What is Propionate?
Propionate is among the most common short-chain fatty acids produced in the human gut in response to indigestible carbohydrates (fiber) in the diet.
What are short-chain fatty acids?
Short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) are the end products of fermentation of dietary fibers by the anaerobic intestinal microbiota and have been shown to exert multiple beneficial effects on mammalian energy metabolism.
The main short-chain fatty acids consist of the beneficial (fibre/carbohydrate-derived) fatty acids acetate, propionate and butyrate, and the putrefactive (protein-derived) fatty acids valerate, iso-valerate and iso-butyrate.
Of the three main beneficial fatty acids listed above, acetate typically makes up approximately half of the total (50+%).
Valerate is also considered by some to be a beneficial short-chain fatty acid, although it correlates more strongly to the putrefactive fatty acids.
Propionate has wide-reaching effects on physiology:
- In the gut it stimulates smooth muscle contractions,
- It increases mucus secretion,
- It promotes antimicrobial peptide expression,
- It dilates colonic arteries,
- It increases release of serotonin from gut endocrine cells.
Propionate also influences intracellular pH, mitochondrial function, lipid metabolism, neurotransmitter synthesis and release, immune function, and gene expression.
Propionate has been suggested to have weight loss, anti-inflammatory and cholesterol-lowering properties.
Decreased Propionate levels may indicate inadequate colonic function.
Excess propionate can be problematic. In propionic acidemia, a genetic error of metabolism, accumulation of propionate is associated with the following:
- Developmental delay,
- Increased oxidative stress,
- Mitochondrial dysfunction,
- and bouts of gastrointestinal symptoms.
Excess propionate has also been reported in irritable bowel syndrome and autism.
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