Gut microbiota functions: metabolism of nutrients and other food components

Eur J Nutr. 2018 Feb;57(1):1-24. doi: 10.1007/s00394-017-1445-8. Epub 2017 Apr 9.


The diverse microbial community that inhabits the human gut has an extensive metabolic repertoire that is distinct from, but complements the activity of mammalian enzymes in the liver and gut mucosa and includes functions essential for host digestion. As such, the gut microbiota is a key factor in shaping the biochemical profile of the diet and, therefore, its impact on host health and disease. The important role that the gut microbiota appears to play in human metabolism and health has stimulated research into the identification of specific microorganisms involved in different processes, and the elucidation of metabolic pathways, particularly those associated with metabolism of dietary components and some host-generated substances. In the first part of the review, we discuss the main gut microorganisms, particularly bacteria, and microbial pathways associated with the metabolism of dietary carbohydrates (to short chain fatty acids and gases), proteins, plant polyphenols, bile acids, and vitamins. The second part of the review focuses on the methodologies, existing and novel, that can be employed to explore gut microbial pathways of metabolism. These include mathematical models, omics techniques, isolated microbes, and enzyme assays.

Keywords: Food components; Gut microbiota; Methodology; Microbial metabolism; Microbiome.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / enzymology
  • Bacteria / metabolism*
  • Bile Acids and Salts / metabolism
  • Diet
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / metabolism
  • Dietary Proteins / metabolism
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism
  • Food*
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / physiology*
  • Health Promotion*
  • Humans
  • Metagenomics
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Phytochemicals / metabolism
  • Plants, Edible / chemistry
  • Plants, Edible / metabolism
  • Polyphenols / metabolism
  • Proteomics
  • Vitamins / biosynthesis


  • Bile Acids and Salts
  • Dietary Carbohydrates
  • Dietary Proteins
  • Fatty Acids
  • Phytochemicals
  • Polyphenols
  • Vitamins