Gut Health 101: Introduction to Short Chain Fatty Acids

Gut Health 101: Introduction to Short Chain Fatty Acids

Note: this edition of “Gut Health 101” is part 5 of an 8-part series on the microbiome.

For many of us when we hear the term “gut health” we simply think about digestion. Thankfully, gut health is much more than just breaking down the food and drink that you consume. This next section of my Gut Health 101 series on the microbiome will dive into a really neat function of your gut microbiota: vitamin and hormone synthesis.

So far we’ve covered a general overview of the microbiome, the relationship between your diet, digestion, and your microbiome, what vitamins and hormones are made by your gut bacteria, and how your gut bacteria protect you from infections. In this post we’ll learn about another nutrient that your gut bacteria provide: short-chain fatty acids. Let’s explore what short-chain fatty acids are and why they’re important.

Ok, tell me this, what the heck are short chain fatty acids? It’s been years since I’ve taken a science class and these don’t sound like something we should have in our body.

Short chain fatty acids, or SCFA are parts of fat molecules that have between 2 and 6 carbon atoms. The significance of that is they are able to cross the nearly-impenetrable blood-brain barrier. Health-wise, SCFA are very important in relation to the health of your large intestine and excess SCFA play a role in other areas of your health.

While there are seven total SCFA, three of them constitute 95% of all SCFA in your body. They are acetate, propionate, and butyrate. Each one playing a role in different parts of digestion. One important role is their positive effect on anaerobic bacteria growth – or the bacteria that grow best without oxygen present. SCFA provide the chemical balance needed for these bacteria to properly grow and metabolize the food that we eat.

Outside of helping provide a favorable environment in the gut, they also are a source of energy, modulates or keeps inflammatory pathways in check, and are actively involved in cell signaling and metabolism.

As this is just an introductory piece I’ll keep the more detailed information about what bacteria synthesize some of these SCFA for another post. If you’re dying to know more, check out this post by Fit Yourself Club. Just know that like the earlier parts of this series, what you put inside your body directly influences what happens with your gut microbes. Those microbes can certainly survive on junk food that’s full of complex carbs and refined sugar, but that reduces the diversity of your microbe ecosystem. So think produce section of your grocery store. What you see there is what you should mainly be eating. Throw in some simple grains and maybe some wild-caught meat and it is hard to go wrong.

We still have three more units to go in our adventure into the microbiome. As we travel deeper, you will begin to realize just how influential our microbiome really is to our overall health. My hope is you begin to question what you do on a daily basis and start adjusting your habits in ways that will support and diversify your microbiome.

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Emotions in Motion by Liz Labadie-Reilly

Pleasure threw a party for her friends to come,
she sent invitations out to each and every one.
There were 10 responses and Pleasure did assume
it would be fun to see them interacting in one room.

Unfortunately the 10 who were about to show
had issues with each other ,things she didn’t know.
Joy had left depression just a month before,
couldn’t tolerate his negativity no more.

Paranoia kept Bewildered so confused,
the more mixed up she got the more he was amused.
Affection tried to help Obsession understand,
how her food addiction was getting out of hand.

Apathy was drinking wine coolers as a crutch,
all emotions were aware that she indulged too much.
Acceptance and Joy showed up late but seemed content,
they were welcome at every emotional event.

Depression was not over Joy, he saw her and felt blue,
Bewildered was sure that Paranoia hid her shoe.
Anxiety lost Acceptance and nervously confessed
he brought Assertiveness to help him mingle with the rest.

Affection accused Obsession of eating the buffet,
Paranoia tried to leave, Assertiveness stood in his way,
in the kitchen drinking by herself was Apathy,
Joy and Acceptance both enjoyed the hospitality.

Then Joy helped Bewildered put both of her shoes on,
Paranoia fell for Apathy, they both stayed till dawn.
Acceptance told Anxiety she ‘d liked him as a friend,
Affection said “I’m sorry” to Obsession in the end.

Pleasure was quite happy only 10 guests were there,
if there had been more it might have been a wild affair,
each one settled, got along and as you can presume
all emotions set in motion made for a busy room.


One of the amazing things about your gut bacteria is they create molecules that promote a friendly environment for them to thrive. Learn about short chain fatty acids and their role in our health.

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