Towards Microbial Fermentation Metabolites as Markers for Health Benefits of Prebiotics

Nutrition Research Reviews. 2015;28:42–66

The gut bacteria can be considered as a highly active metabolic organ that provides metabolic traits that complement those encoded within our own genome. The metabolites produced by the gut bacteria are accessible to the host’s cells and in this way influence physiological processes both locally in the intestine and systemically. The ultimate goal of this publication is to move towards a definition of ‘healthy metabolic signatures’ that might comprise integrated measures of metabolite patterns in different matrices.

Colonic microbial fermentation is a key function of the microbiota that might contribute to gastrointestinal health as well as overall health. As products (not necessarily end products) of intestinal metabolic activity some metabolites are generally accepted as beneficial to the host, whereas others are considered as potentially toxic and involved in chronic human disease both within the gut as well as systemically. The present literature inventory targeted evidence for the physiological and nutritional effects of metabolites, for example, SCFA, the potential toxicity of other metabolites and attempted to determine normal concentration ranges. Furthermore, the biological relevance of more holistic approaches like faecal water toxicity assays and metabolomics and the limitations of faecal measurements were addressed. In conclusion, there is insufficient data to support the use of any individual bacterial metabolite as faecal biomarker of gut health. Profiling metabolites in the context of overall tissue biochemistry and correlation of (multivariate) metabolome signatures with microbial, dietary and physiological data will allow the evaluation of the overall impact of the microbiota on host health and gut function.

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