Gastrointestinal Tract: Intestinal Fatty Acid Metabolism and Implications for Health

Living reference work entry
Part of the Handbook of Hydrocarbon and Lipid Microbiology book series (HHLM)


Short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) are formed from the fermentation of sugars and complex carbohydrates by gastrointestinal (GI) bacteria in man. Acetate is the most abundant SCFA, with lower amounts of propionate and butyrate formed. Propionate and butyrate are also formed from the products of carbohydrate fermentation by other bacteria, for example, from lactate, succinate, and acetate. SCFA play a role in regulating transit of digesta through the GI tract, and in health by, for example, decreasing the risk of colon cancer (butyrate), and promoting satiety and reducing cholesterol load (propionate). Major butyrate-producing (Roseburia and Faecalibacterium spp.) and propionate-producing (Negativicutes and Bacteroides spp.) bacteria are among the most abundant microbes present in the large intestine. Metabolism of longer-chain fatty acids occurs mainly by hydration or hydrogenation of unsaturated fatty acids, the pathway depending on the individual. Hydroxystearic acids are formed in the intestine, particularly under disease conditions. Metabolism of linoleic acid results in the formation of conjugated linoleic acids (CLA) by several species, including Roseburia hominis and Roseburia inulinivorans. Enhancement of GI CLA formation, possibly using probiotics, may be useful in preventing or treating inflammatory bowel disease and be protective of key health-promoting bacteria such as Faecalibacterium prausnitzii.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BioscienceNottingham Trent UniversityNottinghamUK
  2. 2.Rowett InstituteUniversity of AberdeenAberdeenUK

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