How a Naturally Occurring Acid Can Do Great Things For Your Gut (And Your Overall Health)
Your body is host to an entire ecosystem of microorganisms that keep everything running smoothly. This collection of microorganisms is called the microbiome, and one of its most valuable residents is called butyrate. When your body has strong numbers of butyrate, you’ll see all sorts of benefits that ripple across digestive, mental, circulatory, and other health systems.
In this article, we’ll define what butyrate is, explain how it affects your health, and reveal the benefits that occur when your body is flush with butyrate.
So What Exactly is Butyrate?
Butyrate is a short chain fatty acid made by your gut. It’s a postbiotic, which means it’s a byproduct of microbes during fermentation. When your body breaks down (or “ferments”) dietary fiber, it produces butyrate. Our body cannot fully digest dietary fibers, but it can break them down, and butyrate is a result of this breaking down process.
Butyrate is produced by your body, but it can also be consumed via supplements and products like butter and cheese. Ethyl butyrate is commonly used as an artificial flavoring in orange juice and alcoholic beverages, and sodium butyrate is what you’ll find in butyrate supplements, which we’ll get into later.
Fun fact: Butyrate is derived from the Latin word butyrum, which is the root word of butter! (Butter has a lot of butyrate).
What Does Butyrate Do?
Butyrate is the main energy source for colonocytes, which are cells that line the colon. These colonocytes help your gut produce a healthy ecosystem of microbes, thus creating a stable microbiome in your body. The intestinal microbiome is a careful balance of different microorganisms like viruses, fungi, and bacteria, and if the colonocytes didn’t have their butyrate fuel, the balance would be disrupted.
As a result of the colonocytes being well fed, food moves more easily through your digestive system. This keeps a healthy level of blood flow and can improve colon health.
A healthier gut and digestive system has a ripple effect throughout the entire body, improving and regulating functions like mental clarity and blood sugar levels.
What are the Benefits of Butyrate on the Microbiome?
The benefits of butyrate on the microbiome are many and multi-faced. Here are just a few ways that healthy amounts of butyrate in your system benefit your body on multiple levels:
- Better digestion. This is the main role of butyrate in the microbiome: keep the colonocytes in the gut well-fed so they can do their job of moving food through the digestive system. People who take butyrate supplements or eat plenty of butyrate-generating foods notice more regularity in their bowel movements.
- Weight loss/weight regulation. Poor digestion can lead to weight gain. Improved digestion helps the body better process the nutrients that are passing through it, and the body functions better as a result. A good weight loss plan should include foods that promote butyrate production. Research suggests that low levels of butyrate are connected to obesity.
- Improved brain health: A healthier digestive system (fueled by a high fiber diet) can help improve your brain health, which can clear up that “foggy” feeling you get when you aren’t firing on all cylinders. Plus, butyrate can help stop or slow the progression of diseases like Alzheimer’s by targeting the pathways associated with it.
- Protect against cancer. While more research is needed, studies suggest that butyrate may play a role in preventing colorectal cancer by encouraging stable gut microbiota. Colorectal is a common type of cancer in men and women, and epidemiological studies suggest a link between diet and formation of the disease.
- Stabilize and regulate blood sugar levels. As a result of healthy colonocytes, blood flow is improved in the organs involved in the digestive system. This can lead to regulated blood sugar levels, which is ideal for preventing or managing diabetes. In fact, butyrate has been found to be helpful in managing insulin insensitivity.
- Prevent “leaky gut”. The intestinal lining makes sure that good things like vitamins pass through to the bloodstream and bad things like toxins and pathogens stay safely inside the intestine. Poor gut health leads to weak intestinal lining, which means harmful materials can enter the bloodstream that aren’t supposed to. Butyrate is a good preventative for keeping intestinal lining intact.
- Antioxidants fight free radicals. Free radicals are leftover elements from various chemical reactions in your body, and the body does better when they’re neutralized. High levels of butyrate can help increase production of glutathione, a natural antioxidant that takes care of those pesky free radicals.
Butyrate Foods to Seek Out (And Avoid)
Butyrate clearly benefits our bodies, but how can we make sure we’re getting enough?
In order to increase your levels of butyrate, you should be looking at types of food called prebiotics. These are foods that are high in fiber: mainly, grains, fruits, and vegetables. When our bodies break these down, that’s when butyrate is produced.
To boost your butyrate levels, look for foods like almonds, garlic, apples, soy, kiwi, wheat, and maize. Eating a plant-rich diet has many positive health effects, including better digestive health.
To make sure your levels stay healthy, try to avoid foods that are high in protein and fat or low in carbohydrates. Dietary fibers are a form of carbohydrates, so this is one area where carbs are actually good for you! Gut bacteria love to ferment this form of carb, so switching to a low-carb diet could have negative effects on your digestive health. A diet rich in vegetables, grains, and fruit is a good remedy for this.
Additionally, butyrate supplements can help keep your digestive system healthy and thriving. It may take a little time, but taking a steady regimen of butyrate supplements can build up many positive effects.
How Soon Will You See Effects?
If you start taking butyrate supplements regularly, you can expect to see some minor improvements with your digestive system within the first week.
Within two to four weeks, you might notice a better regulated digestive system, balanced blood sugar levels, less leaky gut, and regular, well-formed stools.
After this period, the long term-effects will be going strong as the gut gradually strengthens. Over time, users can expect benefits like a more robust immune system, sharper mental clarity, more stability with weight, and improved health overall. A stronger gut and digestive system has ripple effects that boost multiple systems throughout the body.
Are there Any Butyrate Side Effects?
Fortunately, research suggests that very few or no side effects occur from increasing your butyrate levels through supplements. One study found that pregnant rats given butyrate supplements gave birth to offspring that had insulin resistance and accumulated fat, so you may wish to speak with your doctor if you are pregnant.
For anyone struggling with irregular digestion, leaky gut, diabetes, poor colon health, weight gain or irregular blood pressure, consider increasing intake of high fiber foods or consult a medical professional to learn more about butyrate supplements.