OP-ED: The Untapped Potential of Postbiotics; Why Clarity is Key

In the ever-evolving world of health and wellness, a new buzzword was front and center at Expo West 2023: Postbiotics. I could not help but be pulled into the whirlwind of excitement, with countless companies showcasing their latest “postbiotic” wonders, from innovative plant-based proteins to the tantalizing allure of kombucha. Yet, amid this storm of marketing, a fundamental question emerged: are we all talking about the same thing?

According to ISAPP, postbiotics refer to beneficial, inanimate microbes and/or their components. In layman’s terms? They are dead microbes—specifically inactivated organisms or fragments of them—that bring tangible health benefits to us, the hosts. Some may think of them as a microscopic cavalry rushing to our aid. While these postbiotics might be paired with other metabolites or substances in a product, their postbiotic identity hinges on the presence of these beneficial dead cells, either whole or fragmented.

It is crucial, though, not to overlook the keyword here: benefit.  A host of studies have illuminated postbiotics’ potential, from bolstering our immune defense, fortifying gut barrier integrity, and supporting the intricate gut-brain axis to even modulating inflammatory processes.  These are not just empty claims; these are documented, measurable advantages.

But here is where the plot thickens. Amid the clamor of Expo West, I observed an alarming trend: a vast majority of the so-called “postbiotic” products did not fit the bill according to ISAPP’s definition.  Remember the early days of probiotics about 15 years ago?  The market was a maze, and consumers were often misled.  We stand at a similar crossroads with postbiotics today.

It is understandable, businesses might fear that a narrow definition might leave their product out in the cold.  But as we pave the path forward, our north star must always be the consumer.  As they tiptoe into the world of postbiotics, they are faced with a labyrinth of mixed messages.  To truly harness the power of postbiotics, we must prioritize clarity over chaos.

And this is where unity is paramount.  By rallying behind reputable standard-bearers like ISAPP and IPA, we are not just strengthening the industry’s foundation; we are ensuring the consumer reaps the full benefits of these breakthroughs.  Let us remember: at the heart of postbiotics lies the promise of better health. And that, surely, is a cause worth uniting for.

Author: Michael Bush; Managing Partner, GrowthWays Partners

Michael Bush founded GrowthWays Partners to provide strategic advisory services to investors, management teams, and related stakeholders to optimize the enterprise value of companies in the natural products industry.  Michael is a board member for several for and not-for-profit organizations.