- What You Need to Know About Butyrate Supplement Side Effects
- Evaluating the Risk of Butyrate Supplement Side Effects
- How Butyrate Works in the Body
- The Benefits Outweigh the Risks
- The Health Benefits of Butyrate: Meet the Anti-Inflammatory Fat
- What Is Butyrate?
- Immunity and Autoimmunity
- Therapy for Inflammatory Gut Diseases
- Weight Loss
- Butyrate and Your Diet
- Summing it Up
- Should You Supplement With Butyrate?
- Is Butyrate the Same as Butyric Acid?
- Health Benefits of Butyric Acid
- #1: Weight Loss
- #2: Colon Cancer
- #3: Gut Disorders
- Leaky Gut
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Crohn’s Disease
- #4: Anti-Inflammatory Effects
- How to Get More of This Compound
- Butyric Acid in Foods
- Butyrate Supplements
- The Health Benefits of Butyrate
- 9 health benefits of butyrate for your body and gut
- 1. Fuels your gut cells
- 2. Harness antioxidant powers
- 3. Prevents gut inflammation
- 4. Take action against cancer
- 5. Plug a leaky gut
- 6. Combat obesity and diabetes
- 7. Protect your brain
- Food sources which benefit butyrate production
- 9. Social communication
What You Need to Know About Butyrate Supplement Side Effects
Butyrate, also known as butyric acid, is an emerging treatment option for a wide range of health conditions, particularly gastrointestinal disorders and GI-associated neurological conditions autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Many of the traditional treatment options for these conditions have significant side effects that can interfere with the user’s quality of life, so patients, families, and providers are naturally wary of possible side effects of innovative new supplements that are gaining traction within the research and clinical communities. However, butyrate differs from pharmacological therapies in part because it is all-natural: not only do you eat it every day, but it is directly produced in your body, making it uniquely compatible with our physiology. Understanding how this compound works offers valuable insight into why butyrate supplement side effects are limited and why this treatment option is widely considered to be safe.
Evaluating the Risk of Butyrate Supplement Side Effects
Butyrate is one of the most common short chain fatty acids found in the gut. Together, butyrate, acetate, and propionate comprise 95 percent of the short chain fatty acids in the body. The butyrate in the gastrointestinal tract comes from two sources. First, it enters the GI tract when you eat fat-containing animal or plant products.
The other source of butyrate in the body the fermentation of non-digestible fiber by the bacteria in the gut. These bacteria ferment insoluble fiber for energy, and butyrate is generated as a byproduct.
Of course, just because butyrate is synthesized by your body does not necessarily mean that a supplement will be free of side effects.
However, the way it works in the body suggests that the risk of side effects is minimal. Under normal conditions, the cells of the colon rapidly absorb short chain fatty acids when they are synthesized by the bacteria or introduced with food.
In total, about 95% of short chain fatty acids are quickly taken up by these cells, and any excess that the body doesn’t need is harmlessly excreted in feces—about 5% of the butyrate that is synthesized under normal conditions.
Although there are relatively few clinical studies on the safety and effectiveness of butyrate supplements for patients with gastrointestinal and neurological disorders, early studies indicate that side effects are unly to occur.
In one double-blind, randomized, controlled study exploring the potential for the use of sodium butyrate to treat patients with IBS, not one of the 66 participants in the trial reported adverse side effects.
In another preliminary report on the possibility of using sodium butyrate for IBS, the result was the same—not a single participant said they experienced side effects.
For patients and providers who are concerned about potential butyrate supplement side effects, it can also be helpful to consider the insight of the FDA. The FDA relies on a wide range of data to determine the safety status of different compounds, and the status of butyrate is Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS).
How Butyrate Works in the Body
The safety profile of butyrate makes sense when you consider the way it works in the body. Once butyrate enters a cell, it can play a wide range of essential roles, which suggests that insufficient butyrate is much more ly to produce adverse effects than butyrate supplementation.
Patients with autism and/or gastrointestinal disorders are at heightened risk for insufficient butyrate levels due to compromised gut microbiome health, diminishing the efficiency of butyrate generation.
This can have a broad range of detrimental effects, as butyrate plays a range of essential roles, including:
- Gene regulation. In vitro evidence indicates that butyrate regulates epigenetic to DNA and the surrounding molecules, which determines when and where certain genes are expressed. Not only does this ensure that colon cells are producing the proteins they need for normal functioning—such as those that form tight junctions—but the role of butyrate as a gene regulator also has implications for colon cancer: the activities initiated by butyrate help prevent unchecked cell growth and proliferation.
- Transmembrane protein activation. Studies show that butyrate can activate several types of G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs). The proteins in this family play a role in a wide range of cell signaling and communication activities.
- Energy substrate for metabolic processes. Butyrate serves as the substrate for metabolic processes in both human colon cells and gut bacteria. This keeps them functioning at optimal levels.
Butyrate supplements make sense for patients with gastrointestinal and neurological disorders in part because biochemical evidence suggests that the healthy functioning of the colon is directly linked to some of these activities. For instance, as a gene regulator, butyrate ensures the appropriate expression of the proteins that are needed to form “tight junctions,” which determine the permeability of the gut. Improper functioning of tight junctions can cause “Leaky Gut” syndrome, which can produce gastrointestinal symptoms and may exacerbate behavioral symptoms of autism by enabling harmful metabolites to enter the blood and circulate to the brain.
Butyrate also offers protective effects against cancer due to its role in preventing the unchecked growth and proliferation of colon cancer cells. Butyrate promotes the expression of a GPCR that initiates apoptosis, and some studies also show that when butyrate levels are high—leading to increased gene regulatory activities—cancer cells respond by initiating apoptosis.
The Benefits Outweigh the Risks
an evaluation of the existing biochemical and clinical literature, evidence is clear that the risks of having too little butyrate outweigh the risks of butyrate supplement side effects.
So far, reports of side effects in clinical trials are nonexistent, and the normal processing of butyrate in the body indicates that any extra butyrate that is not used for essential cell processes would simply be excreted.
Overall, the appealing safety and functionality profile is one of the main reasons why butyrate is considered to be one of the most promising emerging supplements on the market for the treatment of gastrointestinal and neurological disorders.
CFR – Code of Federal Regulations Title 21. 2017. FDA. https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?fr=172.515&SearchTerm=ethyl%20lactate
Den Besten G, Van Eunen K, Groen AK, Venema K, Reijngoud DJ, Bakker BM. 2013. The role of short-chain fatty acids in the interplay between diet, gut microbiota, and host energy metabolism. Journal of Lipid Research. 54(9): 2325-2340. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3735932/
Fellows R, Denizot J, Varga-Weisz P. 2018. Microbiota derived short chain fatty acids promote histone crotonylation in the colon through histone deacetylases. Nature Communications. 105(2018). https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-017-02651-5
MacFabe, DF. 2012. Short-chain fatty acid fermentation products of the gut microbiome: Implications in autism spectrum disorders. Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease. 23. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3747729
Michielan A, D’Inca R. 2015. Intestinal permeability in inflammatory bowel disease: Pathogenesis, clinical evaluation, and therapy of leaky gut. Mediators of Inflammation. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4637104
Reckhemmer G, Ronnau K, von Engelhardt W. 1988. Fermentation of polysaccharides and absorption of short chain fatty acids in the mammalian hindgut. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology A. 90(4): 563-8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2902962
Rios-Covian D, Ruas Madiedo P, Margolles A. 2016. Intestinal short chain fatty acid and their link with diet and human health. Frontiers in Microbiology. 7:185. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4756104
Thangaraju M, Cresci G, Liu, K, Ananth S, Gnanprakasam JP, et al. 2008. GPR109A is a G-protein-coupled receptor for the bacterial fermentation product butyrate and functions as a tumor suppressor in colon. Cancer Research. 69(7):2826-32. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19276343
Zaleski A, Banaszkiewicz A, Walkowiak J. 2013. Butyric acid in irritable bowel syndrome. Przeglad Gastroenterologiczny. 8(6): 350-3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4027835
The Health Benefits of Butyrate: Meet the Anti-Inflammatory Fat
Butyrate is a type of fatty acid that helps your gut work right, and it might be important for gut-related diseases from autoimmunity to obesity to colon cancer. Here’s what it does, and how to make sure you’re getting enough of it.
What Is Butyrate?
You can get butyrate from food or supplements, but your gut flora can also make it fiber. Healthy gut flora digest food by fermenting it. When they ferment certain types of fiber, they create butyrate.
Your digestive system needs butyrate to function properly. Butyrate helps control the growth of the cells lining the gut, to make sure there’s good balance between old cells dying and new cells being formed. It’s also the most important source of energy for those cells.
Powering the lining of the gut would be important enough, but butyrate also has powerful anti-inflammatory effects that go beyond the gut. Ultimately, the anti-inflammatory benefits are helpful for…
Butyrate is most famous for protecting against colon cancer. The protection comes from its anti-inflammatory effects, which reduce oxidative stress and help control free radical damage. This review connected colon cancer risk to a lower amount of bacteria that produce butyrate.
Immunity and Autoimmunity
This review goes over the effects of butyrate on the immune system.
The overall anti-inflammatory effects are already an immune benefit – inflammation is an immune response, and controlling inflammation helps keep the immune response properly regularly.
Butyrate may also have some other immune benefits. For example, it helps regulate the production and development of regulatory T-cells in the colon.
Regulatory T-cells help your body distinguish between itself and everything else. If that ability breaks down, your immune system might end up mounting a full-blown attack on your own pancreas (Type 1 Diabetes) or your own thyroid. It’s a pretty important job, and butyrate helps the T-cells stay on track.
In rats, butyrate also helps maintain healthy gut barrier function and reduce abnormal intestinal permeability (“leaky gut”). Gut barrier function is huge for immune health and avoiding autoimmunity.
We also have some evidence that the butyrate-autoimmunity connection exists in people. For example, people with autoimmune (Type 1) Diabetes have a lack of butyrate-producing bacteria in their gut.
Therapy for Inflammatory Gut Diseases
Butyrate problems are also tied up with inflammatory gut diseases ( Inflammatory Bowel Disease, including Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis). For example, people with IBD have a reduced ability to metabolize butyrate. That might contribute to their inflammatory symptoms.
But there’s also good news! A recent study found that oral butyrate supplements (4 grams per day for 8 weeks) improved symptoms of Crohn’s Disease in 9 13 patients: 2 significantly improved, and 7 actually went into remission. The researchers’ explanation was the anti-inflammatory effect of the butyrate.
Speaking of autoimmune, inflammatory conditions, you know what else is on the list? Obesity (yes, obesity has an autoimmune component).
This review goes over the role of short-chain fatty acids, including butyrate, on weight and obesity. There are actually some conflicting data on this. Some studies show that obese humans have increased amounts of butyrate in their feces.
But other studies suggest that people with obesity have a lower ability to ferment carbohydrates into butyrate. Normal-weight people have more butyrate-producing bacteria in their gut than obese people.
If you take the gut flora from a normal person and transplant them into the colon of someone with metabolic syndrome, the recipient’s insulin sensitivity improves along with their ability to ferment carbohydrates into butyrate.
There are also some other ways that butyrate might affect body weight. There’s some evidence that it suppresses appetite by affecting the levels of hormones in the gut. In mice, it also influences metabolism and energy expenditure, and pushes the body towards burning more fat for energy.
It’s not totally clear what exactly all the relationships are – there’s probably a whole tangle of adaptations and counter-adaptations and overcompensation going on. But the takeaway seems to be that butyrate is one more reason why you need a healthy gut for sustainable weight loss.
Butyrate and Your Diet
So this butyrate stuff is pretty important. The logical question to ask next is: what foods can you eat to get it? And the answer is…butter. And to a much lesser extent, other foods that contain some dairy fat. The fattier the food, the more butyrate it will have, so whole milk has more than skim milk, and heavy cream has more than either.
That’s great for people who can tolerate dairy products. It might be one of the reasons why full-fat dairy is actually associated with lower BMI, not higher. But what about people who don’t even tolerate butter or ghee? What about people on the autoimmune protocol? What about people with dairy allergies?
If that’s you, don’t panic: your gut flora are about to come to the rescue.
You can DIY butyrate, or at least your gut flora can, provided you eat enough fiber. Eating fiber increases production of butyrate, which might be one of the reasons why fiber intake is so strongly associated with reductions in inflammation and improvements in gut health. It’s not the fiber per se; it’s the butyrate that your gut flora make with it.
That doesn’t necessarily mean to run out and start chugging Metamucil. Almost all fruits and vegetables are high in fiber. A particularly powerful type of fiber is resistant starch, but if you’re not huge on cold potatoes or raw bananas, just about any whole plant food will do the trick.
Of course, that’s all assuming that your gut is healthy enough to make butyrate all that fiber, and that the fiber doesn’t set off gut symptoms of its own. Most people will probably feel better ramping it up a little at a time.
And if even a little is too much, there are always supplements.
Butyrate supplements are available over-the-counter; that might be a good choice for people with inflammatory gut diseases that prevent them from eating a huge amount of fiber in the first place.
Summing it Up
Butyrate is really just one more entry on the long, long list of things your gut flora do for you. It’s got some powerful anti-inflammatory effects that translate into protection against colon cancer, gut disorders IBD, and autoimmune disease, and possibly also obesity.
To get butyrate from foods, you can either eat butter, or eat a lot of vegetables for the fiber, or double up for the most delicious route: a big pile of vegetables slathered in plenty of butter. If anyone gives you grief, tell them your regulatory T-cells will thank you.
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Should You Supplement With Butyrate?
Butyrate is a short-chain fatty acid that’s a superfood for your intestines. It keeps your colon cells healthy, reduces inflammation, boosts your immune system, and improves gut health.
Experts claim that it can also reduce the risk of colorectal cancer and protect you from gut disorders inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, and insulin resistance.
But how exactly does it work? And is it something you should take as a supplement?
The answer to your sweet tooth. 17g of fat, 3g of net carbs, incredibly delicious.
Read on to learn about the beneficial effects of this SCFA, how to get more into your diet, and whether or not it’s a good idea to supplement with this anti-inflammatory organic compound.
Is Butyrate the Same as Butyric Acid?
You may read about butyric acid or see it listed on supplement labels. But is it the same thing as butyrate?
For all practical purposes, yes.
Butyric acid and butyrate are different forms of the same molecule. Butyric acid is the form that you’ll find in food and many supplements.
Health Benefits of Butyric Acid
Butyrate has several beneficial effects. It may be helpful for weight loss, insulin resistance, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and more.
Here are four specific butyrate benefits to consider when deciding whether or not you want to supplement with this compound. Of course, always consult your physician.
#1: Weight Loss
Weight gain is a big problem in the modern world. Nearly 40% of American adults are obese[*].
If you’re looking to lose a few pounds, nothing beats a high-quality diet — but butyrate may help you slim down by balancing your metabolism and increasing your energy expenditure (or the number of calories you burn).
In purposely-fattened mice, just five doses restored normal glucose, leptin, and insulin sensitivity — all positive metabolic changes[*].
Also, researchers have shown that (in mice) butyrate turns off a genetic receptor called PPAR-γ (“PPAR gamma”), which is a fat gene. In other words, it makes you store fat more easily. Turning it off may make it easier to lose weight[*].
Finally, the short-chain fatty acid affects two gut hormones called GLP-1 and peptide YY. Both of these hormones help control your hunger. Getting more butyrate in your gut positively affects these hormones. As a result, you have less of an appetite, making it more comfortable for you to stay in a mild calorie deficit[*].
But while the short-chain fatty acid may help with weight loss, it shouldn’t be your main weight loss tool. Start with a healthy nutrition plan, the keto diet, then try increasing butyric acid to hit your goals.
#2: Colon Cancer
Colon cancer is the third most common cancer in the United States, with about 100,000 new cases reported each year[*]. Some research suggests that butyrate may play an important role in preventing and treating this disease of the large intestine.
One of the most promising new treatments for colon cancer is using histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitors, special drugs that make it harder for cancer to spread and can kill off cancer cells[*].
Butyrate is a natural HDAC inhibitor. In other words, it reduces cell proliferation, helps kill unneeded cells, and affects cancer-related gene expression[*].
For instance, rats fed wheat bran, a prebiotic fiber, had better cancer protection than rats fed other types of fiber[*]. Resistant starch — a prebiotic fiber found in legumes, unripe bananas, and potatoes — had a similar effect on colon cancer cells in rats[*].
In one rodent study, mice fed a certain bacteria (Butyrivibrio fibrisolvens) had more butyrate and fewer precancerous colonic lesions[*].
This is still a fairly new area of study, and most of the research for colorectal cancer is done with animal models, so take it with a grain of salt.
While the evidence shows promise against cancer in rodents, it’s too soon to say for sure whether the benefits apply to the human colon.
#3: Gut Disorders
Butyrate fuels your gut cells, decreases inflammation, and strengthens your intestinal wall, which can make it useful for a variety of gut conditions.
Your intestinal cells act as a barrier by forming a tight junction between you and the food you eat. Nutrients are allowed in, and toxins are filtered out. That’s how it’s supposed to work.
But sometimes — due to infection, an overactive immune response, poor diet, colonic inflammation, toxins, or even stress — the intestinal barrier can develop tiny holes. This is called leaky gut, and it’s connected to many chronic gut conditions, from IBS to Crohn’s to ulcerative colitis[*].
Fixing leaky gut is complicated, but butyrate can be part of the equation.
The SCFA helps repair and enhance gut barrier function by increasing protective mucus around your intestinal wall[*][*]. It also tightens the junctions in the large intestine, so its contents can’t leak out[*].
If your gut barrier is a picket fence, butyric acid helps repair that fence and fills in the gaps between the posts.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Leaky gut is strongly linked to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) — a collection of chronic symptoms that includes abnormal bowel habits and recurrent stomach pain[*].
In one study, 66 IBS patients were given sodium butyrate or placebo (along with standard IBS pharmacology) for four weeks. By the end of the trial, the butyrate group had significant improvements in pain when going to the bathroom. However, they didn’t see improvements in gas, stomach pain, or stool consistency[*].
Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that typically affects the small intestine, though it may inflame any part of the gastrointestinal tract. Although the data for Crohn’s is limited, it’s promising.
In one trial, researchers gave 13 Crohn’s patients 4 grams of butyrate per day for eight weeks. Of the 13 patients, seven achieved total remission, and two achieved partial remission. The scientists believe this effect was a result of its anti-inflammatory effect on gut cells[*].
#4: Anti-Inflammatory Effects
Inflammation is not a gut-specific issue. It’s usually chronic and systemic, which means it happens all over your body. Chronic inflammation seems to play a role in a lot of different diseases, from obesity to diabetes to cancer[*].
Butyrate is a powerful anti-inflammatory — not just in your gut, but in the rest of your body, too. The short-chain fatty acid lowers inflammation in several ways, but the main pathway is through a transcription factor called NF-κB[*].
Think of NF-κB as a switch that turns hundreds of other switches that can cause inflammation on or off.
How to Get More of This Compound
The easiest way to get more butyric acid is to eat more dietary fiber.
Certain types of fiber and starch are food for your gut bacteria. You can’t digest these fibers, but your gut bacteria can. And when they do, they make butyrate.
Some types of fiber are better at this than others. Resistant starch is one of those fibers[*].
Some foods high in resistant starch include:
- Under-ripe bananas
- Cooked and cooled rice
Along with resistant starch, you can also eat a variety of other prebiotics, oat bran, pectin, guar, inulin, and fructans.
Prebiotic fiber-rich foods include:
- Jerusalem artichokes
Butyric Acid in Foods
You can also eat foods rich in butyric acid.
Dairy is the best source. That’s because cows produce a lot of butyrate (and other SCFAs) in their guts when they digest the plants they eat.
Foods naturally high in butyric acid include:
Pro tip: Choose raw or cultured dairy products from grass-fed or pasture-raised cows as much as possible. As a bonus, these foods are also perfect keto foods.
If you don’t want to change your diet, you can take a supplement instead.
There’s no one-size-fits-all rule for how much you need, but human studies usually use between 300-600 mg[*]. So, you might want to start with about 300 mg per day.
There are no reported side effects to taking butyrate orally, but it can irritate your lungs if you inhale it. That said, people have taken up to 41 grams (41,000 mg) a day with no serious side effects[*].
Butyrate supplements are promising, but research is still in the early stages. Without more evidence in humans, it’s hard to say whether taking a supplement is helpful.
Instead, focus on increasing your body’s own butyrate production.
Feed your gut bacteria plenty of dietary fiber. The best forms are resistant starch, pectin, guar, and other prebiotics. Get plenty of leafy greens, as well.
As for keto-friendly fats high in butyric acid? Stick with full-fat dairy grass-fed butter.
The Health Benefits of Butyrate
Of all the beneficial Short-Chain Fatty Acids (SCFAs), butyric acid, also referred to as butyrate is the best- characterized and most well understood.
Butyrate is produced by bacterial fermentation of dietary fibers in the colon, with resistant starches generally being considered the most ly to form butyrate by fermentation of glucose in the intestines.
Once produced in the colon, butyrate is rapidly absorbed and serves a myriad of functions including:[1,2,3,4,5]
Energy Source: Butyrate serves as the major source of energy for cell production and repair, in the cells that line the colon. There’s some evidence that butyrate suppresses appetite by affecting the levels of hormones in the gut and may affect body weight.
Anti-Inflammatory: Butyrate aids in reducing the expression of many pro-inflammatory cytokines, as well as inflammation-inducing enzymes.
Anti-Carcinogenic: In colonic tumor cells, butyrate acts as an inhibitor in chromatin organization and up-regulates the expression of many genes involved in apoptosis, cell cycle arrest and proliferation. Diminished levels of fecal butyrate have been proposed as a risk factor for the development and progression of colorectal cancer.
Anti-Oxidant: Butyrate can mitigate the effects of oxidative stress by several mechanisms including up-regulating detoxification enzymes and increasing glutathione levels.
Intestinal Barrier Integrity: Butyrate serves a key role in the maintenance of the intestinal barrier by facilitating the assembly of tight junctions which further enhances barrier integrity.
As a result of the numerous benefits of butyrate, it is considered a biomarker of overall colonic health.
Concentrations of butyrate are negligible in the blood since it is rapidly absorbed and metabolized in the colon, so fecal samples are used to assess production.
Lowered levels of fecal butyrate (and butyrate-producing bacteria) have been observed in patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, diverticulosis and colorectal cancer. [2,4,6,7,8,9,10,11,12]
If you are suffering from digestive or weight management issues, talk to your trusted healthcare professional about measurement of your butyrate levels. You can also increase butyrate levels by incorporating more fiber-rich foods into your diet.
1. Tan J, et al. The Role of Short Chain Fatty Acids in Health and Disease. Advances in Immunology. 2014. 121:91-119.
2. Pryde S, et al. The microbiology of butyrate formation in the human colon. FEMS Microbiology Letters. 2002. 217:133-139.
3. Rios-Covian D, et al. Intestinal Short Chain Fatty Acids and their Link with Diet and Human Health. Frontiers in Microbiology. 2016. 7(185):1-9.
4. Leonel A, et al. Butyrate; Implications for Intestinal Function. Current Opinion Clinical Nutrition. 2012. 15(5):474-479.
5. Hamer H, et al. Review Article: The Role of Butyrate on Colonic Function. Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics. 2008. 27:104-119.
6. Wong J, et al. Colonic health: fermentation and short chain fatty acids. J Clin Gastroenterol. 2006 Mar;40(3):235-43.
7. Farup P, et al. Fecal short-chain fatty acids – a diagnostic biomarker for irritable bowel syndrome? BMC Gastroenterology. 2016. 16(51)1-7.
8. O’Keefe S, et al. Diet, microorganisms and their metabolites and colon cancer. Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology. 2016. 13: 691-705.
9. Sivaprakasam S, et al. Benefits of short-chain fatty acids and their receptors in inflammation and carcinogenesis. Pharmacology & Therapeutics. 2016. 164:144-151.
10. Shi Y, et al. Function and clinical implications of short chain fatty acids in patients with mixed refractory constipation. Colorectal Disease. 2016. 18:803:810.
11. Chen H, et al. Decreased dietary fiber intake and structural alteration of gut microbiota in patients with advanced colorectal adenoma. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2013. 97(5):1044-1052.
12. Machiels K, et al. A decrease of the butyrate-producing species Roseburia hominis and Faecalibacterium prausnitzii defines dysbiosis in patients with ulcerative colitis. Gut. 2014. 63:1275-1283.
9 health benefits of butyrate for your body and gut
Gut bacteria produce butyrate, an important short-chain fatty acid that supports digestive health, helps control inflammation, and even aids in preventing disease. Here's why you need more butyrate in your life:
Your body produces less butyrate than other short-chain fatty acids, but it has many health benefits. It is needed for your overall gut health, as well as helping to make energy for some of your gut cells. Plus, it can plug a leaky gut and even help stabilise blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
1. Fuels your gut cells
Butyrate is the main energy source for colonocytes, the cells which make up your gut lining.
Un most other cells in your body which use sugar (glucose) as their main energy source, the cells of the lining of your gut (colonocytes) mainly use butyrate. Without butyrate, these cells would not be able to carry out their functions correctly.
Members of the Firmicutes genus, a classification of bacteria, are well known for producing butyrate. More specifically, microbes Roseburia spp., Faecalibacterium prausnitzii, and Eubacterium rectale turn prebiotics dietary fibre into butyrate.
This three-way relationship is mutual. Butyrate fuels colonocytes, and in return these cells help provide an oxygen-free environment in which beneficial gut microbes thrive. This keeps inflammation in check, gut cells healthy, and gut bacteria happy.
2. Harness antioxidant powers
Butyrate defends your cells from harmful substances to keep your gut healthy and disease-free.
Let’s talk about free radicals, which are basically waste products from chemical reactions in the body. Antioxidants, on the other hand, are your body’s defence against them. Large numbers of free radicals cause damage and overwhelm the body’s repair systems. We call this oxidative stress.
The colon or large intestine is a storage container for the waste you produce. Higher butyrate levels have been shown to increase levels of glutathione, an antioxidant produced in the body's cells which neutralises free radicals in the gut. This is good because free radicals are linked to inflammation and many diseases.
So, increased butyrate production could improve the barrier function of the colonocytes due to its secondary antioxidant functions. This reduces the risk of diseases bowel cancer, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
3. Prevents gut inflammation
Butyrate possesses anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer functions for your gut.
Your gut lining maintains a low level of inflammation just in case there are any changes at the mucosal surface that's in contact with the microbiome. The low level of inflammation is tightly controlled, but if it is disrupted, it can lead to oxidative damage and over a prolonged period, even cancer.
So, your diet can have a massive effect on both butyrate production as well as gut inflammation. A diet high in fiber is particularly beneficial for butyrate production because it feeds your butyrate-producing bacteria. More butyrate means less inflammation.
4. Take action against cancer
Butyrate keeps your gut environment stable and is part of the protective effect associated with dietary fiber against certain cancers.
Bowel cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, is a major health burden in the western world and our diet is largely to blame. A diet low in dietary fiber affects the bacteria in your gut. Your colonocytes need butyrate for energy, and if they have no energy, they can’t work.
Butyrate is produced by gut bacteria from prebiotic fibers in plant foods
If the cells lining your gut are unable to work, cells associated with tumor progression can thrive. These give off inflammatory signals and lead to tumor development. So, low dietary fiber means reduced butyrate production, a risk factor for bowel cancer.
Butyrate is also a histone deacetylase inhibitor. Histone deacetylase is an enzyme produced in most cancers. Because butyrate is an inhibitor, it causes cells to, in effect, commit suicide, a process known as apoptosis. So, it can stop cancer cells developing altogether.
5. Plug a leaky gut
Your gut lining needs butyrate to stay healthy and function properly. It’s as simple as that.
The gut lining is an intestinal barrier. It selectively allows things vitamins and minerals to leave the gut, enter the bloodstream, and travel to where they’re needed. Equally, it stops toxins, pathogens, and food compounds from entering the bloodstream and making you ill.
The process is called intestinal permeability by doctors and scientists. When the barrier is healthy, small holes called tight junctions relax, allowing water and nutrients to pass through.
The butyrate produced by your gut microbes from the dietary fiber provides the fuel needed by the cells in your gut lining. By doing so, it preserves the integrity of your gut lining, preventing leaky gut from occurring.
6. Combat obesity and diabetes
Butyrate could improve obesity and type II diabetes by increasing the production of certain gut hormones which improve blood sugar balance.
Insulin is released from the pancreas when your blood sugar levels rise. On the flipside, this organ releases glucagon when insulin levels (and blood sugar levels) in the bloodstream are too low, so the liver can send glucose into the bloodstream.
Together, these hormones work to keep your blood sugar levels stable. When blood sugar is too high, insulin tells the body’s muscle and fat cells to take in this excess glucose, which is why these hormones are important for obesity and diabetes.
Increased production of short-chain fatty acids, including butyrate in the colon, increases the release of these gut hormones, indicating potential benefits for managing blood sugar levels and preventing weight gain.
7. Protect your brain
As well as its roles in the gut, butyrate has significant potential to support brain health.
Butyrate, produced by the bacteria in your colon, has a range of biological functions. These functions are also associated with neuroprotective effects (that benefit your brain and nervous system).
Boosting your butyrate production through your diet is easy and low risk. One day it may even be a potential treatment option for brain diseases. More importantly, increasing your butyrate production right now can benefit your health in many ways.
A high fiber diet can boost butyrate production because it encourages the butyrate-producing bacteria in your colon to thrive.
Members of the Firmicutes phylum are renowned for their ability to produce butyrate. If you want to nourish this class of bacteria and, indeed your microbiome in general, then foods containing prebiotics are popular with your gut bacteria.
Diets which are high in fat and low in carbohydrates can disrupt butyrate production. Your gut bacteria feed on fiber, not animal protein. So, the best way to optimise your butyrate production is through a high-fiber diet.
Food sources which benefit butyrate production
9. Social communication
It might sound mad but your microbial community could be influencing your social behaviour.
In short, butyrate stinks. Literally. The word is in fact derived from the Latin butyrum, meaning butter. You’re probably familiar with the smell of gone off milk or spoiled butter, well that’s butyrate. Sounds disgusting, right?
Perhaps these women are communicating by smell too thanks to butyrate?
It’s easy to understand why it would smell so bad when it is produced under anaerobic conditions putrefaction, biological decomposition, and fermentation. Oh, and did we mention it’s also a component of body odour?
Some scientists believe we use odorous short-chain fatty acids butyrate to (unconsciously) communicate with each other. It’s known as a “fermentation hypothesis for chemical communication”. And it might be true, let’s face it, B.O. is a pretty personal thing!
In short, butyrate is pretty cool. Your gut bacteria make butyrate from the foods you can’t digest. As a result, it provides your body with many health benefits. Enriching your diet with fibre will help to increase your butyrate production and your gut microbes will love you for it too.
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