Jackson Thesis 12-5-19.pdf (1.59 MB)

Consequences of Dietary Fibers and their Proportion on the Fermentation of Dietary Protein by Human Gut Microbiota

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posted on 05.12.2019 by Rachel M. Jackson
In the human gut, bacterial fermentation of dietary fibers and proteins produces metabolites, primarily as short-chain fatty acids (SCFA), that are highly beneficial for host health. However, unlike dietary fiber, bacterial fermentation of protein additionally generates potentially toxic substances such as ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, amines, and indoles. It is believed that most gut bacteria favor utilization of dietary fiber over that of protein for energy. Therefore, when fermentable dietary fiber is readily available to colonic bacteria, protein fermentation, and its subsequent potentially toxic metabolites, remains relatively low. Dietary intake primarily determines the quantity of dietary fiber and protein substrate available to the gut microbiota and the resulting profile of metabolites produced. Increased protein consumption is associated with deleterious health outcomes such as higher risk of colorectal cancer and type II diabetes. Conversely, diets following US dietary recommendations are high in fiber, which promote a healthy microbiome and are protective against disease. Diets following the recommendation are also moderate in protein intake so that, ultimately, far more fiber than protein is available for colonic bacterial fermentation. On the contrary, dietary fiber intake is chronically low in a standard Western diet, while protein consumption is above dietary recommendations, which results in nearly equal amounts of dietary fiber and protein available for gut microbial fermentation. Furthermore, the popularity of high-protein diets for athletes, as well as that of high-protein low-carbohydrate diets for weight loss, may flip fiber and protein substrate proportions upside down, resulting in more protein than fiber available in the gut for fermentation. The objective of this study was to elucidate how substrate ratios in protein-fiber mixtures affect protein fermentation and metabolites, as well as examine the degree to which fiber source may influence these outcomes. Each dietary fiber source [fructooligosaccharides (FOS), apple pectin (Pectin), a wheat bran and raw potato starch mixture (WB+PS), and an even mixture of the three aforementioned fibers (Even Mix)] and protein were combined in three ratios and provided as substrate for in vitro fecal fermentation to understand how low, medium, and high fiber inclusion levels influence fermentation outcomes. They were compared to 100% protein and fiber (each different fiber) controls. Branched-chain fatty acids (BCFAs), metabolites produced exclusively from protein fermentation, were used as a measure of protein fermentation; the data were normalized based on the initial quantity of protein within the substrate. In protein-fiber substrate mixtures, only FOS and Even Mix inhibited BCFAs (mM/g protein basis) and only when they made up at least half of the substrate. Unexpectedly, the rate of protein fermentation was increased when the protein-fiber substrate contained 25% WB+PS fiber, possibly due to the starch component of the fiber. There was evidence that when pH drops during fermentation, as was the case for protein-FOS mixtures, it played a significant role in suppressing protein fermentation. Ammonia production was not largely affected by increasing the proportion of dietary fiber. A significant reduction did not occur until FOS made up at least 50% of the protein-fiber substrate; for Pectin, WB+PS, and Even Mix fibers, 75% inclusion was required for a significant decrease in ammonia. Interestingly, protein was butyrogenic. Protein as the sole substrate produced more butyrate than either Pectin or Even Mix as the sole substrates, and in fact, addition of Pectin to protein significantly reduced butyrate concentrations. However, the possible benefits of butyrate produced via protein fermentation needs to be tempered by the production of potentially toxic compounds and the association between protein fermentation and colorectal cancer. Overall, the thesis findings showed protein fermentation to be relatively stable and not easily influenced by increasing the availability of dietary fiber, and no clear evidence of microbial preference for carbohydrates over protein was found.


Degree Type

Master of Science


Food Science

Campus location

West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Dr. Bruce R. Hamaker

Additional Committee Member 2

Dr. S. Suzanne Nielsen

Additional Committee Member 3

Dr. Mohit Verma