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Biological effects of propionic acid in humans; metabolism, potential applications and underlying mechanisms

Authors:
  • Laboratory for Gastroenterology & Hepatology, Erasmus MC

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Undigested food is fermented in the colon by the microbiota and gives rise to various microbial metabolites. Short-chain fatty acids (SCFA), including acetic, propionic and butyric acid, are the principal metabolites produced. However, most of the literature focuses on butyrate and to a lesser extent on acetate; consequently, potential effects of propionic acid (PA) on physiology and pathology have long been underestimated. It has been demonstrated that PA lowers fatty acids content in liver and plasma, reduces food intake, exerts immunosuppressive actions and probably improves tissue insulin sensitivity. Thus increased production of PA by the microbiota might be considered beneficial in the context of prevention of obesity and diabetes type 2. The molecular mechanisms by which PA may exert this plethora of physiological effects are slowly being elucidated and include intestinal cyclooxygenase enzyme, the G-protein coupled receptors 41 and 43 and activation of the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor γ, in turn inhibiting the sentinel transcription factor NF-κB and thus increasing the threshold for inflammatory responses in general. Taken together, PA emerges as a major mediator in the link between nutrition, gut microbiota and physiology.
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... PA is found naturally in dairy products secondary to the natural fermentation by Propionibacterium and also may be added as food preservative. PA produced in the intestine by the fermentation process of different compounds determined by anaerobic flora comprises a much higher proportion compared with the amount delivered with food [99]. The effects of PA reside in [11, 100]: ...
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... The intestinal microbiota obtains its nutrients from the host diet. Thus, Bacteroides, Roseburia, Bifidobacterium, Faecalibacterium, and Enterobacteria have been shown to be capable of fermenting undigested carbohydrates and producing short-chain fatty acids (SCFA), such as acetate, propionate, and butyrate (Al-Lahham et al., 2010). Both butyrate and propionate have low systemic concentrations whereas acetate levels are higher (Schoeler and Caesar, 2019). ...
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... Acetic acid is one of the major metabolites of the gut, which not only reduces appetite by directly stimulating the nervous system, but also prevents obesity-related hyperinsulinemia and hypertriglyceridemia [47]. Propionate is involved in immune regulation and reduces high fatty acid levels in the liver and plasma [48]. Propionate also increases the number of gut-derived regulatory T cells and positively affects the central nervous system by increasing myelin regeneration [49]. ...
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