Impact of protein on the composition and metabolism of the human gut microbiota and health

Sylvia Duncan* (Corresponding Author), Ajay Balu Iyer, Wendy Russell

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)
13 Downloads (Pure)


The composition and metabolic activity of the bacteria that inhabit the large intestine can have a major impact on health. Despite considerable inter-individual variation across bacterial species, the dominant phyla are generally highly conserved. There are several exogenous and gut environmental factors that play a role in modulating the composition and activities of colonic bacteria including diet with intakes of different macronutrients, including protein, accounting for approximately 20% of the microbial variation. Certain bacterial species tend to be considered as generalists and can metabolise a broad range of substrates, including both carbohydrate- and protein-derived substrates, whilst other species are specialists with a rather limited metabolic capacity. Metabolism of peptides and amino acids by gut bacteria can result in the formation of a wide range of metabolites several of which are considered deleterious to health including nitrosamines, heterocyclic amines and hydrogen sulphide as some of these products are genotoxic and have been linked to colonic disease. Beneficial metabolites however include SCFA and certain species can use amino acids to form butyrate which is the major energy source for colonocytes. The impact on health may however depend on the source of these products. In this review, we consider the impact of diet, particularly protein diets, on modulating the composition of the gut microbiota and likely health consequences and the potential impact of climate change and food security.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)173 - 185
Number of pages14
JournalProceedings of the Nutrition Society
Issue number2
Early online date22 Dec 2020
Publication statusPublished - May 2021

Bibliographical note

We would like to thank Pat Bain for help in preparing figure 1.
Financial support:
The Rowett Institute is funded by Scottish Government Rural ad Environmental Sciences and Analytical Services (SG-RESAS).


  • macronutrients
  • protein
  • carbohydrates
  • gur microbiota
  • short chain fatty acids
  • amino acids


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