Meet propionate: a Short Chain Fatty Acid

Author: Bianca Maree Harrington

December 2020


Many healthcare professionals may be familiar with Short Chain Fatty Acids (SCFAs), metabolites which are produced when gut bacteria ferment certain prebiotics fibres in the colon. Propionate, one of the key SCFAs, is produced by gut bacteria through the fermentation of the prebiotic fibre beta-glucan1. Beta-glucans are commonly found in wholegrains such as oats and barley2


What are the health benefits of propionate?

The key mechanisms of propionate include the regulation of appetite, and control of blood glucose3. Evidence suggests that these beneficial impacts are dependent on propionate being delivered to the large intestine via microbial fermentation4. In contrast, propionate used as a preservative in food, has been linked to weight gain and insulin resistance in mouse models5. Calcium propionate, also known as E282, is a food preservative most commonly found in some breads and baked goods.

Propionate is also thought to play a role in regulating immune cells that assist in controlling intestinal inflammation. This control of intestinal inflammation may be beneficial in terms of gut barrier maintenance5. Interestingly, a reduced potential for the microbiome to produce propionate has been observed in patients with IBS6.

To summarise, propionate:

  • Regulates appetite5,6
  • Maintains glucose levels5,6
  • Reduces inflammation7.


Clinical interventions for low propionate potential

If a patient’s Insight™ report indicates a low potential to produce propionate, increasing beta-glucan in the diet can help stimulate propionate production. Studies have found that consuming oat bran results in the highest proportion of propionate production2.   

For patients with visceral hypersensitivity, it may be beneficial to trial ½ cup cooked rolled oats as it is a low FODMAP option2. Currently no gluten free alternatives exist for patients who have confirmed Coeliac disease and it is recommended they continue to exclude this from their diet.   



Interpreting propionate potential from the Microba Insight™ Report

The Insight™ report indicates the genetic potential of a person’s gut microbiome to produce propionate. Using world-leading metagenomic DNA sequencing and high-quality bioinformatics, Microba’s team of scientists and bioinformaticians analyse how many bacterial species have pathways to produce propionate using the bacterial genetic information in the stool sample. This provides a measure of the gut microbiome’s potential to produce propionate. It is worth noting that the client needs to consume sufficient prebiotic food sources to achieve their propionate production potential.

Healthcare professionals can find the propionate potential for their clients in both the Dig deeper into the detail section of the Microba Insight™ report. Propionate potential is listed in the Microbial Metabolites within the Short Chain Fatty Acids section of the report. Here your client’s propionate potential will be noted as “low”“average” or “high” and an indication of whether this is “not a good level”, “typical level” or “a good level” is provided. The text also provides a summary of the roles and health benefits of propionate and lists the key food sources known to improve propionate production. 





Resources to assist healthcare professionals   

The team at Microba have developed two key resources to assist practitioners – the Prebiotic Guide and Shopping List tool. The Prebiotic Guide is an evidence-based resource which matches the bacterial species with their prebiotic fibre type. It also provides a comprehensive list of food items by prebiotic fibre type (FOS, GOS, Inulin, Pectin, Resistance Starch, Arbinoxylan, Proanthrocyanidin). The Shopping List is found at end of the Microba Insight™ Report Overview section. This is a list of prebiotic foods that help promote the growth of beneficial bacteria. Clicking on the “Tell me why” link will bring up a textbox that highlights which specific prebiotic fibre types are included in the selected food item. 



Looking for exclusive practitioner resources? Find clinical guides, video walk throughs and more. Access the portal.



About the author


Bianca Maree Harrington

Bianca Maree Harrington

Bianca Maree is a specialist Accredited Practising Dietitian and Lead Microbiome Coach at Microba, with an expertise in managing food intolerances associated with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). She is passionate about furthering our understanding of how the microbiome and other lifestyle factors can impact IBS sufferers, and how an integrative approach is required to better manage this condition.


  1. Carlson, J. L., Erickson, J. M., Hess, J. M., Gould, T. J., & Slavin, J. L. (2017). Prebiotic dietary fiber and gut health: comparing the in vitro fermentations of beta-glucan, inulin and xylooligosaccharide. Nutrients9(12), 1361.
  2. Nordlund, E., Aura, A. M., Mattila, I., Kössö, T., Rouau, X., & Poutanen, K. (2012). Formation of phenolic microbial metabolites and short-chain fatty acids from rye, wheat, and oat bran and their fractions in the metabolical in vitro colon model. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry60(33), 8134-8145.
  3. Velikonja, A., Lipoglavšek, L., Zorec, M., & Avguštin, G. (2019). Alterations in gut microbiota composition and metabolic parameters after dietary intervention with barley beta glucans in patients with high risk for metabolic syndrome development. Anaerobe55, 67-77.
  4. Chambers, E. S., Preston, T., Frost, G., & Morrison, D. J. (2018). Role of gut microbiota-generated short-chain fatty acids in metabolic and cardiovascular health. Current nutrition reports, 7(4), 198-206.
  5. Tirosh, A., Calay, E. S., Tuncman, G., Claiborn, K. C., Inouye, K. E., Eguchi, K., … & Livne, R. (2019). The short-chain fatty acid propionate increases glucagon and FABP4 production, impairing insulin action in mice and humans. Science translational medicine11(489), eaav0120.
  6. Yoshida, H., Ishii, M., & Akagawa, M. (2019). Propionate suppresses hepatic gluconeogenesis via GPR43/AMPK signalling pathway. Archives of biochemistry and biophysics672, 108057.
  7. Ríos-Covián, D., Ruas-Madiedo, P., Margolles, A., Gueimonde, M., De Los Reyes-gavilán, C. G., & Salazar, N. (2016). Intestinal short chain fatty acids and their link with diet and human health. Frontiers in microbiology7, 185.
  8. Vila, A. V., Imhann, F., Collij, V., Jankipersadsing, S. A., Gurry, T., Mujagic, Z., … & Dekens, J. (2018). Gut microbiota composition and functional changes in inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome. Science translational medicine10(472).