It all sounds like voodoo until you can find the sense (science) to understand it.
Recap Parts 1 and 2:
Part 1: Colons and colon bacteria make or break your health. (Poop tubes and cooties. Yes I know. Voodoo. True-doo.) Although it is little known and little stressed, the intestines and the bacteria naturally found in colons are the foundations to a healthy human body, from the brain to the liver to the skin to food intolerances to fighting infections. And you don’t have to have stomach pain, constipation, or diarrhea to have a broken gut.
Part 2: Please pardon oversimplifications.
- The colon is a world of bacteria; there are good bugs and bad bugs living there. Bad bugs take up space, overgrow, crowd out the good bacteria, eat up all the food, and make chemicals that don’t agree with the GI tract. From a Discovery post on using how antibiotics harm the gut flora: “…The facts and figures relating to the numbers and functions of the commensal bacteria, and those in the gut in particular, remain awe-inspiring.” (1) This stuff is simply amazing, folks. Revolutionary. And I didn’t learn a drop about it in medical school or residency. What failures our academic institutions are in so many ways.
- What we eat affects the bacterial world of the gut. Processed foods lower levels of good bacteria. (2)
- Bacteria in our colons make beneficial short chain fatty acids, including butyrate, from plant-based food sources. Short chain fatty acids help in inflammation, fighting cancer, and protecting the GI tract. (3, 4) They also promote the growth of good bacteria! (5) And the demise of bad bacteria. (6)
“Eat your fruits and vegetables, child.” What colon cancer and ulcerative colitis may tell us about diets low in vegetables and fruits:
Colon cancer and inflammatory bowel disease tend to really hit the last part of the colon the hardest, particularly in developed countries. So what? Why would this be? What can this suggest to us? Colon cancer seems so far away, so removed from me (although with my chronic constipation issue, in reality it is looming over my shoulder: Chronic Constipation Linked to Increased Risk of Colorectal Cancer— in case any readers have the audacity to question my open discussion of constipation).
Why should I ask you to think about colon cancer and inflammatory bowel disease? Well, as we mentioned in the first two posts, body health depends on intestinal health, which in turn relies on bacterial health. Colon cancer and inflammatory bowel disease are two significant problems arising in the colon. Perhaps if we know what leads to these intrinsic intestinal problems, we have clues as to what leads to other problems in the human body. So let’s look at what happens when a person doesn’t eat enough vegetables and fruits, based on bacteria and SCFAs and colons:
1. Not enough plant matter is making it to the end of the colon for the bacteria to make the protective short chain fatty acids we discussed in our last post. This can happen in somebody who eats mostly processed foods that are easily broken down and absorbed by the small intestine. Or it can happen if someone is on a low carbohydrate diet. (However, “low carbohydrate” is not the same as “no carbohydrate” because some low carbers work very hard to incorporate plants into their diet, such as onions, garlic, and diverse vegetables low in starch–although later in the series, low carbers may be intrigued by resistant starch.) By increasing plant matter in the diet, more will reach the bacteria in the far ends of the colon to bathe the colon in sustaining and restoring SCFAs.
2. Bacteria resort to less effective sources for fermentation since there’s not enough plant matter around (AND at a COST to us). They start fermenting protein, mucous, and sloughed off dead cells. Thankfully, SCFAs are still made for us, although not in as high of a quantity as from plants–but in exchange, toxins are made. (Medical doctors just don’t use the word “toxin” loosely; we like to know specifics. Specifically, ammonia, phenols, indoles, and nitrogen and sulfur-containing compounds are made from these inferior SCFA food sources, and they are detrimental to the colon and the body.) (6, 7)
***For those on or considering a low-carb diet, here are two studies of interest. I know that some people feel and function better on a very low carb diet. But I think we need to be aware of potential pitfalls and personally explore if there’s a way to avoid these pitfalls without sacrificing quality of life and body function:
- High-protein, reduced-carbohydrate weight-loss diets promote metabolite profiles likely to be detrimental to colonic health: On the study’s very low carb, high protein diet, these researchers found that SCFAs and butyrate were decreased, one strain of butyrate producing bacteria were decreased, and some potentially cell damaging nitrogen compounds were increased. Remember, the bacteria make nitrogen containing byproducts when they metabolize proteins.
- Resistant starch attenuates colonic DNA damage induced by a high protein diet in rats: I want to throw this one in. It’s a rat study, and I know that isn’t perhaps always reflective of human pathology. Also, they use casein as their protein. I never know what to think about dairy proteins being used in studies.
(Key point: Colon cancer and ulcerative colitis hit the descending colon the hardest, possibly because the bacteria down here at this point don’t have enough carbohydrate to make abundant SCFAs AND they make compounds that are harmful to the gut when they ferment proteins. Since health begins in the colon, we can explore these two diseases as a possible illustration of why we need to eat more vegetables and fruits.)
Leaving microbiology and pathology and focusing on butyrate now:
All SCFAs are important, but butyrate seems particularly so. Even if you don’t have bowel issues, if you just look over the effects of butyrate in the body, you will see it can affect many, many places! Here is my original butyrate post: Butyrate is important for YOU. (By the way, the word butyrate is interchangeable with butyric acid and butanoic acid, if you ever see those anywhere.) To briefly recap, butryate:
- Reduces inflammation: both locally in the GI tract and likely in the rest of the body as, as well
- Helps cancer cells get shut off and/or die
- Helps stabilize blood sugars
- Helps fight the hunger urge
- Helps neurons damaged in the brain after strokes
- Modulates oxidative stress in the colon (anti-oxidant actions)
- Helps speed up GI transit
- Helps regulate GI permeability
So you think this all sounds good. Stop colon cancer and other cancers. Help your blood sugars. Suppress hunger. Repair nerves. Fine. More specifics please. How can a person get butyrate?
In my mind, I see four ways to increase butyrate.
- Eat butyrate containing foods
- Eat butyrate producing foods
- Take butyrate supplements
- Take probiotics which contain bacteria known to make butyrate
Closing: The next post will hone in on butyrate containing foods and maybe get started on butyrate producing foods.
1. The Impact of Antibiotics on the Gut Microbiota as Revealed by High Throughput DNA Sequencing. Cotter, Paul et al. Discovery Medicine. March, 2012. 13(70): 193-199.
2. Gut Reaction: Environmental Effects on the Human Microbiota. Phillips, Melissa. Environmental Health Perspectives. May, 2009. 117(5): A198–A205. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2685866/
3. The Effects of Short-Chain Fatty Acids on Human Colon Cancer Cell Phenotype Are Associated with Histone Hyperacetylation. Hinnebusch, Shufen, et al. J. Nutr. May 1, 2002 132(5): 1012-1017. http://jn.nutrition.org/content/132/5/1012.long
4. Anti-inflammatory properties of the short-chain fatty acids acetate and propionate: A study with relevance to inflammatory bowel disease. Sofia Tedelind, Fredrik Westberg, Martin Kjerrulf, Alexander Vidal . World J Gastroenterol 2007 May 28;13(20): 2826-2832. http://www.wjgnet.com/1007-9327/13/2826.asp
5. Short chain fatty acids and colonic health. Hijova E and Chmelarova A. Bratislava Medical Journal. 2007. 108 (8): 354-358. http://www.bmj.sk/2007/10808-06.pdf
6. Colorectal Carcinogenesis: A Cellular Response to Sustained Risk Environment. Fung, Cheng Ooi, Topping, et al. SInt J Mol Sci. 2013 July; 14(7): 13525–13541. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3742201/
7. Starches, Resistant Starches, the Gut Microflora and Human Health. Bird, Brown, and Topping. Current Issues Int Micro. 2000; 1:25-37. http://www.horizonpress.com/backlist/ciim/v/v1/03.pdf
8. Review article: the role of butyrate on colonic function. Hamer, Jonkers, Venema, Vanhoutvin, Troost, and Brummer. Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics. 2008. 27, 104-119. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2036.2007.03562.x/abstract;jsessionid=92F8CCF91EDCE88AD7989649725CAEB3.f04t02