The secret to managing your health may also lie in a short-chain fatty acid (SCFA). Learn how it benefits your health from managing obesity to fighting inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
In this article:
- What Is SCFA?
- 5 Benefits of SCFA
- What Should You Consume to Increase SCFA?
SCFA: 5 Ways It Improves Your Health
What Is SCFA?
When people talk about gut health, SCFA hardly enters the radar. It is more than its acronym—it is one of the best ways to take care of your body.
The letters SCFA stand for short-chain fatty acids.
The name comes from its combination or link of carbon atoms. Unlike the fatty acids you derive from food, these are products of bacterial fermentation.
The gut microbiota has millions of microorganisms, some of which are bacteria. As living organisms, they also feed and, thus, create metabolites or by-products.
When you consume polysaccharides, such as fiber or starch, some of these bacteria end up producing SCFA.
The body creates many different types of short-chain fatty acids, but the most popular ones are:
- Butyric acid (butyrate)
- Propionic acid (propionate)
- Acetic acid (acetate)
The colon has one of the highest concentrations of SCFA, although some can penetrate the gut barrier to travel to different parts of the body. These acids are also signaling molecules.
- Influence how the intestinal microbiota work
- Interact with other substances in the body that are necessary for survival or prevention of disease
5 Benefits of SCFA
How does SCFA microbiota enhance the body? Let’s count the ways:
1. It May Help Prevent Leaky Gut
The leaky gut syndrome refers to the semi-permeability of the intestine, particularly the small intestine.
In here, there’s a junction that keeps food particles, toxins, and even microorganisms from entering the bloodstream. It allows only essentials such as nutrients to pass through.
Factors such as diet, though, can result in gaps in this junction, allowing almost anything to be part of the bloodstream.
The 2017 research highlighted how leaky gut may increase the risk of autoimmune disease and chronic inflammation. It can overstimulate the immune response.
A 2019 study, meanwhile, revealed how SCFA may help regulate immune cells and inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
What is Crohn’s disease? It is an inflammation of any part of the digestive tract.
What is ulcerative colitis? It is a gastrointestinal inflammation that results in the formation of ulcers or sores in the intestinal lining. Also known as IBD, it refers to chronic inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract.
The 2019 research mentioned how people with IBD, such as ulcerative colitis patients, have lower levels of SCFA, especially in the fecal matter and mucus.
The lack of SCFA and its connection with IBD may be due to the following:
- SCFAs help maintain homeostasis or the balance of the intestinal microbiota.
- These short-chain fatty acids manage the epithelial cells of the gut, thereby, strengthening the gut barrier.
2. SCFA Helps Regulate Gene Expression
Embedded in every person’s cells are genes, which are heredity’s basic units. They play a critical role in the body’s hundreds of cellular functions.
SCFA, meanwhile, has effects on gene expression or the process in which genes encode proteins. This determines how different cells work.
In particular, short-chain fatty acids can regulate cell cycle and cell proliferation or the manner in which they multiply or die.
This matters in gut health since the large intestine and the small intestine have to maintain balance in their microbiota. Any dysbiosis or imbalance can potentially increase the risk of disease later.
A Japanese study also cited how SCFAs may reduce the risk of colon cancer. The acids may inhibit the expression of genes that are responsible for the proliferation of malignant tumor cells.
3. It May Improve Your Bowel Movement
The food you eat goes through a long journey, although it tends to spend a lot of time in the gastrointestinal tract:
- It may stay in the small intestine for about 6-8 hours.
- Depending on gender and other factors, it lingers on the large intestine for as long as 47 hours.
The large intestine, including the human colon, is shorter than the small intestine. It is only 3.5 meters long.
Food, though, stays there longer since this body part will still try to absorb whatever nutrient remains available.
A long transit time, which may be indicated by more than 72 hours of bowel movement, can be a sign of poor digestive health.
It can imply there’s not enough water for the fecal matter to absorb, so it becomes more compact. It can then lead to constipation.
A long transit time can also affect the intestinal microbiota. You may not have not enough dietary fiber in the stool, and so there are not many bacteria in the human colon they can feed on.
In turn, the bacteria may digest proteins, and this process can create other types of fermentation products that may be harmful.
A 1994 study in gut involving mice showed that SCFA may improve the transit time, especially in the human colon, by increasing gut motility or contractions of the muscles that allow stool to move.
4. SCFA May Be a Treatment for Food Allergies and Intolerances
Are you experiencing new food allergies or intolerance’s? It could be because your immune system is in overdrive.
Your body’s immunity becomes more sensitive that it can no longer recognize some non-threats such as many types of food.
The reasons for the frequency of allergies and intolerance’s can be more complex, but one possible treatment may be increasing your SCFA.
A Keio University research revealed that butyrate may influence the differentiation of Tregs or the regulatory T cells, which are cells that control the immune response.
5. Acetate May Help Control Metabolic Syndrome
Metabolic syndrome refers to a cluster of medical conditions that can increase your risk of chronic diseases.
- Heart disease
- High cholesterol
- Insulin resistance or insensitivity
The food you eat and the lifestyle you maintain can significantly influence these odds. For example, exercise can help fight obesity, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
Your gut health may also matter, according to a 2019 study in nutrients. Take, for example, acetic acid or acetate.
In the study, the researchers cited how acetate can affect the body’s metabolism by increasing the production of peptides 1 and YY. Both of these can influence your appetite.
They can also:
- Reduce cytokines, which are peptides often related to chronic inflammation
- Boost oxidation of fats
- Increase energy expenditure or the use of calories
What Should You Consume to Increase SCFA?
To boost your SCFA, you need probiotics and prebiotics:
Probiotics help increase the count and diversity of microorganisms in the gut.
Prebiotics feed the existing good bacteria and fungi, especially in the human colon.
Some of the best examples of short-chain fatty acid foods are fermented foods like miso or kefir, as well as high-fiber foods like:
- Green bananas
- Whole grains, such as oats
The four foods above are rich in resistant starch, a type of polysaccharide the small intestine cannot digest so it becomes food for the colonic bacteria.
Many kinds of diet, though, lack enough fiber. You can increase that with BIOHM’s prebiotic supplement.
This one contains inulin, a kind of dietary fiber. A 2018 clinical research suggests that it promotes weight loss in men by enhancing metabolism and producing SCFA.
The next time you plan your meals, don’t skip on dietary fiber. You need it to produce SCFA, short-chain fatty acid that promotes better gut health and body.
What are your favorite sources of fiber? Share your list in the comments section below!