Roles of the gut in the metabolic syndrome: an overview

J Intern Med. 2017 Apr;281(4):319-336. doi: 10.1111/joim.12584. Epub 2016 Dec 19.


The metabolic syndrome is a cluster of risk factors (central obesity, hyperglycaemia, dyslipidaemia and arterial hypertension), indicating an increased risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and premature mortality. The gastrointestinal tract is seldom discussed as an organ system of principal importance for metabolic diseases. The present overview connects various metabolic research lines into an integrative physiological context in which the gastrointestinal tract is included. Strong evidence for the involvement of the gut in the metabolic syndrome derives from the powerful effects of weight-reducing (bariatric) gastrointestinal surgery. In fact, gastrointestinal surgery is now recommended as a standard treatment option for type 2 diabetes in obesity. Several gut-related mechanisms that potentially contribute to the metabolic syndrome will be presented. Obesity can be caused by hampered release of satiety-signalling gut hormones, reduced meal-associated energy expenditure and microbiota-assisted harvest of energy from nondigestible food ingredients. Adiposity per se is a well-established risk factor for hyperglycaemia. In addition, a leaky gut mucosa can trigger systemic inflammation mediating peripheral insulin resistance that together with a blunted incretin response aggravates the hyperglycaemic state. The intestinal microbiota is strongly associated with obesity and the related metabolic disease states, although the mechanisms involved remain unclear. Enterorenal signalling has been suggested to be involved in the pathophysiology of hypertension and postprandial triglyceride-rich chylomicrons; in addition, intestinal cholesterol metabolism probably contributes to atherosclerosis. It is likely that in the future, the metabolic syndrome will be treated according to novel pharmacological principles interfering with gastrointestinal functionality.

Keywords: body weight; chylomicrons; energy expenditure; food intake; glycaemia; metabolism.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bariatric Surgery
  • Body Weight
  • Comorbidity
  • Diabetes Mellitus / epidemiology
  • Dyslipidemias / complications
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / metabolism*
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / microbiology
  • Humans
  • Hyperglycemia / complications
  • Hypertension / complications
  • Inflammation / complications
  • Metabolic Syndrome / complications
  • Metabolic Syndrome / metabolism*
  • Microbiota
  • Obesity / complications
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Obesity / surgery
  • Risk Factors