Starches, resistant starches, the gut microflora and human health

Curr Issues Intest Microbiol. 2000 Mar;1(1):25-37.


Starches are important as energy sources for humans and also for their interactions with the gut microflora throughout the digestive tact. Largely, those interactions promote human health. In the mouth, less gelatinised starches may lower risk of cariogensis. In the large bowel, starches which have escaped small intestinal digestion (resistant starch), together with proteins, other undigested carbohydrates and endogenous secretions are fermented by the resident microflora. The resulting short chain fatty acids contribute substantially to the normal physiological functions of the viscera. Specific types of resistant starch (e.g. the chemically modified starches used in the food industry) may be used to manipulate the gut bacteria and their products (including short chain fatty acids) so as to optimise health. In the upper gut, these starches may assist in the transport of probiotic organisms thus promoting the immune response and suppressing potential pathogens. However, it appears unlikely that current probiotic organisms can be used to modulate large bowel short chain fatty acids in adults although resistant starch and other prebiotics can do so. Suggestions that starch may exacerbate certain conditions (such as ulcerative colitis) through stimulating the growth of certain pathogenic organisms appear to be unfounded. Short chain fatty acids may modulate tissue levels and effects of growth factors in the gut and so modify gut development and risk of serious disease, including colo-rectal cancer. However, information on the relationship between starches and the microflora is relatively sparse and substantial opportunities exist both for basic research and food product development.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Digestive System / metabolism
  • Digestive System / microbiology*
  • Health*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Starch / metabolism*


  • Starch