Short Chain Fatty Acids: What Are They and Why They May Be the Key to Lifelong Health

Short chain fatty acids (SCFA) are substances produced when the friendly bacteria in your gut ferment fiber. There are three different types of short chain fatty acids: acetate, propionate, and butyrate. In addition to serving as the primary fuel source for the bacteria, these three fatty acids are known to have numerous health benefits.

What are the claimed benefits?

Short chain fatty acids have been said to:

  • Decrease inflammation

  • Reduce diarrhea

  • Improve symptoms of inflammatory bowel diseases (e.g., Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis)

  • Prevent colon cancer

  • Improve blood glucose control

  • Reduce the risk of heart disease

  • Aid in weight loss

What does the science say?

Research has demonstrated that short chain fatty acids (SCFA) play a huge role in regulating the immune system. SCFAs serve as a method for the friendly bacteria in your gut to communicate with immune cells lining the intestinal tract. In particular, they signal for an increased production of antimicrobial peptides. These are substances that kill potentially harmful microbes (i.e. bacteria, fungi, and viruses). They also help to regulate and limit inflammation-- both within the intestines and throughout the entire body. This is done through the production of two important anti-inflammatory cells, IL-10 and Treg. This decrease in inflammation is why SCFAs have been said to assist with diarrhea, inflammatory bowel diseases, and heart disease.

Aside from directly influencing the production of immune cells, short chain fatty acids also support the immune system in the following ways:

  • They strengthen the gut barrier, preventing unwanted pathogens in our food from entering the body.

  • They create an acidic environment that is unfavorable to harmful bacteria and viruses.

  • They inhibit the proliferation of cancer cells, protecting against colon cancer.

  • They stimulate the death of existing cancer cells.

  • They regulate gut motility, helping to prevent both constipation and diarrhea

The Apeiron Life perspective

There is robust research on the benefits of short chain fatty acids. Not only do they support gut and digestive health, which we know has a big impact on quality of life, but they also help regulate the entire immune system. We therefore strongly encourage a diet rich in fiber. Fiber will keep your digestion running smoothly, and help you maximize your production of short chain fatty acids.

Will they benefit you?

Yes. If you are looking to increase your fiber intake though, do so slowly. Increasing your fiber intake too quickly can cause abdominal discomfort. You will likely also need to simultaneously increase your water intake as fiber absorbs water in your gastrointestinal tract.

If you are wondering whether you are consuming enough fiber and reaping the benefits of short chain fatty acids ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I eating plenty of fruits and vegetables?

  • Do I regularly consume whole grains and beans (whole grains and beans are some of the best sources of fiber)?

  • If not, why am I avoiding certain fiber rich foods?

  • Might it make sense to experiment adding some previously avoided foods into my diet?

Your Client Advocate can also be a great resource in helping you determine whether you are getting enough fiber and develop a plan for how to get more without doing a total dietary overhaul. When making changes, it’s important to recognize where you are starting from and to begin making small adjustments from there. Sudden drastic changes are rarely sustainable, but small changes over time can build on one another to eventually make a huge difference.

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