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15 Resistant Starch Health Benefits + Limitations

Written by Aleksa Ristic, MS (Pharmacy) | Last updated:
Evguenia Alechine
Puya Yazdi
Medically reviewed by
Evguenia Alechine, PhD (Biochemistry), Puya Yazdi, MD | Written by Aleksa Ristic, MS (Pharmacy) | Last updated:

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Resistant starch

Eating pure starch may not seem like the healthiest choice. However, resistant starch is an exception: it feeds gut probiotics, balances blood sugar, improves metabolism, and more. Read on to learn the health benefits and side effects of resistant starch. If you are interested in hacking your gut microbiome, this post is a must-read.

Mechanisms

Potential health benefits of resistant starch stem from the following properties:

  • By acting as a dietary fiber, resistant starch slows down digestion and absorption in the small intestine and bulks up the stool in the large intestine [1]
  • By feeding good bacteria like Bifidobacteria in the large intestine [1]
  • By reducing insulin resistance & inflammation [2]
  • By supporting the production of short-chain fatty acids (butyrate, acetate, propionate) and other beneficial metabolites in the large intestine [3]
  • Short-chain fatty acids support intestinal barrier function (i.e., help repair leaky gut), and healthy secretions of hormones and enzymes in the gut [3]

Resistant Starch and Metabolic Health

1) May Balance Blood Glucose

Supplementing the diet with resistant corn starch helped control blood glucose levels in overweight individuals [4].

One study found that consuming high-amylose maize resistant starch daily for six weeks improved glucose balance in 18 overweight adults. Glucose balance is the process of maintaining normal blood glucose levels [5].

According to preliminary research, there are many ways in which resistant starch may help normalize blood glucose, including:

  • Being dietary fiber, it slows down carbohydrate digestion and absorption [1].
  • By activating glycogen synthesis genes, it causes the body to store more carbohydrates in our muscles and liver [6].
  • By improving insulin sensitivity [7].

Insulin Sensitivity

Insulin resistance occurs when cells fail to respond to insulin, leading to high blood sugar levels, and it is associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Resistant starch intake may improve insulin sensitivity and reduce the amount of insulin required to manage blood sugar in both animals and humans. It may help by:

  • Increasing the excretion of certain bile acids into the gut, which helps decrease insulin resistance through GLP-1 [8, 9].
  • Reducing fat tissue macrophages, which are immune cells that drive the development of insulin resistance [7, 3, 10, 11, 12].
  • Short-chain fatty acids (fermentation products of resistant starch) signal to the brain and liver to reduce glucose production, which may improve insulin sensitivity [13].
  • Increasing adiponectin, which improves insulin sensitivity by increasing fatty acid oxidation and inhibiting liver glucose production [14].
  • Increasing ghrelin, which inhibits glucose-stimulated insulin secretion from the pancreas [15].

Type 2 Diabetes

Resistant starch potentially reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes in animals and overweight adults by improving insulin sensitivity, reducing blood glucose, and reducing blood fat levels [16, 4, 12].

Supplementing the diet with resistant starch may prevent complications resulting from excess blood sugar in patients with type 2 diabetes. One study of 56 women with type 2 diabetes found that resistant starch improved blood glucose levels, reduced toxins released by bacteria, and increased antioxidants [17, 18].

In diabetics, resistant starch consumption also protects the blood vessels from oxidative damage due to high blood sugar and improves endothelial function [19, 18].

2) May Improve Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is a group of factors that increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. These include large waistline, low HDL cholesterol, high blood pressure, high triglycerides, and blood sugar levels [20].

In one study of 20 healthy adults, resistant starch decreased the amount of insulin released after food intake, which makes it a promising complementary approach to metabolic syndrome [21].

Adding resistant starch to the diets of patients with metabolic syndrome improved cholesterol, triglyceride levels, and insulin sensitivity [22, 10].

When added to standard treatment, resistant starch decreased LDL and total cholesterol levels while increasing HDL in 19 subjects with metabolic syndrome [23].

3) Supports Heart Health

In a double-blind study of 86 individuals, resistant starch type 4 reduced abnormal fat levels in the blood [22].

The hardening of blood vessels is often a precursor to heart disease. Resistant starch potentially reduces the risk factors involved in the hardening of blood vessels in overweight individuals [4].

Resistant starch reduced cholesterol and triglyceride levels in multiple animal studies [1, 24, 25].

4) May Protect the Kidneys

Supplementing the diet with resistant starch decreased toxic metabolite (indoxyl sulfate and p-cresol sulfate) levels in 56 patients on kidney dialysis [26].

A diet with high-amylose maize starch slowed down chronic kidney disease (CKD) by decreasing oxidative stress, reducing inflammation, and preventing colon lining damage in rats [27].

5) May Support Weight Control

Please note that the effects of resistant starch on weight control stem from preliminary low-quality research. Although it may theoretically support metabolism and weight control in multiple ways, solid clinical evidence is lacking.

Weight Gain and Metabolism

In obesity-prone rats, dietary resistant starch and regular exercise prevented weight gain by reducing energy (food) requirements [28].

It reduces fat accumulation and blood glucose levels and increases the breakdown of fat through fermentation in the intestines, thus potentially improving weight control [29, 30].

Fat Burning

Resistant starch may stimulate fat burning by:

  • Reducing fat accumulation and increasing fat oxidation after meals [24].
  • Forcing the body to burn fat by lowering blood glucose [31].
  • Decreasing fat production while increasing the production of phospholipids [32].

Appetite

Consuming dietary resistant starch increases the appetite-reducing hormone peptide YY (PYY), which promotes satiety and fullness [33, 34, 35, 36].

A study of 20 healthy adults found that consuming resistant starch over a 24-hour period significantly reduced the amount of food eaten. Although food intake was lower, there was no association between food consumption and how subjects rated their appetite [21].

Resistant Starch and Digestive Health

6) Acts as Prebiotic

Prebiotics stimulate the growth of beneficial or probiotic gut bacteria.

By increasing the number of good bacteria in the large intestine, resistant starches may offer several health benefits, such as improving immune function, preventing the growth of bad bacteria, and normalizing energy production [37, 38, 39, 40].

Technical: Gut bacterial composition changes from the consumption of resistant starch in humans.

RS4 decreases Firmicutes by more than 10% on average and increases Bacteroidetes and Actinobacteria by around 5% each, while also significantly increasing Bifidobacterium [41].

However, this study also found a large individual variation in the changes in gut flora in response to resistant starch consumption among the 10 subjects.

7) Increases Acidity in the Stomach

Fermentation of resistant starch produces short-chain fatty acids, which increase gut acidity [42, 36].

Increasing gut acidity may improve the absorption of nutrients and suppresses the growth of harmful bacteria [43, 44, 45].

8) Supports Gut Function

The short-chain fatty acid butyrate (fermentation product of resistant starch) provides energy for colon cells and is essential for promoting large bowel function. Populations at low risk of large bowel diseases have high dietary resistant starch intake and high butyrate levels [37].

Resistant potato starch increases butyrate concentrations in the intestines, which benefits gut microbiota. Butyrate also protects the gut lining and reduces inflammation [46].

9) Helps With Diarrhea

Consuming resistant starch helps treat infectious diarrhea in both humans and animals by reducing harmful bacteria in the gut [47].

Resistant starch increases short-chain fatty acid concentrations, which improves the treatment of acute diarrhea in children under 5 years old [48].

10) May Help With “Leaky Gut”

Intestinal permeability, which results from a damaged intestinal barrier, affects the immune function and puts individuals at risk for other diseases like inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, autoimmune hepatitis, and type 1 diabetes [49].

Intestinal microbiota breaks down resistant starch into short-chain fatty acids, which strengthen the colon lining: a protective barrier that allows nutrients into the colon while keeping harmful pathogens out [50, 51].

Resistant Starch & Immunity

11) Reduces Inflammation and Balances the Immune System

The intestinal lining is affected by intestinal microbiota and the immune system, affecting barrier function, the composition of the microbiota, and immune balance [52].

Resistant starch helps balance the immune system by:

  • Altering the composition of the gut bacteria [53, 54]
  • Stimulating Treg, which lowers Th1, Th2, and Th17 dominance [55]
  • Suppressing inflammatory cytokines such as IFN-gamma, increasing anti-inflammatory cytokine IL-10, and increasing PPAR-gamma through the increase in butyrate levels [55, 56]

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Resistant starch reduces the severity of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in animals [57].

Isomaltodextrin, a type of resistant starch, reduces inflammation in gut diseases by suppressing pro-inflammatory and increasing anti-inflammatory proteins [58].

Dietary fiber like resistant starch modifies the gut microbiota and increases short-chain fatty acid production, which reduces inflammation in IBD [59].

Despite the potential of resistant starch to combat gut inflammation in multiple ways, we can’t make definite conclusions in the absence of clinical trials in IBD patients.

Colon Cancer Prevention

Resistant starch and other dietary fiber have a well-known protective role against colon cancer. They protect colon lining cells and suppress tumor growth by increasing short-chain fatty acids and supporting gut probiotics [60, 61, 62].

In rats with colorectal cancer, resistant starch increased butyrate concentrations and was associated with reduced tumor incidence, number, and size [63].

In another study on rats, it protected colon lining cells from DNA damage and reduced cancer-causing toxins in the gut [64].

The combination of resistant starch and the bacteria Bifidobacterium lactis protects against the development of colon cancer in rats [65].

Clinical trials are needed to investigate the potential use of resistant starch in colon cancer prevention. At this point, it can’t be recommended for cancer prevention or treatment.

Resistant Starch & Nutrient Absorption

12) Vitamin D

In rats with type 1 diabetes, consuming resistant starch helped treat vitamin D imbalance by improving vitamin resorption in the kidney [66, 67].

Resistant starch maintains vitamin D balance in rats with type 2 diabetes by preventing urinary excretion of vitamin D-binding proteins [67].

13) Mineral Absorption

Raw resistant starch (but not retrograded types) have been shown to help with magnesium absorption in animals [68, 69].

In pigs, a diet including 16% resistant starches significantly increased the absorption of calcium and iron in the intestine [70].

Resistant Starch & Brain Function

Resistant starch exerts some of its health benefits through the so-called gut-brain axis. For example, butyrate is absorbed through the stomach, crosses the blood-brain barrier, and exerts beneficial effects on the brain [71].

Resistant starch may thus help with brain function, but most research in this area is done on animals.

14) Dopamine Levels

Since resistant starch increases butyrate concentrations, it may indirectly increase dopamine levels by reducing the degeneration of dopamine-producing neurons [72, 73].

15) Other

Resistant starch made the brain more responsive to glucose and improved motor coordination in rats [74].

Limitations and Negative Effects of Resistant Starch

1) Effects Vary Among Individuals

The effects of resistant starch (RS) depend on the composition of gut microbiota, which varies among individuals. RS treatment should be personalized to maintain its beneficial effects [75, 76, 77].

2) Effects Depend on the Type of Resistant Starch

RS types 2 and 4 influence different parts of the microbiota. Specific bacterial populations can be targeted depending on the type of resistant starch [40].

One study found that RS type 4 decreased blood glucose more than resistant starch type 2 [78].

Another study found that RS type 4 was better at reducing oxidative stress levels than type 2 [79].

3) May Cause Stomach Discomfort

Foods high in RS, like beans, cannot be fully digested and can cause stomach discomfort [80].

Consuming too many non-digestible carbohydrates like resistant starch may cause stomach discomfort, gas, and diarrhea [81].

Learn More

About the Author

Aleksa Ristic

Aleksa Ristic

MS (Pharmacy)
Aleksa received his MS in Pharmacy from the University of Belgrade, his master thesis focusing on protein sources in plant-based diets. 
Aleksa is passionate about herbal pharmacy, nutrition, and functional medicine. He found a way to merge his two biggest passions—writing and health—and use them for noble purposes. His mission is to bridge the gap between science and everyday life, helping readers improve their health and feel better.

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