Physiological Reviews

Short-Chain Fatty Acids and Human Colonic Function: Roles of Resistant Starch and Nonstarch Polysaccharides

David L. Topping, Peter M. Clifton


Resistant starch (RS) is starch and products of its small intestinal digestion that enter the large bowel. It occurs for various reasons including chemical structure, cooking of food, chemical modification, and food mastication. Human colonic bacteria ferment RS and nonstarch polysaccharides (NSP; major components of dietary fiber) to short-chain fatty acids (SCFA), mainly acetate, propionate, and butyrate. SCFA stimulate colonic blood flow and fluid and electrolyte uptake. Butyrate is a preferred substrate for colonocytes and appears to promote a normal phenotype in these cells. Fermentation of some RS types favors butyrate production. Measurement of colonic fermentation in humans is difficult, and indirect measures (e.g., fecal samples) or animal models have been used. Of the latter, rodents appear to be of limited value, and pigs or dogs are preferable. RS is less effective than NSP in stool bulking, but epidemiological data suggest that it is more protective against colorectal cancer, possibly via butyrate. RS is a prebiotic, but knowledge of its other interactions with the microflora is limited. The contribution of RS to fermentation and colonic physiology seems to be greater than that of NSP. However, the lack of a generally accepted analytical procedure that accommodates the major influences on RS means this is yet to be established.


  • Address for reprint requests and other correspondence: D. L. Topping, CSIRO Health Sciences and Nutrition, PO Box 10041, Kintore Ave., Adelaide BC 5000, Australia (E-mail:david.topping{at}

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