Gut health can be complicated for those unfamiliar with the field. The terminology is relatively new to the public lexicon, so getting basic definitions for some of these terms may be beneficial for anyone looking into gut health or general nutraceutical research and studies.
This article is not intended to be a comprehensive guide to gut health terminology or the many details of research fields. Think of this as a beginner’s guide or laymen’s term definitions to get you on the track to understanding gut health.
Nutraceuticals are any supplement that can be taken along with a daily diet to promote good health or boost vitamin & mineral levels. Nutraceuticals typically come in the form of a supplement (capsule, powder, etc) but can also be added to foods, and may also be provided in products like cosmetics- which are called cosmeceuticals.
Gut microbiota is a comprehensive term that refers to microorganisms in the large intestine. In fact, gut microbiota makes up the body’s single largest population of microorganisms.
Gut microbiota affects overall health and is a major part of the body’s ecosystem. How exactly specific microbiota affects the body is still being researched.
The term ‘gut microbiome’ is often used interchangeably with gut microbiota, although they are technically different. Scientists refer to the gut microbiome as representing the entire system of gut bacteria, while the microbiota is used to describe the actual organisms (bacteria) within the gut microbiome. Therefore, the gut microbiota makes up the gut microbiome. A subtle difference, but it’s like talking about the forest (microbiome) or the individual types of trees within the forest (microbiota).
Probiotics, Prebiotics, & Postbiotics
The terms probiotics, prebiotics, & postbiotics can be hard to differentiate. Thankfully, the three ‘biotic’ words have very different meanings when it comes to gut health.
Probiotics are actual bacteria (healthy bacteria) that, when consumed, can become part of the gut microbiota. Most probiotics are actually derived from healthy gut microbiota. Probiotic bacteria feed on byproducts and waste from other organisms and on fibers from food or drink.
Prebiotics are basically healthy food for healthy gut bacteria. Prebiotics are mainly types of fibers or other non-/low-digestible carbohydrates that have been shown to preferentially feed healthy gut microbes. Prebiotics are also food for probiotics, so some products have prebiotics with probiotics. Although mainly fibers, prebiotics may also be other types of food components.
A definition for postbiotics was provided by the ISAPP in 2021: “a preparation of inanimate microorganisms and/or their components that confers a health benefit on the host.” What this boils down to is that postbiotics are similar to probiotics, only that probiotics are the live healthy bacteria, and postbiotics are not live bacteria and/or fragments of probiotics. Although they are not live bacteria, postbiotics can be beneficial as the cell wall fragments can bind to sites on the gut wall that be inhabited by unhealthy bacteria, sort of like kicking off the bad guy and then warming the seat for the healthy bacteria to take up when they grow enough.
Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, and some are used for other functions as well. They are organic compounds and there are over 20 different amino acids, with 9 being called essential. In nutraceuticals, 9 essential amino acids are focused on, as these amino acids are called “essential” because they cannot be synthesized by the human body. Amino acids are required for the growth, development, and maintenance of the body and its various systems.
Proteins are large molecules composed of long chains of amino acids. Because proteins require amino acids, humans and other animals must find 9 ‘essential’ amino acids they are unable to produce from different sources (food). Proteins are required for tissue building, and healthy metabolic function (e.g., enzymes) like energy production, and when no other sources are available are broken down to produce energy directly.
Research at Biofortis
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