Evidence is accumulating that short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) play an important role in the maintenance of gut and metabolic health. The SCFA acetate, propionate and butyrate are produced from the microbial fermentation of indigestible carbohydrates and appear to be key mediators of the beneficial effects elicited by the gut microbiome. Microbial SCFA production is essential for gut integrity by regulating the luminal pH, mucus production, providing fuel for epithelial cells and effects on mucosal immune function. SCFA also directly modulate host metabolic health through a range of tissue-specific mechanisms related to appetite regulation, energy expenditure, glucose homeostasis and immunomodulation. Therefore, an increased microbial SCFA production can be considered as a health benefit, but data are mainly based on animal studies, whereas well-controlled human studies are limited.
In this review an expert group by ILSI Europe’s Prebiotics Task Force discussed the current scientific knowledge on SCFA to consider the relationship between SCFA and gut and metabolic health with a particular focus on human evidence.
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