It would have been absurd to think of swallowing living bacteria for health benefits.

But in the past two decades, the market for drinks, foods and pills that promise to boost our beneficial gut bugs — which studies are now linking to everything from reducing the risk of depression to shrinking the size of our waistlines — has dramatically expanded.

First came probiotic supplements — so-called ‘friendly bacteria’. Prebiotics are what provide fuel for these bacteria. Postbiotics is a new type of supplement.

Some manufacturers claim postbiotic supplements are even better than probiotics, delivering faster results. A stock image is used above [File photo]

Postbiotic supplements can be even more effective than probiotics and deliver faster results, according to some manufacturers. This stock image was used in lieu of the above. [File photo]

Glenn Gibson (a Reading University professor of food microbiology and a prominent probiotic researcher) explains that postbiotics can be described as leftover byproducts after digestive good bacteria has broken down fiber in the gut.

You can get the full benefits of probiotics by simply taking these supplements. Manufacturers claim that postbiotics are faster than probiotics.

Certainly, an increasing number of experts — including microbiologists at the Wageningen University in the Netherlands, where some early studies have taken place, and independent UK pharmacist Aidan Goggins — think that when it comes to better gut health, postbiotics may turn out to be the most crucial element.

U.S. brand Sane says its Viscera-3 postbiotic, which is endorsed by Harvard Medical School, as well as the respected Mayo Clinic, is ‘more powerful’ than pro or prebiotics because it contains the ‘final by-product’ — the components ‘that actually improve your gut health’.

Meanwhile, Holland & Barrett has brought out what is thought to be the first UK supplement that contains a blend of pro, pre and postbiotics.

But is this latest spin on ‘biotics’ just a way to get us spending yet more on our wellbeing — or can they really boost our health?

The appetite for probiotics — the marketing name for the good bacteria such as bifidobacteria and lactobacillus that naturally live in our gut — has boomed since the mid-1990s and the launch of the Japanese yoghurt drink Yakult in the West.

Increasing prebiotic intake has been linked to similar gut health benefits as probiotics, but more clinical trials are needed to confirm this, according to a 2020 review by the University of Rome. And just as different brands of probiotics may contain differing bacteria, the same goes for postbiotic supplements

A higher intake of prebiotics has been shown to have the same benefits for gut health as probiotics. But, it is still unclear if more clinical trials can confirm that this effect, according to University of Rome’s 2020 review. Just as probiotics can contain different bacteria, so postbiotic supplements may also differ.

Recent BBC data shows that Britons are spending almost three-quarters to a billion pounds per year on prebiotic and probiotic supplements.

These good bacteria form part of what is called our gut microbiome — a complex collection of microbes including viruses, fungi and yeasts — which studies are finding play a vital role in our digestive health and in helping to break down food, and also in our immune system and even our mood and behaviour.

A variety of things can lead to the depletion of our natural good bacteria levels, such as poor nutrition, stress, or even taking antibiotics, which kill both harmful and beneficial bacteria. It’s not just about the quantity of good bacteria that is important. We also need to be able to identify and appreciate a variety of types.

You can add probiotics to replenish your numbers or take probiotic supplementation.

These good bacteria need to be fed, and that is why prebiotics exist. Prebiotics can be found in the best foods, such as bananas, leeks and onions. However, prebiotics can also be purchased as supplements. Synbiotics (a combination of probiotics and prebiotics) are available both as an individual supplement and as a’synbiotic” capsule.

According to the University of Rome, a similar effect has been seen with prebiotic intake on gut health to probiotics. However, more clinical trials will be needed to verify this.

Just as probiotics can contain different bacteria in different brands, so too with postbiotic supplements.

Simon Gaisford from University College London is an expert in pharmaceutics and has researched these by-products.

Another research has shown that these substances may stimulate the immune system as well as have an anti-inflammatory impact on gut cells. Naples University’s 2011 study found that IBS patients who took butyrate supplements had less abdominal pain.

However, not all these products are specifically marketed as “postbiotics”. BodyBio is a UK-based company that sells a butyrate product. It claims it improves digestion.

Holland & Barrett’s postbiotic product contains calcium lactate, which, it claims, ‘contributes to the normal function of digestive enzymes’.

These products don’t come cheap. The BodyBio product costs £17.99 for 60 capsules, while Holland & Barret’s Expert Triple Action Biotic Gut Formula costs £29.99 for 60 capsules. Is it worth buying them, especially considering that they’re supposed to be used daily.

Professor Gibson thinks this product is a “biotic too far”.

He warns that although postbiotics have been added to the “biotic” family recently, there is much less research about their usage.

“I have no doubt that this will change in future. But at the moment I am not convinced about their unique selling point or what makes them different from pro and prebiotics.

Professor Gibson explained that while there are more than 100 ongoing studies, little is known about postbiotics supplementation. One small study, published in Digestive Diseases journal in 2011, found that IBS symptoms were significantly reduced when I took a four-week postbiotic milk culture.

Probiotics are gaining popularity, but there is still no consensus on their scientific effectiveness.

While some studies do show that certain strains of good bacteria may help prevent antibiotic-associated diarrhoea, and others could offer constipation relief, in 2020, a review of current research by the American Gastroenterological Association found little evidence to recommend them for most digestive conditions, echoing the result of a 2017 review by the respected Cochrane Library.

Aidan Goggins (a consultant to the supplements industry) says that probiotics have “in the majority of cases failed to live up their initial promise.”

Probiotics have been criticised for their ability to survive digestion, and to remain alive when they reach the stomach.

“Studies have demonstrated the bacteria.” [in supplements]Aidan Goggins explains that many bacteria don’t survive and make it into the stomach intact.

With postbiotics there is no way to kill off any living organisms. This means that postbiotics offer nutritional benefits in an easy to absorbable form the body can immediately use.

Aidan Goggins states that although it’s too early to tell if these products will live up the hype, “This is certainly the next generation for good gut health”

You can increase your levels of all three types of biotics by increasing your intake fiber. You can get more benefits from your gut bacteria if you eat more fibre.

Professor Gibson says that not all fiber is equal. A standard bowl of branflakes is not good for stimulating probiotic bacteria to create and ferment postbiotics, because it doesn’t contain enough prebiotic fibre, inulin. “Good sources of inulin food include leeks and onion, bananas, artichoke, leeks, and onion,” he says.

Another reason to enjoy your fruits and vegetables is the fact that they are delicious.

Grab your grip!

Conditions that are linked to strength in your hands. This week: Osteoporosis

According to a U.S. study, grip strength is a measure of how strong your bones can hold, according to a Journal of Bone and Mineral Research published last year. The bones of the women with weakest grip strength are 11 percent thinner than those who have strong grip.

Adam Taylor, Lancaster University professor of anatomy, said that your grasp strength is a proxy of the health of bone or connective tissue.

“As your muscles and tendon use force on the bone, you can do it with your muscles. This forces the bone to grow. He explains that if your muscles become weaker due to age-related or lack of exercise, then the force exerted on the bones is less, and this affects the bone’s size and density.

Professor Taylor however says that even simple weight bearing exercises, such as walking or running, can exercise the muscles and tendon and in turn exert force on the bones.

More to Eat 

Herbs and spices — they could lower your blood pressure, according to a study from Pennsylvania State University in the U.S.

The spices may have cell-protective antioxidants that boost levels of nitric dioxide, which has been shown to increase blood vessel size.

Looking glass 

Eye disease is a sign of declining vision.

This week: Charles Bonnet Syndrome

Charles Bonnet Syndrome is a condition that causes vision loss and resulting in ‘hallucinations. Badrul Hussain (a specialist ophthalmic surgeon at Moorfields Eye Hospital, London), says this most often occurs due to age-related Macular Degeneration that affects central vision.

According to Mr Hussain, the retina is essentially the eye. [the photographic film at the back of the eye]The brain still sends signals to the retina from the sunlight. The retina may not be working properly, so sometimes these signals can be misinterpreted by brains that’make up’ images.

“If you have unusual symptoms you should let your team know.