Short chain fatty acids in human gut and metabolic health

Benef Microbes. 2020 Sep 1;11(5):411-455. doi: 10.3920/BM2020.0057. Epub 2020 Aug 31.


Evidence is accumulating that short chain fatty acids (SCFA) play an important role in the maintenance of gut and metabolic health. The SCFA acetate, propionate and butyrate are produced from the microbial fermentation of indigestible carbohydrates and appear to be key mediators of the beneficial effects elicited by the gut microbiome. Microbial SCFA production is essential for gut integrity by regulating the luminal pH, mucus production, providing fuel for epithelial cells and effects on mucosal immune function. SCFA also directly modulate host metabolic health through a range of tissue-specific mechanisms related to appetite regulation, energy expenditure, glucose homeostasis and immunomodulation. Therefore, an increased microbial SCFA production can be considered as a health benefit, but data are mainly based on animal studies, whereas well-controlled human studies are limited. In this review an expert group by ILSI Europe's Prebiotics Task Force discussed the current scientific knowledge on SCFA to consider the relationship between SCFA and gut and metabolic health with a particular focus on human evidence. Overall, the available mechanistic data and limited human data on the metabolic consequences of elevated gut-derived SCFA production strongly suggest that increasing SCFA production could be a valuable strategy in the preventing gastro-intestinal dysfunction, obesity and type 2 diabetes mellitus. Nevertheless, there is an urgent need for well controlled longer term human SCFA intervention studies, including measurement of SCFA fluxes and kinetics, the heterogeneity in response based on metabolic phenotype, the type of dietary fibre and fermentation site in fibre intervention studies and the control for factors that could shape the microbiome like diet, physical activity and use of medication.

Keywords: SCFA; dietary fibre; gut health; metabolic health; prebiotics.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carbohydrate Metabolism
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / prevention & control
  • Fatty Acids, Volatile / metabolism*
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome*
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / immunology*
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / microbiology*
  • Host Microbial Interactions
  • Humans
  • Obesity / prevention & control
  • Prebiotics


  • Fatty Acids, Volatile
  • Prebiotics