thus slowing down the ageing process[ix].   

A note on other postbiotics

Our line-up of all things good for us in the postbiotic world doesn’t end there. We can also benefit from the following:

Bacterial Lysates

  • Bacterial cells that are broken down and made into medicine, taken to boost the immune system, their medicinal qualities help identify and fight illness.

Cell wall fragments

  • Having a major role in the immune system, they act as a mediator between different symbiotic exchanges that take place between the different bacteria and also the eukaryotes (genetic DNA material).

Cell-free supernatants (CFS)

  • A metabolite-containing mixture secreted by bacteria and yeasts. After a period of incubation, all the bacteria are removed leaving behind a health-promoting liquid[x]


  • Extracellular metabolites produced by living organisms, due to their varied chemical structure, they offer potential biotechnical benefits[xi].


  • Proteins that are used to break down substances or build up others, these are essential to life.

Where can I get postbiotics?

The best way to get these postbiotics is to first establish a good community of gut bacteria, namely a balanced gut, and the right amount of good and bad bacteria. If your gut is out of balance, or in a state of dysbiosis, then you need to get out of it and back to a balanced set of bacteria.

The most reliable way to promote diversity within your gut microbiome is to eat a healthy and well balanced diet. A diet that is low in saturated fat, sugars, and other nasties and high in the types of foods your gut microbiota love. That’s because incorporating prebiotics into your diet to feed your bacteria ensures they have everything they need to produce those incredibly important postbiotics.

The following table provides some of the products that will nourish your health-promoting bacteria.

Table 1. High-fibre foods, Resistant Starch, Complex Carbohydrates, and High polyphenols

High Fibre

Resistant Starch

Complex Carbs

High Polyphenols



Beans (baked)















Cooked and cooled pasta and potatoes






Brown rice

Chilli peppers










Flax seeds


Corn bread

Red kidney beans

Green beans




Vegetables (starchy)


Gingko biloba


Egg noodles



Green tea




















Red cabbage




Rice (white)

Sesame seeds




Sweet corn



Rice (brown)


Sweet Potato

Whole grains


Sunflower seeds


Whole wheat bread



vegetables (most)


Whole wheat pasta





Whole grain









Supplementing the diet with Human Milk Oligosaccharides (HMOs)

You can also support the diversity and composition with Layer Origin’s PureHMO® range. These products pack a mighty punch of everything needed to initiate, protect, and feed our probiotic gut bacteria. Their relationship is entwined as HMOs help to fend off pathogenic bacteria and are an effective prebiotic capable of nourishing your beneficial bacteria. In turn, this nourishment increases the abundance and activity of species like Bifidobacteria,resulting in an increased production of postbiotics.    


There really is some exciting science coming to light regarding postbiotics, and there is so much more to say, but hopefully, this little preview of the what’s, why’s, and how’s has given you some good insight and food for thought, excuse the pun!

We are in an exciting time with regard to our health, and how we can assist our own gastrointestinal system in keeping us in optimum shape. Combine the pre- with the pro- to create the postbiotic, throw in some exercise and good habits and you’re on to a winner. Your probiotics seem to be never happier than when devouring the prebiotics and creating the postbiotics, a fascinating interaction that yields prosperous health outcomes for us, and do you know the fantastic thing about it all? As the research continues, our knowledge will only become greater…

Have we ever really had it so good?    

Written byLeanne Edermaniger, M.Sc. Leanne is a professional science writer who specializes in human health and enjoys writing about all things related to the gut microbiome. 


[i] Davani-Davari D, Negahdaripour M, Karimzadeh I, Seifan M, Mohkam M, Masoumi SJ, Berenjian A, Ghasemi Y. Prebiotics: Definition, Types, Sources, Mechanisms, and Clinical Applications. Foods. 2019 Mar 9;8(3):92. doi: 10.3390/foods8030092. PMID: 30857316; PMCID: PMC6463098.

[ii] Behnsen J, Deriu E, Sassone-Corsi M, Raffatellu M. Probiotics: properties, examples, and specific applications. Cold Spring Harb Perspect Med. 2013 Mar 1;3(3):a010074. doi: 10.1101/cshperspect.a010074. PMID: 23457295; PMCID: PMC3579206.

[iii] Ma L, Tu H, Chen T. Postbiotics in Human Health: A Narrative Review. Nutrients. 2023 Jan 6;15(2):291. doi: 10.3390/nu15020291. PMID: 36678162; PMCID: PMC9863882.

[iv] Parada Venegas D, De la Fuente MK, Landskron G, González MJ, Quera R, Dijkstra G, Harmsen HJM, Faber KN, Hermoso MA. Short Chain Fatty Acids (SCFAs)-Mediated Gut Epithelial and Immune Regulation and Its Relevance for Inflammatory Bowel Diseases. Front Immunol. 2019 Mar 11;10:277. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2019.00277. Erratum in: Front Immunol. 2019 Jun 28;10:1486. PMID: 30915065; PMCID: PMC6421268.

[v] Hernández MAG, Canfora EE, Jocken JWE, Blaak EE. The Short-Chain Fatty Acid Acetate in Body Weight Control and Insulin Sensitivity. Nutrients. 2019 Aug 18;11(8):1943. doi: 10.3390/nu11081943. PMID: 31426593; PMCID: PMC6723943.

[vi] Thorakkattu P, Khanashyam AC, Shah K, Babu KS, Mundanat AS, Deliephan A, Deokar GS, Santivarangkna C, Nirmal NP. Postbiotics: Current Trends in Food and Pharmaceutical Industry. Foods. 2022 Oct 5;11(19):3094. doi: 10.3390/foods11193094. PMID: 36230169; PMCID: PMC9564201.

[vii] Lopez MJ, Mohiuddin SS. Biochemistry, Essential Amino Acids. 2023 Mar 13. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan–. PMID: 32496725.

[viii] Amorim Franco TM, Blanchard JS. Bacterial Branched-Chain Amino Acid Biosynthesis: Structures, Mechanisms, and Drugability. Biochemistry. 2017 Nov 7;56(44):5849-5865. doi: 10.1021/acs.biochem.7b00849. PMID: 28977745; PMCID: PMC5839172.

[ix] Singh A, D'Amico D, Andreux PA, Dunngalvin G, Kern T, Blanco-Bose W, Auwerx J, Aebischer P, Rinsch C. Direct supplementation with Urolithin A overcomes limitations of dietary exposure and gut microbiome variability in healthy adults to achieve consistent levels across the population. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2022 Feb;76(2):297-308. doi: 10.1038/s41430-021-00950-1. Epub 2021 Jun 11. PMID: 34117375; PMCID: PMC8821002.

[x] Bourebaba Y, Marycz K, Mularczyk M, Bourebaba L. Postbiotics as potential new therapeutic agents for metabolic disorders management. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy. 2022;153:113138. doi:10.1016/j.biopha.2022.113138 

[xi] Osemwegie OO, Adetunji CO, Ayeni EA, Adejobi OI, Arise RO, Nwonuma CO, Oghenekaro AO. Exopolysaccharides from bacteria and fungi: current status and perspectives in Africa. Heliyon. 2020 Jun 15;6(6):e04205. doi: 10.1016/j.heliyon.2020.e04205. PMID: 32577572; PMCID: PMC7303563.

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