Postbiotics: The Highest Utilization of Diet and Probiotics

Many people like to kick off the New Year with a list of resolutions to enhance their lives. A 2019 study reported that in the US, the top three New Year resolutions are healthy eating, exercise, and weight loss.1 Despite the mass desire for a healthier lifestyle, every year 60-70 million Americans suffer from gastrointestinal (GI) issues, ranging from a casual “upset stomach” to chronic conditions such as gas, bloating, ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and more. According to a customer survey by Verb Biotics in 2023, most individuals try to alleviate digestive issues by following various home remedies, such as drinking water, taking antacids, or eating more fiber.2 Although not everybody needs to consult with a physician for gut issues, the annual total number of hospitalizations (4.5 million), mortality (236,000, and the resulting medical bills (almost $100 billion) is quite shocking!3,4 Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the focus on ‘healthy eating for gut health’ surged. This trend catapulted the social media hashtag ‘ #GutTok’ to over a billion views, underscoring consumer curiosity surrounding dietary habits and gut health. On top of that, decades of research have consistently shown that maintaining a healthy gut is essential for overall well-being and gut health. 

The concept of microorganisms living in the gut, also known as the gut microbiome, was initiated in the late 1800s after the discovery of E. coli bacterium in human feces.5 At the beginning of the 2000s, NIH’s human microbiome project (HMP) added a new vigor to gut microbiome research.6 The knowledge gained from their gut microbiome research changes our understanding of overall human health in relation to the gut. For example, we now know that human babies inherit their first microbiome from the mother during birth, which plays a crucial role in their developmental well-being. We also learned that a healthy balance in the gut microbial population is not only important for digestive health, but also for our cardiac, endocrine, mental, autoimmune health, and more. The microbial composition and diversity of our gut microbiomes are heavily influenced by food, age, genetics, immune systems, environmental factors, geographic location, personal habits (e.g., smoking and drinking), medications, etc.7 All these factors work concertedly to build an environment to harbor thousands of species of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites in the gut.  

The abundance of specific microorganisms in the gut is constantly changing due to the interplay of the above-mentioned factors. If one factor has a drastic change, it disrupts the microbial balance and causes what many scientists call “dysbiosis”. We must modulate the contributing factors to revert the microbiome to a healthy state. Some of the factors are difficult to change, whereas some are easy. For example, we cannot change our age or genetics, but we can control what we eat. Fortunately, the gut microbiome is most directly regulated by our diet. A healthy, balanced diet can keep our microbiome in good shape. Historically, a healthy diet is perceived to be low in calories, low in processed sugars, and rich in fiber.8  

Thanks to advancing technology, scientists can now molecularly dissect food components to clearly understand their mode of action (MOA) and discover how to maximize their benefits. Food digestion begins in the mouth with the mixing of saliva and continues in the gut with the help of various digestive enzymes through a complex physiological process. However, human enzymes are incapable of digesting many complex food components, which are collectively referred to as “prebiotics”. The microbial community in our gut uses special enzymatic power to ferment those prebiotics and supply metabolites to the gut. The molecular and structural complexity of these prebiotics determines which group of gut bacteria will come into action. There are three major classes of gut microbes for these actions: probiotics, commensals, and pathogens. Probiotic bacteria are the major beneficial players in gut homeostasis. Different species of probiotics utilize different prebiotic components of food. For example, Inulin is a prebiotic found in foods like asparagus, which is fermented by Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus, and Faecalibacterium (a few examples of gut probiotic bacteria.) The fermentation process in the colon yields a series of metabolites, specifically short-chain fatty acids (SCFA), which in turn provide energy to intestinal cells.9 On the other hand, there are numerous species of gut microorganisms whose impact on prebiotic fermentation is yet to be elucidated. Still, their presence and diversity help the immune system to prevent pathogen invasion as they compete for the available nourishments. Simultaneously, a portion of gut microbes are real pathogens, but in a balanced gut ecosystem, they are outnumbered by the probiotic and commensal microbes, so they cause minimal issues.10 However, if a diet is high in readily digestible starch, such as processed carbs and sugars, it is quickly digested into glucose by the body’s enzymes and absorbed in the blood. Eating processed foods that are low in fiber and high in sugar reduces the probiotic bacteria in the gut, causing bad groups of bacteria to flourish and contribute to issues like diabetes and obesity.11     

Postbiotics are a relatively new innovation in the biotics space, and they can greatly assist in enhancing gut microbiome diversity. The term may be unknown to many, but postbitoics are based on the age-old fermentation concept. Postbiotics do not contain any live microorganisms, making them safer for many people to consume. The gut environment uniquely varies from person to person; hence, everybody may not get the same benefit from prebiotic food and probiotic supplements. In fact, in a few cases, excessive fermentation in the gut may stimulate the growth of gas-producing microorganisms, e.g., Clostridium spp., leading to bloating.12 However, a postbiotic is already fermented with a specific probiotic bacterium and later pasteurized to inactivate the bacteria, therefore, providing similar benefits to its prebiotics and probiotics counterparts without their possible disadvantages. 

Utilizing the concept of prebiotic and probiotic synergy, Verb Biotics has created our first bio-solution, the Keystone Postbiotic™ using oat powder to support cultivating a healthy gut microbiome. Oats are naturally gluten-free and have prebiotic components, such as β-glucan, protein, vitamin E, lysin, flavonoids, and phenolics. In our lab, we carefully formulated and tested multiple fermentation conditions by changing the oat amount, pH, and temperature to ensure the optimum growth condition for the two fermenting Lactobacillus strains. Lactobacilli are well known for their ability to bio-transform various prebiotics under the right growth conditions. Therefore, we utilized the combined power of two Lactobacillus to bio-convert the indigestible parts of oat powder into metabolites that humans can readily utilize. The experimental findings were strongly supported by the data from a small cohort of people who were on Keystone Postbiotic™, and Verb is excited to see Keystone Postbiotic™ get used in commercialized applications to help consumers say, “I feel the effect!” 

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About the author: Arpita Aditya, Ph.D., has been studying and researching microbiology for over 14 years. She has expertise in gut microbial modulation utilizing natural components to provide host health benefits. Her research interests include investigating the mode of action of probiotics against human health complications. Currently, she works as a Senior Scientist at Verb Biotics.           


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