Microbial degradation of whole-grain complex carbohydrates and impact on short-chain fatty acids and health

Adv Nutr. 2015 Mar 13;6(2):206-13. doi: 10.3945/an.114.007450. Print 2015 Mar.


Whole-grain cereals have a complex dietary fiber (DF) composition consisting of oligosaccharides (mostly fructans), resistant starch, and nonstarch polysaccharides (NSPs); the most important are arabinoxylans, mixed-linkage β(1,3; 1,4)-d-glucan (β-glucan), and cellulose and the noncarbohydrate polyphenolic ether lignin. The highest concentration of NSPs and lignin is found in the outer cell layers of the grain, and refined flour will consequently be depleted of a large proportion of insoluble DF components. The flow and composition of carbohydrates to the large intestine are directly related to the intake of DF. The type and composition of cereal DF can consequently be used to modulate the microbial composition and activity as well as the production and molar ratios of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). Arabinoxylans and β-glucan in whole-grain cereals and cereal ingredients have been shown to augment SCFA production, with the strongest relative effect on butyrate. When arabinoxylans were provided as a concentrate, the effect was only on total SCFA production. Increased SCFA production in the large intestine was shown by the concentration in the portal vein, whereas the impact on the concentration in peripheral blood was less because the majority of propionate and butyrate is cleared in the liver. Active microbial fermentation with increased SCFA production reduced the exposure of potentially toxic compounds to the epithelium, potentially stimulating anorectic hormones and acting as signaling molecules between the gut and the peripheral tissues. The latter can have implications for insulin sensitivity and glucose homeostasis.

Keywords: butyrate; complex carbohydrates; short-chain fatty acids; whole-grain cereals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diet
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / metabolism*
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / pharmacology
  • Dietary Fiber / metabolism*
  • Dietary Fiber / pharmacology
  • Digestion
  • Edible Grain*
  • Fatty Acids, Volatile / metabolism*
  • Fermentation
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / metabolism
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / microbiology*
  • Health*
  • Humans
  • Polysaccharides / metabolism
  • Polysaccharides / pharmacology
  • Whole Grains / metabolism*


  • Dietary Carbohydrates
  • Dietary Fiber
  • Fatty Acids, Volatile
  • Polysaccharides