Why You Should Care About Short-Chain Fatty Acids (SCFA)Published on Thursday, May 04, 2023 by
Gut health is becoming more of a topic of discussion in healthcare.
More people are also becoming more familiar with how the gut affects different areas of health from mental health and chronic disease to weight management.
Think about it - your GI tract is the first contact for a majority of outside exposures (foods, medications, supplements, pathogens “germs”). All of these have an impact on how the gut microbiome is formed and what kinds of bacteria we harbor in our GI tracts.
Food plays an important role in modifying the gut microbiome, specifically through fermentation of the gut microbiome leading to the production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFA). Research has demonstrated that SCFA has beneficial effects on our overall health as we will review here.
What are they?
SCFA are produced during the fermentation of fiber (prebiotic foods) by the gut microbes in the colon.
Common SCFA are:
Why do they matter?
SCFA are linked to a wide array of beneficial health outcomes. Although research is limited to mainly animal and cell studies, several human studies show promising results which lead health experts to promote the intake of prebiotic foods to help promote SCFA production which may be linked to several positive health outcomes.
In the gut, SCFA production has been shown to promote:
- Improved gut permeability and tight junction proteins – tight junction proteins help to make sure that cells are strong. This results in a GI tract that has strong cells which prevent pathogens and harmful substances from getting out of the GI tract and affecting the systemic body.
- Promotes mucus production- mucus is an essential layer of the GI tract that helps protect the gut lumen against harmful chemicals, pathogens, toxins, and allergens. It also acts as a nutrient source for gut microbes.
- Keeps the immune system strong- our guts are lined with immune cells that come across the harmful chemicals, pathogens, toxins, and allergens that might be ingested.
- Help to restore healthy gut bacteria
- They can help facilitate mineral absorption – there has been research that suggests SCFA are one of the main contributors to promoting increased absorption of calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus.
Systemically, SCFA production may also help:
- Body weight control – this may be affected through control of energy metabolism and appetite.
- Affect glucose regulation – via insulin sensitivity and insulin secretion in the body.
- Reduce inflammation in the body that leads to a variety of chronic diseases and neuro-cognitive disorders such as anxiety.
How do you increase SCFA production?
You can do this by consuming a diet that contains a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains as these are prebiotic foods. It may also be smart to incorporate probiotic-rich foods like yogurt or kefir. As always, if you suspect certain foods cause you unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms, please reach out to a registered dietitian to discuss your diet in more depth.
- Blaak, E. E., Canfora, E. E., Theis, S., Frost, G., Groen, A. K., Mithieux, G., Nauta, A., Scott, K., Stahl, B., van Harsselaar, J., van Tol, R., Vaughan, E. E., & Verbeke, K. (2020). Short chain fatty acids in human gut and Metabolic Health. Beneficial Microbes, 11(5), 411–455. https://doi.org/10.3920/bm2020.0057
- Silva, Y. P., Bernardi, A., & Frozza, R. L. (2020). The role of short-chain fatty acids from gut microbiota in gut-brain communication. Frontiers in Endocrinology, 11. https://doi.org/10.3389/fendo.2020.00025
- Vinelli, V., Biscotti, P., Martini, D., Del Bo’, C., Marino, M., Meroño, T., Nikoloudaki, O., Calabrese, F. M., Turroni, S., Taverniti, V., Unión Caballero, A., Andrés-Lacueva, C., Porrini, M., Gobbetti, M., De Angelis, M., Brigidi, P., Pinart, M., Nimptsch, K., Guglielmetti, S., & Riso, P. (2022). Effects of dietary fibers on short-chain fatty acids and gut microbiota composition in healthy adults: A systematic review. Nutrients, 14(13), 2559. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu14132559
Emily HammMS, RDN, CSO, LD