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Intestinal health functions of colonic microbial metabolites: a review

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This review tries to find a scientific answer on the following two questions: (1) to what extent do we understand the specific role of colonic microbial metabolites, especially short-chain fatty acids (SCFA), in maintaining the health status and prevention of diseases of the colon and the host; (2) to what extent can we influence or even control the formation of colonic microbial metabolites which are beneficial for the health status. The review focuses on the following topics: energy source, intestinal motility, defence barrier, oxidative stress with special attention for antiinflammatory and anti-carcinogen functions, and satiety. Also the risk of overproduction of SCFA is discussed. Reviewing the literature as present today, it can be concluded that physiological levels of SCFA are vital for the health and well-being of the host and that the presence of carbohydrates (dietary fibre, prebiotics) is essential to favour the metabolic activity in the direction of carbohydrate fermentation. For optimal motor activity of the ileum and colon, to regulate the physiological intestinal mobility, steadily fermentable dietary fibres or prebiotics are crucial. The formation of SCFA, especially propionate and butyrate, up to high physiological levels in the colon, much likely also contributes to the defence mechanisms of the intestinal wall. No final answer can be given yet about the role of SCFA in anti-inflammation and anti-carcinogenicity, but recently published research shows possible mechanisms in this field. The intake of prebiotics or specific dietary fibres promotes the formation of SCFA within the physiological range, and more or less specifically increases the levels of propionate and butyrate. In this way, they provide benefit to the host, especially the natural regulation of the digestive system.
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Keywords: fermentation; health benefits; large intestine; prebiotics; short-chain fatty acids

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2011

More about this publication?
  • Beneficial Microbes is a peer-reviewed scientific journal with a specific area of focus: the promotion of the science of microbes beneficial to the health and wellbeing of man and animal. The journal contains original research papers and critical reviews in all areas dealing with beneficial microbes in both the small and large intestine, together with opinions, a calendar of forthcoming beneficial microbes-related events and book reviews. The journal takes a multidisciplinary approach and focuses on a broad spectrum of issues, including safety aspects of pro- & prebiotics, regulatory aspects, mechanisms of action, health benefits for the host, optimal production processes, screening methods, (meta)genomics, proteomics and metabolomics, host and bacterial physiology, application, and role in health and disease in man and animal. Beneficial Microbes is intended to serve the needs of researchers and professionals from the scientific community and industry, as well as those of policy makers and regulators.
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