Are Postbiotics the Next Big Thing? Or Just Overhyped Marketing?


First, it was probiotics. Then, prebiotics, the “food” prebiotic bacteria devour, captured the spotlight. But the latest entrant to the universe of gut health is postbiotics. They’re trendy but are they doing anything profound for the health of your gut? Let’s see what science says.

What Are Postbiotics?

Postbiotics are bioactive compounds, like peptides, organic acids, and enzymes, that probiotic microorganisms make. Manufacturers of postbiotics claim they have some of the benefits that probiotics and prebiotics have and can help you build a healthier gut ecosystem.

An example of a postbiotic is resistant starch, a type of carbohydrate that you don’t absorb, yet gut bacteria love it. Once resistant starch makes its way to the small intestinal tract, bacteria devour and ferment it into short-chain fatty acids. These fatty acids, like butyrate and propionate, reduce inflammation and may lower the risk of colon cancer. Plus, resistant starch is blood-sugar friendly and helps prevent blood sugar spikes.

The Theoretical Benefits of Postbiotics

A growing body of preliminary research suggests that postbiotics could offer benefits for gut health. These include:

  • Enhanced immune function.
  • Anti-inflammatory effects
  • Improved gut barrier integrity
  • Antimicrobial properties to inhibit pathogens.
  • Benefits for metabolism and weight loss
  • Potential to reduce risk of certain cancers.

Although there are preliminary studies at the cellular level and in animals that support these gut health benefits, we need longer-term studies to determine whether postbiotics offer the full repertoire of benefits listed above.

Could Postbiotics Be Better Than Probiotics?

Although probiotics will always have a role in gut health, especially for people who must take antibiotics, postbiotics have some advantages over probiotic supplements.

With probiotics, you must worry about whether the probiotic organisms are still viable. Unless they’re alive, they can’t colonize your gut and offer benefits. You don’t have to worry about viability with postbiotics, as they aren’t living organisms but byproducts.

Storage is less of an issue with postbiotics too. To keep probiotics fresh and viable, you need to store them in a way that doesn’t damage or kill the microbes. In fact, the highest quality probiotics are often found in the refrigerated section of health food stores. Postbiotics, in contrast, don’t need to be refrigerated. They’re stable at a wider range of temperatures and have a longer shelf life.

Another consideration is the lack of living organisms. That might sound like a disadvantage, but if you have a weakened immune system, seeding your gut with new bacteria could present a health issue if you don’t have an immune system that keeps them in check. Postbiotics give some of the benefits of probiotics without requiring live microbes. They work no matter the state of your immune system.

Sources of Postbiotics

If you don’t want to take a postbiotic supplement, how can you get these gut-friendly by-products from food? Many probiotic-rich foods also contain postbiotics, including yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, etc. But there’s one problem. These foods provide inconsistent and low doses of these compounds. So, when you eat a bowl of fresh sauerkraut, you’re getting probiotics but the quantity of postbiotics may not be enough to have an impact on gut health.

You can also buy postbiotic supplements at health food stores and online sites. But, as you know, quality control can be an issue with supplements. If you try a postbiotic supplement, talk to your doctor first. Then look for one that contains the best-known postbiotics – short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), phenolic compounds, or microbial metabolites. Select brands that have few or no fillers or additives.

Another way to choose a high-quality postbiotic supplement that’s safe is to use sites like NSF International, USP, or ConsumerLab.com that certify supplies or do independent testing.

Too Good to Be True?

Research on probiotics shows promise but it’s still preclinical or animal based. We still need robust, large-scale human trials. Plus, at this point, there’s no consensus on the standardization of postbiotic supplements. If we don’t know what the standard is for potency and composition, it’s hard to standardize research to determine the benefits.

The Verdict Is Still Out about Postbiotics

Postbiotics provide a novel way to influence gut health without viable bacteria. But this is still an emerging field. Expect to see more human clinical trials in the coming years to clarify the true impact of various conditions.

For now, get postbiotics from traditionally fermented foods. Fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, pickled vegetables, etc. contain postbiotics that occur naturally during the fermentation process. When yeasts and microbes ferment foods, they produce postbiotics.

Still, the amount and composition of postbiotics in these foods can vary widely depending on factors like the strains used, fermentation time, temperature, nutrients available, etc. Manufacturers can’t precisely control their production yet. Supplements could provide an additional boost, but effects can vary between products.


You’ll get the most gut health benefits by eating a varied diet that includes fiber to feed healthy gut bacteria and fermented foods that contain probiotics themselves. As Harvard Health suggests, “Getting enough of the foods that promote a mix of healthy gut bacteria may help improve your overall health. There may be room for all three – prebiotics, postbiotics, and probiotics.


  • Golen, Toni, and Hope Ricciotti. “What Are Postbiotics? – Harvard Health.” Harvard Health. Harvard Health, November 2021. health.harvard.edu/nutrition/what-are-postbiotics.
  • Wegh CAM, Geerlings SY, Knol J, Roeselers G, Belzer C. Postbiotics and Their Potential Applications in Early Life Nutrition and Beyond. Int J Mol Sci. 2019 Sep 20;20(19):4673. doi: 10.3390/ijms20194673. PMID: 31547172; PMCID: PMC6801921.
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  • Ji J, Jin W, Liu SJ, Jiao Z, Li X. Probiotics, prebiotics, and postbiotics in health and disease. MedComm (2020). 2023 Nov 4;4(6): e420. doi: 10.1002/mco2.420. PMID: 37929014; PMCID: PMC10625129.
  • Żółkiewicz J, Marzec A, Ruszczyński M, Feleszko W. Postbiotics-A Step Beyond Pre- and Probiotics. Nutrients. 2020 Jul 23;12(8):2189. doi: 10.3390/nu12082189. PMID: 32717965; PMCID: PMC7468815.
  • “What are postbiotics? – Harvard Health.” 01 Nov. 2021, https://www.health.harvard.edu/nutrition/what-are-postbiotics.
  • “Postbiotics: an emerging option for gut health – Nature.” https://www.nature.com/articles/d42473-020-00552-8.
  • Vinderola G, Sanders ME, Salminen S. The Concept of Postbiotics. Foods. 2022 Apr 8;11(8):1077. doi: 10.3390/foods11081077. PMID: 35454664; PMCID: PMC9027423.
  • “Resistant starches newest thing in gut microbiome talk.” 03 Jan. 2024, https://www.uclahealth.org/news/article/resistant-starches-newest-thing-gut-microbiome-talk.

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