Specific dynamic action: a review of the postprandial metabolic response

J Comp Physiol B. 2009 Jan;179(1):1-56. doi: 10.1007/s00360-008-0283-7. Epub 2008 Jul 3.


For more than 200 years, the metabolic response that accompanies meal digestion has been characterized, theorized, and experimentally studied. Historically labeled "specific dynamic action" or "SDA", this physiological phenomenon represents the energy expended on all activities of the body incidental to the ingestion, digestion, absorption, and assimilation of a meal. Specific dynamic action or a component of postprandial metabolism has been quantified for more than 250 invertebrate and vertebrate species. Characteristic among all of these species is a rapid postprandial increase in metabolic rate that upon peaking returns more slowly to prefeeding levels. The average maximum increase in metabolic rate stemming from digestion ranges from a modest 25% for humans to 136% for fishes, and to an impressive 687% for snakes. The type, size, composition, and temperature of the meal, as well as body size, body composition, and several environmental factors (e.g., ambient temperature and gas concentration) can each significantly impact the magnitude and duration of the SDA response. Meals that are large, intact or possess a tough exoskeleton require more digestive effort and thus generate a larger SDA than small, fragmented, or soft-bodied meals. Differences in the individual effort of preabsorptive (e.g., swallowing, gastric breakdown, and intestinal transport) and postabsorptive (e.g., catabolism and synthesis) events underlie much of the variation in SDA. Specific dynamic action is an integral part of an organism's energy budget, exemplified by accounting for 19-43% of the daily energy expenditure of free-ranging snakes. There are innumerable opportunities for research in SDA including coverage of unexplored taxa, investigating the underlying sources, determinants, and the central control of postprandial metabolism, and examining the integration of SDA across other physiological systems.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Animals
  • Digestion / physiology
  • Digestive System Physiological Phenomena*
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology
  • France
  • Germany
  • History, 18th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Physiology / history
  • Postprandial Period / physiology*