From infomercials on late-night TV to highway billboards and celebrity endorsements, the magic formula for weight loss seems to be everywhere. But who are we kidding – most of these simply don’t work. Which is probably why each year there is a seemingly endless barrage of new weight loss products and “miracle” diets. When considering the magic pill or Hollywood’s newest celebrity physicians weight loss program, read the fine print. You’ll probably see in size-four font the words “when accompanied by diet and exercise”. But we live in the real world, where dreams of morning cold-pressed juices followed by an hour at Soul Cycle before a meeting with your nutritional adviser simply isn’t possible, unless you’re a celebrity. When it comes to weight loss, there is no quick fix. That extra waist size resulting from daily takeout didn’t appear suddenly, so don’t expect to lose it overnight.

The number of specialized diets on the market is not fixed.  New ones crop up all the time. We’re not in a position to declare one better than, or safer than, another, but we can say that a change in lifestyle is the most effective pathway to weight management.  Some of these magical diet plans are costly; others not so much. In addition to forgoing processed, junk and fast foods, and avoiding added sugars and refined / packaged anything, this bit of self-discipline that stays the course will provide long-lasting benefits.  In less than two weeks, you’ll likely not long for that which you have forgone.

Enter Butyrate…

Although not a miracle, there does exist an endogenous substance that can help with weight control.  Endogenous means that it’s made by the body, in this case from resistant starch, something of which we do not eat enough.  Resistant starch is one that isn’t fully broken down and absorbed. It improves digestion, reduces appetite, helps insulin sensitivity and encourages fat loss.  It also feeds gut bacteria. The bottom line is that we do not get the recommended six grams per meal. It comes from cooled mashed potatoes and rice, from beans and under-ripe bananas.  There are four types: the indigestible part of a plant’s cell wall (beans, grains and seeds); foods that are indigestible when raw (plantains and potatoes); retrograde starches (those cooked and then cooled, such as beans); and chemically modified starch that doesn’t exist naturally (hi-maize corn starch).  Not many of us are willing to eat raw potato starch or raw plantain starch, or even cold leftover sweet potatoes or uncooked oatmeal. On the other hand, many might choose to consume the ultimate product of resistant starch intake—butyrate.

What is Butyrate?

Butyrate is made in the colon from the bacterial fermentation of resistant starches.  It’s a short-chain fatty acid and is a vital energy source for intestinal epithelial cells (the thin sheet of cells that covers or lines an organ), where it plays an important role in colonic homeostasis.  It “happifies” those billions of gut bacteria that help to maintain the immune system, to make some vitamins from the food we eat, and to encourage transit of what we consume. Butyrate has a longer list of virtues, but here we’ll attend to weight management.

Butyrate and Weight Loss

The gut microbiota play a role in the gut-brain axis, lately a target of knowledge about the mechanism leading to obesity and related diseases.  The short-chain fatty acids (SCFA’s), such as butyrate, can fine tune the feedback system of this axis to maintain gastrointestinal and metabolic functions, among the latter being food intake and energy expenditure.  SCFA consumption singles out intestinal mechanisms that assist in the increase of energy expenditure to burn calories and reduce obesity (Barrea, 2019).

Hormones that increase appetite are labeled as orexigenic.  These initiate the expression of neuropeptide Y, an amino acid in the hypothalamus that stimulates feeding behavior, the suppression of which is directed by leptin, a hormone that jump starts weight loss at the opposite end of the (hormone) appetite spectrum by reducing the output of neuropeptide Y.  Lo and behold, butyrate supplementation, chronic but not acute, decreases food intake by subduing orexigenic activity. Simultaneously, and perhaps serendipitously, butyrate seems able to prevent diet-induced obesity, hyperinsulinemia, hypertriglyceridemia, and hepatic steatosis, while activating fat oxidation, the vagus nerve playing a supporting role in signaling (Li, 2018).   What a marvelous prospect for weight management!

Physicians and health care professionals are only now recognizing butyrate as a tool in the control of obesity and its associated pathologies, notably in the realm of glucose homeostasis (Canfora, 2015).  Studies and record keeping are finally on the upswing, including notation that gut inhabitants are associated with one’s diet. The bacteria found in persons from third-world countries differ from those of people in developed societies, with Bacteroidetes flourishing in the high-fiber-fed bellies of the undeveloped nations and Firmicutes thriving in the counterparts, this strain apparently more talented at extracting energy from food and either using it immediately or storing it as fat.  The former strain is in short supply in obese individuals, while the latter is superabundant. High-fiber cultivates Bacteroidetes.  Bacteroidetes correlate with non-obesity.  Butyrate is a product of a fiber-rich intake.  Might it encourage Bacteroidetes proliferation?  Hmm.

Obesity presents an inflammatory state held to change the composition of the gut community, making weight control more of a challenge.  If the inflammation of a disturbed microbiome can be curbed by a dose of butyrate, weight loss should follow, this prompted by a force other than neuropeptide control.  Here, in an experimental condition contrived by the U. of LA at Baton Rouge, butyrate supplementation to laboratory animals that were bred to mimic human metabolism realized adaptive thermogenesis and fatty acid oxidation improvement while lowering adiposity and increasing insulin sensitivity (Gao, 2009).  Not only in this regard is butyrate effective at weight control, but also can it be seen that it attenuates risk factors for type 2 diabetes (Pelgrim, 2017), at the least by activation of adiponectin pathways that control the production of glucose by the liver (Hong, 2016).

There is considerable evidence that butyrate, either endogenous or exogenous as a supplement, has the capacity to regulate fat accumulation and distribution, despite that understanding of the symbiosis between humans and their guts is still embryonic (Sanmiguel, 2015) (Isolauri, 2017) (Blaut, 2015).

Using supplemental butyrate, plays a definite role in the modulation of body weight and insulin sensitivity*. (Canfora, 2015).  That it reduces appetite and activates brown fat oxidation is a welcome bonus* (Barrea, 2019).

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