Butyrate and Your Gut

Butyrate is a supplement science says we should all get behind.

Key takeaways:

  • The microbiome is a community that involves everything from digestion to thinking and immunity, but one that is seriously challenged by lifestyles that jeopardizes its integrity
  • Gut health influences susceptibility to heart disease, some cancers and even anxiety and depression
  • Butyrate has the capacity to regulate gene expression, to inhibit histone deacetylase (an action that helps to make sound copies of DNA), to sequester ammonia, to mobilize renegade fatty acids and to clear biotoxins, all while cleaning the biliary tree* 
  • Many studies have shown that butyrate can act as an anti-inflammatory agent by inhibiting several pro-inflammatory cytokines while it upregulates anti-inflammatory interleukins*

What does it mean to have guts?  Of course, you have guts. How else could you digest your food?  But which guts are we talking about? Small intestine or large? The small is about twenty feet long by an inch in diameter.  Most nutrients are absorbed there. The large is about six feet long by almost three inches. It takes in water and stores solid wastes.  However it’s in the colon where some troubles can begin. Chronic disasters do not often strike the small intestine. The large, however, can be hit by a number of uncomfortable situations, from the burn of too many hot peppers to more serious issues that include inflammation and cancer. 

Butyrate and the Colon

Seldom do we talk about the large intestine — the gut.  Maybe surgeons and gastroenterologists do, but we don’t.  The colon is a sleeper tool until it gets revved up by something too exciting to ignore.  The colon is known for the removal of material. Inside, a raft of bacteria keeps a permanent residence.  All together this group of organs weighs about three pounds, and combined with the bacteria that occupy the skin and hair, there are more microbes on and in the body than cells that compose it 

While we’re still in the womb, we are a hundred percent human – completely free of peripheral tagalongs.  That changes after passing through the birth canal, being handled by medical staff and tasting the first sips of colostrum.  At that point we have developed—or are developing—a microbiome, a community that involves everything from digestion to thinking and immunity, but one that is seriously challenged by lifestyles that jeopardizes its integrity  Today, we realize that the GI system is linked to numerous aspects of health that have nothing to do with digestion. The key to overall health and well-being may lie in the microbiome. 

The Microbiome and Bacteria

Not everyone’s microbiome is exactly alike because bacteria are picky and will ferment only certain types of fiber, usually fructans and cellulose, from the parts of vegetables we normally throw away, such as  stems and asparagus bottoms. Fructan fibers are found in a number of foods, some with longer chains of elements than others. These long-chain fibers survive digestion better and offer more benefits to the gut florae than the shorter-chain.  Onions, for example, start with long-chain fibers that shorten with heat, which renders them sweeter but of less advantage. Acting as prebiotics, these substances increase the number of probiotics in the colon. Bifidobacteria are especially fond of fructans (Roberfroid, 2005).  Additionally, they increase the sense of fullness and can curb over indulging while improving lipid profiles (Beylot, 2005), maintaining and improving bone mass (Coxama, 2005) and reducing the risk of colon cancer (Pool-Zobel, 2005). 

It’s more than conjecture that we share our microbiomes across the community, including with the pets that spend time in our living space.  In fact, we share more skin biota with our dogs than one might think. This causes a conversation about incidences of sickness—or rather the lack of it—in families with pets (Song, 2013).  While the current interest in diversity fills the air, it’s been the preferred condition in the gut since time began. The more diverse the gut community, the healthier the organism that hosts it (Shen, 2017).  The balance of bacteria in the gut is vital to optimal well-being. Some bacteria fight sickness; others promote it. As long as the good guys reign, we win. It’s like a microorganism game of king of the hill. Of late, science sees that gut health influences heart disease, some cancers and even anxiety and depression.  It seems odd, but we need to get dirty to elevate our gut community to its greatest levels of well-being. Playing outdoors, wrestling with the dog, doing some gardening — rubbing some dirt on it might actually improve your gut health.. 

Bloating, gas, diarrhea, stomach distress and nausea are signs that something is amiss.  If these can’t be blamed on something you ate, maybe your microbial neighborhood has been upset.  Eating right (occasionally a purely subjective endeavor), getting ample sleep, staying hydrated and exercising are important factors to maintaining gut health.  There’s a plethora of talk about eating this and avoiding that, but too little attention is paid to fiber. The recommended amount, from twenty to forty grams a day, depending on age and gender, is not something to dive right into.  With fiber, you definitely have to start low and go slow, lest you risk the manufacture of gastric adobe brick and rue the day you ate a whole box of shredded wheat. 

How Does Butyrate Enhance Gut Health?

Our gut bacteria is energized by the butyrate molecule, a short-chain fatty acid with only four carbons that is made endogenously from the bacterial fermentation of resistant starch.  But, not all starched are created equal. Simply, there are a few types: Type 1 resists digestion because they’re bound within fibrous cell walls and are common to grains, seeds and legumes.  Type 2 is found in raw potatoes and green bananas. These are not normal parts of the diet, although slightly under-ripe bananas, with few or no brown spots, may be. Type 3 starches form when certain foods cool down, such as potatoes and rice, via a process known as retrogradation (Haralampu, 2000).  There is a fourth type of starch, but it is man-made by a chemical process. While foods can feed about ten percent of the gut community, resistant starch feeds the rest (Macfarlane, 2006) (Topping, 2003). 

The matter with resistant starch is that adults eat too little of it to realize a positive physiological effect, and that makes supplementation a prudent undertaking.  Besides feeding colonocytes, butyrate has the capacity to regulate gene expression, to inhibit histone deacetylase (an action that helps to make sound copies of DNA), to sequester ammonia, to mobilize renegade fatty acids and to clear biotoxins, all while cleaning the biliary tree (Fusunyan, 1999) (Soret, 2010)  (Yin, 2001)*. Even at low concentrations, butyrate can support the colon in its fight against the most nefarious of diseases (Gamet, 1992) (Omaida, 1996)*. Many studies have shown that butyrate can act as an anti-inflammatory agent by inhibiting several pro-inflammatory cytokines while it upregulates anti-inflammatory interleukins, specifically IL-10 (Mowat, 2014) and PPARƴ, the latter an anti-inflammatory nuclear hormone receptor (Dubuquoy, 2006)*. 

Of the butyrate supplements, BodyBio manufactures the three most available without a prescription:  Sodium Butyrate, Sodium-Potassium Butyrate and Calcium-Magnesium Butyrate. Sodium Butyrate is recommended for people who have low sodium levels, or who sweat profusely from arduous exercise (longer than one hour), or who work in hot environments like a Bikram studio. Sodium-Potassium Butyrate is preferred by the same population, but by those who are concerned about sodium-sensitive blood pressure.  Here, potassium balances sodium as its natural antagonist. 

Calcium-Magnesium Butyrate, whose patent is held by BodyBio, to some extent addresses the widespread deficit of those minerals, which results from substandard agricultural practices.  Cal-Mag Butyrate is the most popular of the three. 

Considering the importance of the gut in general health, we need to feed it properly by enlisting a variety of foods that is sure to include broccoli, cranberries, mangoes, cherries, walnuts, leafy greens and other foods that are absent of refined ingredients.  Probiotics have their place. Instead of pills for probiotic effect, or in addition to, try fermented foods like true sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir and fruitless yogurt. For butyrate repletion, a supplement is most beneficial.

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