Microbiome 101: what are Pre, Pro and Postbiotics


What is a Prebiotic? Why Might Prebiotics Be More Important Than Probiotics? The latest on Postbiotics.


Researchers are diving deep when it comes to gut health and athletic performance. 

The microbiome, simplistically put, is the components your intestinal tract which  assist in nutrient absorption, immune enhancement, and brain signaling.To be honest, there is nothing 'simple' about the human microbiome when it consists of around 100 trillion microbial cells.

The microbiome is becoming the center of researchers attention in discovering the understanding and treatment of diseases, potentially offsetting disease development. The role that the microbiome plays for athletes is in the ability to optimize performance and recovery health.

Let's take a look at three components of the microbiome: Probiotics, Prebiotics and Postbiotics.

Probiotics have taken a stage up front and center over the past few years as our scientific community have built the bridge to immune health and our microbiome. What the research community is finding is prebiotics are just as important to our microbiome health as probiotics, if not more so.

 Why is this?

Probiotics are live microorganisms that make up about 85% of our gut microbiome.

There are 2 types of probiotics; live and heat-killed, which has caused some confusion to the consumer.  

They both have played a beneficial role in increasing anti-inflammatory mediators however it is the live probiotics which directly impact the microflora, or gut bugs.

The active levels of these 'live' microorganisms when manufactured  as 'live' for supplements, are extremely fragile and delicate and can be killed if exposed to heat and need to be refrigerated throughout the entire production process, including transportation to the consumer.

Many probiotics are in consumable forms as capsules, powders, yogurt and beverages. The best consumer protocol for ingesting the highest amounts of live probiotics, to reach the GI microbiome, is to verify the refrigeration path of the probiotic products from the manufacturer to the consumer. 

Live probiotic cells influence both the gastrointestinal microflora and the immune response, while the components of heat inactivated cells exert an anti-inflammatory response in the gastrointestinal tract.

Research shows that heat-killed probiotic bacteria have also been shown to have an effect in the maintenance of barrier integrity. For example, heat-killed L. rhamnosus, strain OLL2838, has been shown to protect against mucosal barrier permeability defects (leaky gut) in mice with induced colitis. 

Heat-inactivated probiotics could also have a role in the management of dermatological or respiratory allergic diseases.

Increasing your diet with probiotics can potentially reduce the amount of 'bad' bacteria that enters into our digestive system with our food. Since our digestive and microbiome is different to each individual there are precautions to take when exploring adding probiotics to your diet. 

Probiotics can trigger an allergic reaction, especially if you have DAO enzyme issues. Fermentated foods, including alcohol and Kombucha are triggers to histamine release and cause allergic reactions. The first few days  of elevating your probiotic intake might cause mild stomach problems; gas, diarrhea, or bloating. Those symptoms usually go away after your body gets used to them. 

If you have DAO enzyme issues, proceeding with known foods that do not irritate a histamine response is advisable and use of enzymes would be suggested. 

What are Prebiotics?

Prebiotics are food sources for Probiotics, and do not require refrigeration.

This refrigeration characteristic is a definitive reason why prebiotics may be more important than probiotics, to the desired end result of increasing the gut microbiome level of microorganisms.

The best Prebiotics we can eat are fibers, which help balance cholesterol and glucose levels, support bowel functions and most importantly feed the microorganisms that make up the microbiome.

These fibers can be found in numerous food sources to include;

  • oats
  • apples
  • asparagus
  • bananas
  • inulin

Researchers are finding acacia fiber is one of the best prebiotics we can ingest. Acacia fiber is also called acacia gum or gum arabic and is derived from the Acacia senegal tree native to Africa.

Acacia fiber is used in both food and drinks to impart a selective 'mouth feel' and ingredient stability within drink mixes.

Prebiotic Benefits for Gut Health Include:

Health benefits of prebiotic dietary fibers

1. Increases in Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli 
2. Production of beneficial metabolites 
3. Increases in calcium absorption 
4. Decreases in protein fermentation 
5. Decreases in pathogenic bacteria populations 
6. Decreases in allergy risk 
7. Effects on gut barrier permeability 
8. Improved immune system defense 
  • More Gut Probiotics is key for elevating 2 important gut bugs.

Researchers have found that in one study after 4 weeks of a daily dose of gum arabic resulted in significantly higher numbers of Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli (1)

  • Weight Management:

Prebiotics are influential with glucose absorption, insulin regulation ultimately playing a role in weight management. A female focused study with 60 women ingesting gum arabic for six weeks decreased their body fat percentage by 2% and BMI. (2)

  • Leaky Gut Support:

Prebiotics help increasing the short chain fatty acids, to include butyrate(3), which act as a barrier to leaky gut and supports the junction gaps.(4)

Last, but not least are Postbiotics.

What are postbiotics?

Dr Colin Hill, of APC MicrobiomeIreland and University College Cork  provided  the following definition of postbiotic as, “a preparation of inanimate microorganisms and/or their components that confers health benefit on the host.”

Breaking the definition down, Hill said that this essentially means that postbiotics are deliberately inactivated microbial cells or cell components, either with or without their metabolites, that confer a health benefit.

Postbiotics are the outcome of what the complete microbiome contains; probiotics, probiotics,microbial metabolites, proteins, lipids, carbohydrates, vitamins, organic acids, cell wall components, and the internal fermentation process.

The effective development of postbiotics really is subjective to the levels of the above microbiome components and how each body utilizes the individual components as a whole system. 

According to Dr. Rajsree Nambudripad, integrative medicine specialist with St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton, California, "When the bacteria in your gut called probiotics, metabolize the fiber (or prebiotics) in your diet, that generates something called short-chain fatty acids, which are postbiotics."

The benefits of postbiotics include:

  • Decreasing inflammation
  • Promoting waste excretion 
  • Metabolic boost
  • Aiding Calcium uptake
  • Elevating immune system
  • Preventing chronic health problems

Food sources to help 'fast track' the microbiome are fermented prior to ingestions and include the following:

  • Sauerkraut
  • Kimchi 
  • Kefir
  • Yogurt
  • Kombucha
  • Tempeh
  • Miso 

The individual seeking to elevate gut health needs to take proper steps in review current digestive issues, if there are any.  Digestion is a unique aspect to each person on this earth so if you friend decides to increase fermented foods and you have a DAO enzyme issues, keep the toilet paper on hand as this will irritate and aggravate your GI and may induce allergic reactions.

Athletes entertaining increasing 'biotics' into the diet should start on low training weeks to evaluate tolerance and acceptance. A 2 week trial will allow the GI to evolve and accept higher biotics and or let you know you might need to take a step back to look at alternative means to gut health.

The most gentle aspect to elevating gut health is to start with prebiotic food and drink sources, since these can be managed easily with the most positive benefits and least negative GI interference.



(1) Calame, W., Weseler, A. R., Viebke, C., Flynn, C., & Siemensma, A. D. (2008). Gum arabic establishes prebiotic functionality in healthy human volunteers in a dose-dependent manner. British Journal of Nutrition,100(06), 1269. doi:10.1017/s0007114508981447

(2) Babiker, R., Merghani, T. H., Elmusharaf, K., Badi, R. M., Lang, F., & Saeed, A. M. (2012). Effects of gum Arabic ingestion on body mass index and body fat percentage in healthy adult females: two-arm randomized, placebo controlled, double-blind trial. Nutrition Journal,11(1). doi:10.1186/1475-2891-11-111

(3) Michel, C., Kravtchenko, T., David, A., Gueneau, S., Kozlowski, F., & Cherbut, C. (1998). In Vitroprebiotic effects of Acacia gums onto the human intestinal microbiota depends on both botanical origin and environmental pH. Anaerobe,4(6), 257-266. doi:10.1006/anae.1998.0178

(4) Vanhook, A. M. (2015). Butyrate benefits the intestinal barrier. Science Signaling, 8(378). doi:10.1126/scisignal.aac6198

(5) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6801921/

(6) https://health.usnews.com/health-care/patient-advice/articles/what-are-postbiotics

(7) https://www.nature.com/articles/pr2009188.pdf?origin=ppub

(8) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6566317/