Review article: short chain fatty acids as potential therapeutic agents in human gastrointestinal and inflammatory disorders

P. A. Gill, M. C. van Zelm, J. G. Muir, P. R. Gibson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review

350 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Butyrate, propionate and acetate are short chain fatty acids (SCFA), important for maintaining a healthy colon and are considered as protective in colorectal carcinogenesis. However, they may also regulate immune responses and the composition of the intestinal microbiota. Consequently, their importance in a variety of chronic inflammatory diseases is emerging. Aims: To review the physiology and metabolism of SCFA in humans, cellular and molecular mechanisms by which SCFA may act in health and disease, and approaches for therapeutic delivery of SCFA. Methods: A PubMed literature search was conducted for clinical and pre-clinical studies using search terms: ‘dietary fibre’, short-chain fatty acids’, ‘acetate’, ‘propionate’, ‘butyrate’, ‘inflammation’, ‘immune’, ‘gastrointestinal’, ‘metabolism’. Results: A wide range of pre-clinical evidence supports roles for SCFA as modulators of not only colonic function, but also multiple inflammatory and metabolic processes. SCFA are implicated in many autoimmune, allergic and metabolic diseases. However, translating effects of SCFA from animal studies to human disease is limited by physiological and dietary differences and by the challenge of delivering sufficient amounts of SCFA to the target sites that include the colon and the systemic circulation. Development of novel targeted approaches for colonic delivery, combined with postbiotic supplementation, may represent desirable strategies to achieve adequate targeted SCFA delivery. Conclusions: There is a large array of potential disease-modulating effects of SCFA. Adequate targeted delivery to the sites of action is the main limitation of such application. The ongoing development and evaluation of novel delivery techniques offer potential for translating promise to therapeutic benefit.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15-34
Number of pages20
JournalAlimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2018
Externally publishedYes

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Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd


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