Role of the gut microbiota in human nutrition and metabolism

J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2013 Dec;28 Suppl 4:9-17. doi: 10.1111/jgh.12294.


The human gastrointestinal tract harbors trillions of bacteria, most of which are commensal and have adapted over time to the milieu of the human colon. Their many metabolic interactions with each other, and with the human host, influence human nutrition and metabolism in diverse ways. Our understanding of these influences has come through breakthroughs in the molecular profiling of the phylogeny and the metabolic capacities of the microbiota. The gut microbiota produce a variety of nutrients including short-chain fatty acids, B vitamins, and vitamin K. Because of their ability to interact with receptors on epithelial cells and subepithelial cells, the microbiota also release a number of cellular factors that influence human metabolism. Thus, they have potential roles in the pathogenesis of metabolic syndrome, diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and cognition, which extend well beyond their traditional contribution to nutrition. This review explores the roles of the gut microbiota in human nutrition and metabolism, and the putative mechanisms underlying these effects.

Keywords: Bacteroides; Clostridia; Faecalibacterium; Firmicutes; diabetes; metabolic syndrome; non-alcoholic steatohepatitis; obesity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacterial Physiological Phenomena*
  • Carbohydrate Metabolism
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology
  • Diabetes Mellitus / etiology
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Epithelial Cells / physiology
  • Fatty Acids, Volatile / metabolism*
  • Fatty Liver / etiology
  • Fermentation
  • Food*
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / cytology
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / metabolism*
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / microbiology*
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Absorption
  • Lipid Metabolism
  • Metabolic Syndrome / etiology
  • Mice
  • Minerals / metabolism
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
  • Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Obesity / etiology
  • Proteins / metabolism
  • Vitamin B Complex / metabolism
  • Vitamin K / metabolism


  • Fatty Acids, Volatile
  • Minerals
  • Proteins
  • Vitamin B Complex
  • Vitamin K