Dietary fibre, fermentation and large bowel cancer

Cancer Surv. 1987;6(4):601-21.


Diet, especially the amount of starch and dietary fibre which escape digestion in the small intestine, are major determinants of colon function in man. These carbohydrates are the principal substrates for fermentation by the large bowel flora. Carbohydrate fermentation results in lowered caecal pH and the production of short chain fatty acids of which butyric acid may protect the colon epithelium from dysplastic change. Protein digestion and amino acid fermentation also occur in the large bowel but the nature of its endproducts varies in relation to the amount of carbohydrate available. During active carbohydrate breakdown amino acid fermentation endproducts such as ammonia are used by the bacteria for protein synthesis during microbial growth, but in carbon-limited fermentation amines, ammonia, phenols and indoles, etc, accumulate. Fermentation also results in changes in colon pH which alters the metabolism of bile acids, nitrate, sulphate and other substances. Fermentation is thus controlled to a great extent by substrate availability, especially of carbohydrates which are derived from the diet. The potential to induce mutagenic change in colon epithelial cells and promote tumour growth may readily be influenced by diet.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Ammonia / metabolism
  • Colonic Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Dietary Fiber*
  • Dietary Proteins / metabolism
  • Digestion
  • Epidemiologic Methods
  • Fermentation*
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Intestinal Mucosa / metabolism
  • Meat Products
  • Starch / metabolism


  • Dietary Fiber
  • Dietary Proteins
  • Ammonia
  • Starch