Short-chain fatty acids, prebiotics, synbiotics, and systemic inflammation: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Am J Clin Nutr. 2017 Sep 1;106(3):930-945. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.117.156265.


Background: Prebiotic soluble fibers are fermented by beneficial bacteria in the colon to produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which are proposed to have systemic anti-inflammatory effects.

Objective: This review examines the effect of SCFAs, prebiotics, and pre- and probiotic combinations (synbiotics) on systemic inflammation.

Design: Relevant English language studies from 1947 to May 2017 were identified with the use of online databases. Studies were considered eligible if they examined the effects of SCFAs, prebiotics, or synbiotics; were delivered orally, intravenously, or per rectum; were on biomarkers of systemic inflammation in humans; and performed meta-analysis where possible.

Results: Sixty-eight studies were included. Fourteen of 29 prebiotic studies and 13 of 26 synbiotic studies reported a significant decrease in ≥1 marker of systemic inflammation. Eight studies compared prebiotic and synbiotic supplementation, 2 of which reported a decrease in inflammation with synbiotics only, with 1 reporting a greater anti-inflammatory effect with synbiotics than with prebiotics alone. Meta-analyses indicated that prebiotics reduce C-reactive protein (CRP) [standardized mean difference (SMD): -0.60; 95% CI: -0.98, -0.23], and synbiotics reduce CRP (SMD: -0.40; 95% CI: -0.73, -0.06) and tumor necrosis factor-α (SMD -0.90; 95% CI: -1.50, -0.30).

Conclusions: There is significant heterogeneity of outcomes in studies examining the effect of prebiotics and synbiotics on systemic inflammation. Approximately 50% of included studies reported a decrease in ≥1 inflammatory biomarker. The inconsistency in reported outcomes may be due to heterogeneity in study design, supplement formulation, dosage, duration, and subject population. Nonetheless, meta-analyses provide evidence to support the systemic anti-inflammatory effects of prebiotic and synbiotic supplementation.

Keywords: C-reactive protein; IL-6; TNF-α; humans; prebiotics; short-chain fatty acids; synbiotics; systemic inflammation.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / pharmacology*
  • C-Reactive Protein / analysis
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Fatty Acids, Volatile / administration & dosage
  • Fatty Acids, Volatile / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / prevention & control*
  • Prebiotics*
  • Synbiotics*


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Fatty Acids, Volatile
  • Prebiotics
  • C-Reactive Protein