Metabolites are the byproducts of metabolism, by which your body transforms the food you eat into energy. In the gut, microbial metabolites are largely produced after food is fermented by gut bacteria, resulting in metabolites such as fatty acids. Short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) are a prominent aspect of gut health. They’re produced when bacteria process dietary fibers from food such as whole grains, legumes, oats, and berries. They have a lot of great qualities, including anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties and mediating communication between the gut and the brain. Two bacterial families, Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes, predominantly produce these SCFAs in the intestines, but in inflammatory bowel disease, there seem to be lower levels of the important bacteria that make SCFAs. The most common SCFAs are butyrate, propionate, and acetate, and luckily they all help reduce inflammation. There’s also plenty of other important microbial metabolites, such as vitamins B12 and K2, which are produced by gut bacteria as well.
If there’s one thing your gut microbiome loves, it’s fiber. While our bodies can’t digest all fibers on their own, gut bacteria love to eat them and output metabolites in return. This is the process known as fermentation. However, not every person’s microbiome has the same capacity to break down fiber. This means that some people may be missing out on the benefits of fermentation, including energy regulation and production of SCFAs and vitamins, which are valuable to gut and overall health. Therefore, the better your microbiome is at digesting fiber, the healthier and more diverse your gut can be.
Butyrate is produced by bacteria in the colon and then used as a primary source of energy for colon cells to keep your gut healthy and functioning properly. It improves blood sugar control and increases satiety, meaning it helps limit hunger and keeps you feeling full for longer.
Propionate also increases satiety, helps reduce fat production, and can lower cholesterol.
Acetate feeds other beneficial gut bacteria to further promote gut health, promotes appetite regulation, improves blood flow to the colon to enhance function of the intestines, and helps promote a healthy body weight.
Vitamin B12 is a crucial component of red blood cell production, making new DNA, and maintaining healthy nerve function. Vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to a host of issues including anemia, which occurs when you don’t have enough red blood cells to carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body.
Vitamin K2 facilitates calcium use for healthy bones and circulation, making sure that calcium levels are kept in check. Since vitamin K2 helps transport calcium, a deficiency in this vitamin can lead to calcium accumulation in blood vessels, known as arterial calcification and stiffening, which can have widespread effects on health since all your organs rely on a steady, consistent supply of blood. It’s an important aspect of skin, heart, and brain health; it helps with wound healing, blood clotting, and preventing anxiety and depression.