Role of Short-Chain Fatty Acids in Colonic Inflammation, Carcinogenesis, and Mucosal Protection and Healing

Nutr Rev. 2017 Apr 1;75(4):286-305. doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nuw067.


Short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), mainly acetate, propionate, and butyrate, produced by microbial fermentation of undigested food substances are believed to play a beneficial role in human gut health. Short-chain fatty acids influence colonic health through various mechanisms. In vitro and ex vivo studies show that SCFAs have anti-inflammatory and anticarcinogenic effects, play an important role in maintaining metabolic homeostasis in colonocytes, and protect colonocytes from external harm. Animal studies have found substantial positive effects of SCFAs or dietary fiber on colonic disease, but convincing evidence in humans is lacking. Most human intervention trials have been conducted in the context of inflammatory bowel disease. Only a limited number of those trials are of high quality, showing little or no favorable effect of SCFA treatment over placebo. Opportunities for future research include exploring the use of combination therapies with anti-inflammatory drugs, prebiotics, or probiotics; the use of prodrugs in the setting of carcinogenesis; or the direct application of SCFAs to improve mucosal healing after colonic surgery.

Keywords: carcinogenesis; inflammation; mucosal healing; short-chain fatty acids.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Colon / metabolism*
  • Colonic Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Fatty Acids, Volatile / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / metabolism
  • Intestinal Mucosa / metabolism


  • Fatty Acids, Volatile