SCFA improve metabolism, and may help you lose weight
A significant factor for increased body weight in the general population is poor blood sugar control, or insulin resistance. Recent animal studies have shown that a healthy concentration of SCFA alleviates diet-induced obesity and insulin resistance (10).
SCFA also influence how other nutrients are absorbed in the body. This may support a healthy metabolism, and lead to more sustainable weight loss.
Researchers attribute this to the secretion of gut hormones glucagon-like-peptide 1 (GLP-1) and Peptide YY (PYY) in response to SCFA. These hormones can help reduce your appetite and promote fat-burning (11).
SCFAs regulate the gut-brain axis
The gut-brain axis is a complex system that includes the gut microbiota, the enteric nervous system (ENS), and the central nervous system (CNS). This system is responsible for communication between the gut and the brain.
SCFA mediate communication between the gut and the brain through the various channels, such as:
- The Vagus nerve
- Hormones and the endocrine system
Dysregulation of the gut-brain axis and/or poor gut health has been linked to several neurological disorders, including autism spectrum disorder, anxiety, and depression.
Acetate and the other SCFA have been shown to modulate the gut-brain axis by influencing the production of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine (12)
They also play a critical role in the development and function of microglia, a type of immune cell designed to protect your brain and spinal cord.
What causes low SCFA levels?
Generally, low microbiome biodiversity results in lower short-chain fatty acid production potentials. And as modern microbiome diversity continues to decline, so do important by-products like protective fatty acids. In individuals with decreased microbial diversity, there are less bacteria capable of producing SCFA.
Dietary fiber is the primary food source for gut bacteria. Therefore, a diet low in fiber can lead to decreased SCFA production. In addition, processed foods and antibiotics can also disrupt gut bacteria and reduce short-chain fatty acid levels.
Western diets high in processed fats, refined carbohydrates and sugars, and low in fresh foods and fiber are associated with reduced microbial health and diversity, an imbalance of the gut ecosystem, and disease (13).
Certain medical conditions are associated with low butyrate levels. These include inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Crohn’s, celiac disease, and food allergies.
SCFA and their role in MS
Recently, SCFAs have shown some promise in the treatment of multiple sclerosis (MS), a chronic disease affecting the CNS and characterized by degradation of the myelin sheath (demyelination) that protects nerves.
Poor gut health and low microbial diversity resulting in a lack of SCFAs was found to increase this degradation process, leading to disease progression. Supplementation with one type of SCFA, butyrate, was found to actually help repair the myelin sheath (14). Reversing demyelination in MS patients would slow disease progression, reduce symptoms, and drastically improve quality of life.
Microbiome diversity and the resulting presence of SCFAs have been found to directly impact not only gastrointestinal health, but also neurodegenerative and inflammatory diseases.
Foods to boost SCFAs
You can increase SCFA in your gut by consuming foods that increase your body’s production of them, or by taking supplements. Your digestive system ferments the fiber to generate SCFA. Therefore, a diet rich in fiber is important for gut health and the production of SCFA.
Foods that are great for your gut include:
- Fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut
- Raw honey
- Acacia fiber
Learn more: Where Do I Find Prebiotic Fiber?
Resistant starches are another type of important fiber for gut bacteria. This kind of starch is resistant to digestion, meaning more of it is available for the good bacteria in your colon. From there, these beneficial bacteria can ferment it and produce beneficial by-products like butyrate and propionate. Some of the best sources of resistant starches include:
- Green bananas (also available in powdered supplement form)
- Raw plantains
- Cooked then cooled rice or potato
Include a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes in your diet to increase the amount of fiber you consume.
What about butyrate supplements?
Butyrate supplements are available in many health food stores and online. Butyrate or butyric acid supplementation has shown some promising results, particularly in those struggling with IBS, but more research is needed to determine whether or not it’s a truly effective solution.
Most people are likely better off increasing intake of foods that support a healthy gut microbiome, thereby naturally increasing SCFA production. Butyrate supplements are usually absorbed before they reach the colon, meaning all the benefits for intestinal cells are no longer present.
Browse all digestive support supplements in the shop.
For more SCFA Focus On Balancing Your Microbiome
Without the right balance of bacteria, your body won’t be able to properly break down fiber or produce SCFAs.
- Give gut bacteria a boost with a daily probiotic like HiFlora-50.
- Eat a balance diet with a variety of vegetables, fruits, minimally processed grains, and legumes to increase dietary fiber
- Try prebiotic fiber such as acacia fiber, which is a soluble fiber that gut bacteria ferment to produce SCFAs.
- Include fermented foods like kimchi, yogurt, and sauerkraut in your diet for gut-healthy probiotics
Short-chain fatty acids are an important part of gut health. By including a variety of gut-healthy foods in your diet, minimizing environmental toxins, and living an overall healthy lifestyle, you can help increase SCFA levels and improve gut health.