Butyrate Is Important For YOU

Aside:  If you skip my article, fine.  It seems all the world is vying for your attention.  But please take just a second to scroll down to butyrate’s benefits so you can say you’ve heard of it all if butyrate ever makes it big.  And please note, the food industry is trying to help your butyrate production by adding substances to your processed foods.  So somebody thinks it’s important.

I have combed the great halls of flowering internet minds.  I believe there can be no doubt:  Butyrate is important for all humans.  The rosebuds of the internet, however, cannot agree on where the source of butyrate should come from (butter? sweet potato? beans? potato?) and how much a person really needs or gets.  The research and medical community provide no help; all that they (we) seem to know comes from our close relatives, the pigs and rats (joke).  Medical studies suggest that butyrate is nothing short of miraculous, but I had trouble finding good human studies to support that. 

Butyrate is a substance that our colon cells rely on for producing their energy.  Colon cells will use it preferentially over glutamine and glucose.  We humans don’t really have the ability to make much butyrate, but the BACTERIA Structure of butyratein our colons DO.  They make it for us from fermentation.  (Gut bacteria and humans rely on each other.  It is crucial that a human body have an appropriate, flourishing bacterial ecosystem in their gut–and also other places of their bodies.)  Butyrate is also present in butter and what I call “stinky cheeses.”  However, the vast majority of our butyrate seems to come from the bacteria “eating” (via fermentation) a certain type of “fiber” (but not really “fiber”) called “resistant starch” that we ourselves cannot digest.  Basically, this certain type of starch escapes (resists) our small intestine’s digestive processes, but the colon bacteria are there to salvage the starch for their own benefit and ours.  They produce “short chain fatty acids” called butyrate, propionate, and acetate (or butyric acid, propionic acid, and acetic acid) which we then use for various functions.  Please note that it is possible for the bacteria to also make butyrate from degradation products of our cells and mucous, and the end of the colon relies more on this for its butyrate, rather than food intake.  We will look at butyrate as it seems to have “the most” impact, particularly when I get around to tying this into constipation.  I’m sure the other short chain fatty acids are just as important, but for the time being that is not quite so apparent.

Butyrate sounds like a big deal.  I’m trying to figure out why it isn’t.
On paper, butyrate (butyric acid) looks to be a “superdrug” that could help us all!

  • Prevents and fights cancer.
  • Lowers colon inflammation.
  • Prevents heart disease and atherosclerosis.
  • Controls blood sugars.
  • Controls hunger.
  • Lowers cholesterol.
  • Boosting the immune system.
  • Heals “leaky gut”  (kind of what we doctors call “increased intestinal permeability”).  (1, 2)
  • Affect genetic disorders such as cystic fibrosis and blood disorders like thalassemia and sickle cell.
  • Help improve stroke outcomes.
  • Mouse studies imply an improvement in Huntington’s Disease outcomes.
  • Improve memory production and cognition. (2)

In cancer:  In in vitro studies (studies done in a lab’s “test tube,” not in humans), butyrate appears to protect against cancer and even “fight” cancer.

  • Causes cancer cells to die (apoptose). (1, 2)
  • Causes cancer cells to revert to more normal cellular activity, rather than out-of –control cancerous activity and cancerous propagation.   (1, 2)
  • Keeps cancer cells from spreading (metastasizing) and also from getting the blood flow they need to perpetuate. (2)

In inflammation:  Appears to lower inflammation, both in the colon and throughout the rest of the body. (Remember, for inflammation, start thinking type 2 diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.)

  • Stops active inflammation in the colon.  Reports are conflicting. (1, 2)
  • Develops the immune system.
  • May lower low-grade, chronic inflammation present in obesity, type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance (pre-diabetes, if you will), high cholesterol, and heart disease:
    • controlling blood sugars,
    • controlling hunger,
    • lowering cholesterol,
    • decreasing atherosclerosis. (2)

Helping the Immune System:

  • By affecting the movement of immune cells, their ability to stick in a particular area, and their ability to make inflammatory substances. (2)
  • By helping the body regulate cells which help recognize “good, self bacteria” from “bad, non-self bacteria,” decreasing autoimmune possibility. (3)

Improving Brain Neurological Function

  • Rat studies indicate improvement after “induced strokes” by increasing the amount of brain-derived neurotrophic factor.  (2)
  • Mouse studies suggest prolonged survival and decreased atrophy of neurons in induced Huntington’s Disease.
  • May enhance synaptic plasticity and memory.  (2) 

Helping “Leaky Gut”

  • By stimulating mucous production and thickness in the colon.
  • By acting as the main source of energy for the colon cells.
  • By increasing substances which protect the GI lining from invasion by foreign bacteria.
  • Stimulating repair after mucosal injury.
  • Decreasing intestinal permeability, perhaps depending on its concentration. (1)

May increase satiety (make you less hungry). (1)

In summary, butyrate seems to be quite the substance.  More in the posts to follow.  As usual, this live production welcomes comments and is appreciative of any errors being pointed out, whether by e-mail, blog, telephone, texts, Facebook, written letters, or face to face.

As always,

Terri

Butyrate Series Page

Sources:

1.  HM Hamer, D Jonkers, K Venema, S Vanhoutvin, FJ Troost, RJ  Brummer.  Review article:  the role of butyrate on colonic function.  Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics.  2008, 27(104-119).
2.  Roberto Berni Canani, Margherita Di Costanzo and Ludovica Leone.  The epigenetic effects of butyrate: potential therapeutic implications for clinical practice.  Clinical Epigenetics 2012, 4:4.   http://www.clinicalepigeneticsjournal.com/content/4/1/4
3.   Nagendra Singh, Muthusamy Thangaraju, Puttur D. Prasad, Pamela M. Martin, Nevin A. Lambert, Thomas Boettger, Stefan Offermanns_, and Vadivel Ganapathy.  Blockade of Dendritic Cell Development by Bacterial Fermentation Products Butyrate and Propionate through a Transporter (Slc5a8)-dependent Inhibition of Histone Deacetylases.  The Journal of Biological Chemistry.  Sept 2010.  285:  36 (27601-27609).  http://www.jbc.org/content/285/36/27601.full.pdf

39 thoughts on “Butyrate Is Important For YOU

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      That’s why I’m here. To be that subconscious voice. Duh-duh-duh-duh (that’s deep music, eery-like if you can’t tell). Some voice whispering, faintly, almost unheard across the large, billowing ocean, “Do you know what function that food plays in your family’s health? Do you?” Okay. I’m laughing. I never gave it thought either, beyond calcium, how much fat, and did we eat any vegetables! But I do now, and I love to look at traditional, cultural foods with this new point of view. Somehow, they knew what to eat usually. We’re losing that in our modern culture. I always think of those eggs you posted on your blog! You take care and be safe!

      Reply
  1. All Seasons Cyclist

    I actually do have close relatives who are pigs and rats (at least they act like it). Any suggestions for increasing the amount of butyrate in the gut (the non-medical term)? I am not a fan of either beans or potatoes!

    Reply
    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      I hope to get to that, but nobody should wait around on me! Doctors are notoriously late! I’m going to keep looking and looking because I don’t quite have it figured out yet. Mmmm. No potatoes. Probably no corn? Sweet potatoes and yams are good, but especially if you cook them and then eat them cold. That would be best. Really. Make a salad out of them or something. Green bananas? Lentils? If you’re really low carbing, it gets tougher. One option, I think is to include an FOS like inulin. But I have to figure that out for sure because I’m not sure if the bacteria use that to make butyrate or if it only increases the butyrate producing bacteria. I’ll keep reading.

      Reply
      1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

        Good question. It is important to know. I will hopefully clarify things soon as I clarify them in my own head. For now I can give a generic sentence. When certain starch foods heat (like potatoes and sweet potatoes), their starches become gelatinized. As they cool, their physical structure (think physical rather than chemical) changes to a “retrograded starch” which the small bowel cannot digest. Very interesting. I can’t wait to learn, summarize, and share more.

  2. mjohnson9706

    While the posts leading up to this one were my first hearing of butyrate, I’ve read a little on leaky gut a while back, don’t remember much other than suggesting fermented foods. (so I started making kraut now and then, my kombucha died, so I just buy a bottle every so often)

    Since heavy whipping cream is basically un-whipped butter, does it contain butyrate, or is it an additive? The reason I ask is that pre-lowcarb I didn’t touch butter or real cream, margarine and flavored non dairy creamers only, I had bad issues with constipation. Since opting for the real cream and butter, I don’t remember the last time I’ve had that problem. (I don’t eat lentils, corn, or white potatoes, maybe once a month a bit of sweet potato). Thank you.

    Reply
    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      Are you ready for a book? Get ready: The butyrate in butter is natural and would be in cream, too. It is not an additive. You may know about this topic already, but I have read that one of the “Inuit explorers” back in the 1800s and had constipation on his typical diet. When living with the Inuits and while eating a meat-based diet only, his constipation issues resolved. I’m sorry. I cannot re-find that link now with that specific statement. I VERY quickly found a link about these explorers for you because I find it so interesting–forgive me if it’s old news for you–perhaps it may interest someone else who reads comments: http://inhumanexperiment.blogspot.com/2009/09/two-brave-men-who-ate-nothing-but-meat.html . I know nothing about this blog so I’m not vouching for anything other than the depiction of the story. Your story maybe could mirror his. The GI tract is so multi-affected it could be removal of food sensitivies, addition of fats; most would argue that butter/cream does not have enough butyrate that makes it to the colon to make a difference. I don’t know. Maybe it could. Doesn’t sound like this explorer would get much butyrate to help his slow gut…I also have read of some people swearing by high fat dairy for slow GI. (Made my afflicted family much worse.) Fermented foods may have some butyrate, too. I will be definitely looking into this. I love kraut! Sorry your kombucha died! Ugh! On leaky gut, I’m pretty sure my gut allows too much to get through. I hope to get to that topic sometime. It’ huge for me. The body is amazing and when you throw bacteria playing a role in physiology, well, it’s simply magnificent! We each have our own bacterial flora, and I believe that’s part of why we can never prescribe “one diet fits all.” With high regards.

      Reply
      1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

        You are welcome. I agree that it is excellent to read about. You can Google the explorers names and find out even more. I think you can even find some original text from way back online.

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  6. poetrydude66

    A few different questions on this topic:

    1) Do human intestinal bacteria really have the ability to create significant quantities of butyrate? I had always believed that humans have lost about 80% of their long intestine through evolution. Gorillas to contrast get large amounts of calories from short chain acids, because they both eat massive quantities of fiber and also have much longer long intestines.

    2) Can humans really get much butyrate from dairy? At only 3% to 4% of calories in goat cheese coming from butyrate, is that really significant?

    3) How much butyrate is enough? Of course this makes is all the more difficult because not only do we not have an easy way to produce very much butyrate, but it’s not clear how much we would get benefit from in any case.

    4) Isn’t butyrate very similar in terms of metabolism to MCT Oil, which is a medium chained fatty acid derived from Lauric acid in coconuts? Both of these go right to the liver and create ketones. But, unlike butyrate, you can buy concentrated MCT Oil and deliver significant metabolic quantities into your diet by sprinkling some on every meal.

    Personally, MCT Oil raises my metabolism a little too much. I’m still not sure what the right level is.

    Reply
    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      I will try my best to answer:

      1) We have the ability to create significant quantities of butyrate for our own physiological effects if our diet is correct, but we wouldn’t need as much as the gorilla, I assume. We do not use the butyrate as a source of fat/macronutrient, like I understood may be the case with gorillas. We use it as fuel simply for our colonocytes and then to modulate some other pathways in the body. But we don’t need them for fuel.

      2) All that I have read would indicate the food/supplement source (including dairy) of butyrate would have minimal to no impact. It just doesn’t seem like it would be significant. (However, my n of 1 trial on myself after numerous putting it in/taking it out showed that my oral consumption of butyrate made a difference for me. I don’t understand it, and I wish somebody could explain it to me. WHY?) (And Weston Price felt that butter oil and probably its associated butyrate content and vitamin K2 content was super effective.)

      3) I don’t know how much is enough. I’ve wondered, can we get too much? The amount we make, I believe is really, really important. Again, not as a macronutrient per se, although the colonocytes need it, but for the effects it has on DNA transcription processes/epigenetics. Another thing that makes this hard is that we can’t measure how much people make–too tough. 🙂

      4) Their absorption is similar, but I think that butyrate is not primarily used to make ketones. (Until you asked this question, I didn’t think SCFA/butyrate were made into ketones. But this shows they can be, I just don’t know how much.http://pathman.smpdb.ca/pathways/SMP00073/pathway?level=2) Most are absorbed and used by the colon cells. The fate of those molecules that make it to the liver I have not found much information on. I would really like to. But for myself, I am using butyrate for the colon effects, rather the ketone production. Otherwise, I’d go for the MCT Oil (or coconut oil). I have never used MCT Oil. I have used coconut oil. I really like it a lot for a few reasons, but it after using it awhile, I developed headaches with it.

      Again, thanks for your comments. Was fun to review/look up more stuff. Take good care of yourself. ~~Terri

      Reply
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    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      Good question. GABA stands for gamma-aminobutyric acid and is an amino acid. GABA’s structure may have a “butyric acid” structure component, but it is not formed from butyrate (butyric acid). GABA is actually made from two glutamates put together and it functions as a neurotransmitter. Butyric acid (butyrate) is a short chain fatty acid and does not function as a neurotransmitter. It does not “turn into” GABA. Nor does GABA turn into butyrate. Does that help?

      Reply
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    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      Hi, Anonymous: Thanks for linking to the article. It is a plant study and therefore very, very sketchy to apply to humans, especially since the butyrate was being utilized seemingly strictly only for its ability to permeate membranes and alter pH of the cell. However, who knows! Something to tuck away. Did you have thoughts on it connecting well to humans? At the GI level? At the CNS level?

      Reply
  11. Mary

    http://lupusnewstoday.com/2014/12/29/study-suggests-altering-gut-bacteria-may-mitigate-lupus-symptoms/

    The researchers also found an overabundance of Clostridiaceae and Lachnospiraceae, both of which harbor butyrate-producing genera, the gut of lupus-prone mice at specific time points during lupus progression. “These results suggest that the gut bacteria may contribute to lupus, a disease which is nine times as prevalent in women as in men,” says the paper’s first author Husen Zhang.

    Reply
    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      Dear Mary,

      Thank you for linking to that. Without the time to pursue the answers, questions that come up in my mind are: Does the low lactobacillus contribute to the overabundance of Clostridiaceae and Lachnospiraceae somehow (by altering the pH or affecting cross-feeding or other unknowns) or does the environment created by the host’s gut do that? Could there be pathology caused by something intrinsic to the clostridial derived bacteria mentioned here rather than butyrate? Or is it butyrate? Is it the “leaky gut” which is present which somehow allows an autoimmune attack and these bacteria are wrapped up somehow in this—the lack of the lactobacillus and the excess of the clostridia? Specific gut bacterial changes have tried to be pinpointed for other diseases (inflammatory bowel diseases and autism for a couple of examples), and although there have been suggestions, nothing has panned out specifically and causally. Is lupus the same? Many threads will be found, but nothing to hang the hat on? BUT we all know that YES, THE GUT CONTRIBUTES TO MOST DISEASES! Just in a very multi-factorial way!

      Changing gears, I find it interesting that they’re using lactobacillus and retinoic acid. The GAPS diet would do this also nutritionally–with its requirement of lactofermented foods daily and consumption of foods like liver and squash. Which leads us to the idea that we can modulate autoimmune diseases by significant nutrition and lifestyle changes.

      Well, must go. Thanks again. Wondering what your thoughts were.

      Terri

      Reply
      1. Mary

        The more I read the more confused I get. And as a retired grandma I read a lot. I spend all day trying to find answers for my 37 yr old grandson. Allergies/Asthma from birth. Asthma finally subsided after high school – allergies still terrible. Chronic Anxiety/Stress from childhood. He eats so few foods. Added Hypothyroid, SLE, Autoimmune Vasculitis over the years. I spend all day on Pubmed, PLOS etc.. It really seems like the perfect storm of events that led him to where he is. Between the food allergies and the fact he was a vegan for moral reasons, he existed on basically wheat, tomatoes, oats, bananas, broccoli and apples for over 10 years. And the quantities of wheat and oats were unreal. I am talking 1lb of wheat pasta a day and probably a good 8-10 servings of rolled oats. At that time he was already hypothyroid and dealing with through the roof liver enzymes. Eventually he switched to a paleo style diet when he discovered there were alternatives to factory farms. His liver numbers are normal today, after multiple biopsies and cancer scares. He added resistant starch via green banana flour and tigers nuts along with adding a ton of probiotics, including Prescript -Assist and Megaflora, which I wish he had not used as I don’t think there has been enough research on SBO’s. For a while we thought he had RA, but eventually he was diagnosed with SLE and Vasculitis. I’m rambling on here, but I love him so much and just want him to have a normal life one day.

      2. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

        This is all very miserable stuff for your grandson. (BTW, I love your name. It’s my mother’s name, my mother-in-law’s name, and my daughter’s name.) I’m sorry. I get confused, too, even with all my science background and avid interest and voracious reading; when things are isolated and manipulated for studies, the outcomes can be so different! Depending on who does it. Who they do it on. What other stuff they use or change.

        As a pharmacist (then a medical doctor–but I saw it more first-hand as a pharmacist dispensing stuff directly and fielding calls), I learned that patients have radically different responses to medicines! Sometimes, it was just hard to believe: “That doesn’t work for me…” Seriously? How could it not? “That gives me ‘xyz symptom.’ Is it supposed to do that?” Uh. No. It’s not. You’re weird. “I can’t take that. No way.” Stubborn cuss. You just don’t want to take it.

        But I learned that, yes, indeed people react differently to medicines. And now feel the exact same about supplements, probiotics, and even foods. I’d like people to always make sure their doctors know that they’re trying these diets/supplements/etc, of course, but to know that they may just have to seek their own way to health. As a doctor, I learned to juggle complex medical conditions, knowing that if I treated one condition, I may flare another. Sometimes I had to take that risk and then come back around to put out the flames of the other condition I had flared with my treatments. That’s what doctors do. And now, as you travel this road with your grandson (please always be safe and work with doctors–I don’t want anyone getting themselves into trouble health-wise because of something the doctor could have circumvented), these will be occurrences you/your grandson see as well. Be safe. Think. Read. Run it by the doctor. But YES! It is confusing to read the scientific literature. We see as through a glass darkly! You probably know that the low-fat/low-cholesterol strict diets are now being tossed to the garbage heaps; and that’s what I was trained on, that that was the best diet! So we don’t know. But we have ideas. Sometimes our ideas are wrong. Sometimes wrong for some people. Sometimes they’re only partly wrong. Your grandson has ideas; he’s observed his body. He lives in his body! It sounds like he is already making decisions which have impacted his health positively—I mean his liver tests are normal!!! One step. One day at a time.

        Sorry. That may not have been what you were looking for. I wish you and your grandson success. May God’s hand heal the spirit and bring the body along to follow.

        Terri

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