Occurrence, absorption and metabolism of short chain fatty acids in the digestive tract of mammals

Comp Biochem Physiol B. 1987;86(3):439-72. doi: 10.1016/0305-0491(87)90433-0.


Short chain fatty acids (SCFA) also named volatile fatty acids, mainly acetate, propionate and butyrate, are the major end-products of the microbial digestion of carbohydrates in the alimentary canal. The highest concentrations are observed in the forestomach of the ruminants and in the large intestine (caecum and colon) of all the mammals. Butyrate and caproate released by action of gastric lipase on bovine milk triacylglycerols ingested by preruminants or infants are of nutritional importance too. Both squamous stratified mucosa of rumen and columnar simple epithelium of intestine absorb readily SCFA. The mechanisms of SCFA absorption are incompletely known. Passive diffusion of the unionized form across the cell membrane is currently admitted. In the lumen, the necessary protonation of SCFA anions could come first from the hydration of CO2. The ubiquitous cell membrane process of Na+-H+ exchange can also supply luminal protons. Evidence for an acid microclimate (pH = 5.8-6.8) suitable for SCFA-protonation on the surface of the intestinal lining has been provided recently. This microclimate would be generated by an epithelial secretion of H+ ions and would be protected by the mucus coating from the variable pH of luminal contents. Part of the absorbed SCFA does not reach plasma because it is metabolized in the gastrointestinal wall. Acetate incorporation in mucosal higher lipids is well-known. However, the preponderant metabolic pathway for all the SCFA is catabolism to CO2 except in the rumen wall where about 80% of butyrate is converted to ketone bodies which afterwards flow into bloodstream. Thus, SCFA are an important energy source for the gut mucosa itself.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dietary Fats / metabolism*
  • Digestive System / metabolism
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism*
  • Intestinal Absorption*
  • Mammals


  • Dietary Fats
  • Fatty Acids