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 in 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.
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
- Butyrate and Constipation (thehomeschoolingdoctor.com)