What are short-chain fatty acids? This is a fair question. Indeed, saturated and, unsaturated fatty acids or omega-3-fatty acids are often discussed, but recently short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) become more and more interesting. They are fatty acids with not more than six carbon atoms in the chains and they are generated mainly by the bacteria living in the intestine, here again mainly from fiber and fiber-rich food such as fruits, vegetables and legumes. The more fiber and fiber-rich food we eat, the more short-chain fatty acids are present in the intestine. Most of the short-chain fatty acids representing about 95% of the fatty acids in the human body are:
Acetic acid (acetate, 2 carbon atoms)
Propionic acid (propionate, 3 carbon atoms) and
Butyric acid (butyrate, 4 carbon atoms).
Short-chain fatty acids are frequently found in form of their salts. In the case of propionic acid, these are, for example, calcium or sodium propionate. These two salts are used in the production of bread and pastries and are found, among other things, in malt drinks and beer. They also occur, for example, in the maturation of cheese such as the Emmental cheese and the Swiss cheese. For a long time, public and scientific considerations focused on medium to long chain fatty acids. Only recently short-chain fatty acids enter the limelight of scientific interest. Previously, as a food preservatives they had a rather critical role in the public awareness. For several years, the potential positive effects of short-chain fatty acids in animals and humans have been discussed essentially in science. In most articles, the positive effects on intestinal flora by intake of sodium propionate in humans are reported. A breakthrough resulting in a completely new view of the effect of short chain fatty acids was the discovery of their inhibitory effects on adverse inflammatory processes in the human body, e.g. autoimmune diseases. Obviously, they also have a beneficial role in the regulation of sugar and fat metabolism.