Comprehensive Guide to Butyrate: What it is, Benefits, Side Effects, & More
- Butyrate is a short-chain fatty acid that is a necessary component to a balanced microbiome and works as an inflammation guard.*
- Our body can’t make enough butyrate because we eat too few resistant starches.
- One of several, short-chain fatty acids created from fermented resistant starches, low butyrate levels have been associated with serious health concerns.
- Butyrate not only nourishes the gut but also promotes cell differentiation, helps to regulate blood sugar, and promotes healthy DNA.*
- You can increase butyrate levels by eating foods with butyrate or taking supplements that can come in various forms.
Our gut is where the immune system gets its oomph, where the final products of digestion sit, and where water is absorbed into the body. About 400 different kinds of bacteria live there, most of them good, some not so much. Maintaining the balance of these bacteria is critical to staving off one or another pathology, including IBS/IBD, diverticular issues, and even polyposis. The bottom line is that no one should suffer colon disease, and fewer have to if healthy and appropriate bacteria levels are maintained.
The cells that line the colon walls are called colonocytes. These endothelial beauties are flat and constitute a layer that is only a single cell thick. They live shorter than a week and then are replaced by new ones. Because of this high turnover rate, there’s no need to do harsh cleanses, our bodies do the work for us!
All cells need a source of energy to do their work. Evidence is strong that the epithelial lining of the gut relies more on luminal energy supply than on vascular, meaning that energy comes from outside, not from the bloodstream, as most cells require. So, then, what is this energy supply? Short-chain fatty acids (SCFA’s) derived from the bacterial fermentation of resistant starch are the luminal substrates for colonocytes.
What are short-chain fatty acids?
Short-chain fatty acids, or SCFAs, are metabolites created by the microorganisms in our gut. There are several kinds of these SCFAs, including acetate, butyrate, and propionate. They all serve an important purpose in the gut, but we’ll be focusing on butyrate today.
Quickly find what you’re looking for:
- What is butyrate?
- What causes low butyrate?
- What are the benefits of butyrate?
- How to increase your butyrate
- Types of butyrate supplements
What is Butyrate?
Butyrate is a short-chain fatty acid produced by bacteria in the colon that’s essential for a healthy microbiome. In fact, appropriate levels of butyrate are key, not only to digestion, but to cellular and DNA health as well.*
How does butyrate support the immune system & digestive system?
Butyrate is a key SCFA that supports the colon and the gut lining. Butyrate in particular has been found to be a key factor in supporting a healthy inflammation response in the colon.* On its own, it provides up to 90% of the energy required by the colonocytes, the cells of the colon!* It’s no wonder a deficiency can lead to degradation of the gut lining and subsequent illness. When we have enough butyrate, we have a stronger gut, stronger gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT), and a stronger immune response.* Butyrate also supports the mucosa that hydrates the gut lining, promotes cell differentiation, and inhibits enzymes that can interfere with DNA replication.*
Butyrate vs. butyric acid
Butyric acid and butyrate can often be confused but are simply different forms of the same molecule. Butyric acid is the form that you’ll find in food and many supplements and is also called butanoic acid. It’s an SCFA with four carbon atoms at its heart and is found in butter (hence its name) and other dairy products. When butter goes rancid, (i.e. when your Romano cheese sits on the kitchen table for a few hours at ninety degrees), you can experience the unfortunate aroma of butyric acid — a sharp, fermented, rather unpleasant smell.
Butyric acid has a pH low enough to cause an upset stomach, but when compounded with an alkali, it becomes more than just an agreeable friend. When an acid is mixed with a base, the combination forms a salt plus water. At this stage, we no longer have butyric acid, but butyrate, a buffered form of butyric acid. The terms might be used interchangeably because they have some commonality, but they are not the same.
What Causes Low Butyrate?
At this point, you may be wondering if you have low levels of butyrate, or how you would know if you did. We took this question to our resident expert, Dr. Tom, who let us know that the only way to truly know is by taking a stool test. But, he also mentioned that if you’re not getting adequate fiber from starchy foods in your diet, chances are good you could use some extra butyrate. As we know, the SAD (Standard American Diet) is full of processed foods that are devoid of fiber, and the 25-28 grams we need per day are generally lacking in many diets. In fact, 97% of Americans do not eat enough fiber!
Butyrate levels in the gut can be negatively affected by high-protein, high-fat, low-carb diets. Keto and Paleo diets that restrict carbohydrates and fiber lack the starch needed to make your own butyrate. Carnivore diets can skew SCFA production away from producing butyrate and see higher levels of propionate and acetate.
Butyrate deficiency symptoms
Another way to determine if you might be deficient in butyrate is to consider common symptoms of those who are. These symptoms take time to develop and can include:
- Leaky gut
- Gas and bloating
- Chronic diarrhea
- Eventual IBS/IBD
- Crohn's disease
- Behavioral irregularities
- Aberrant fatty acid metabolism
- Frequent illness from impaired immune function
- Foggy thinking from faulty protein metabolism and consequent ammonia accumulation
- Upset microbiome balance (may look like candida overgrowth or other bacterial imbalance)
- Increases in inflammation markers
- Reduced insulin sensitivity
- Missteps in DNA replication
Who would benefit from having more butyrate in their gut?
Anyone who is experiencing digestive symptoms such as gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and abdominal pain and discomfort may benefit from having more butyrate in their gut. However, every microbiome and body is unique, so you should consult with a trusted practitioner to determine what is right for you.
So now that we know the symptoms of low butyrate levels, what benefits does this nutrient actually provide? While there are many (including simply reducing the symptoms we mentioned above), there are three primary advantages that butyrate gives us.
Of the short-chain fatty acids and those having fewer than six carbon atoms, butyrate is the one that nourishes the gut and promotes cell differentiation, a process that helps to prevent serious colonic diseases.* Because of its protective nature, butyrate is a highly-desirable molecule and should be cultivated as a friend, or at least introduced as a partner.
Healthy Inflammation Response*
The fiery process of inflammation is linked to most chronic disorders, from heart attack to stroke to type 2 diabetes. Inflammation fuels a cytokine known as interleukin-6 (IL-6), which remains elevated in chronic sickness. Butyrate is a rescue molecule in inflammatory diseases, wherein it impairs the oxidative processes that initiate their genesis.* By supporting a healthy inflammation response, butyrate may be helpful for many other autoimmune and inflammatory conditions.*
Multi-purpose Repair from Gut to Brain*
Butyrate inhibits enzymes that harm and unwind DNA, just like the kinked-up Slinky we ruined as kids. Butyrate sequesters harmful ammonia that forms from faulty protein metabolism and/or from inborn metabolic errors. In clearing mental fog, it increases brain-derived neurotrophic factors.* Depending on its concentration, butyrate decreases intestinal permeability, closing tight junctions and preventing leaky gut.* SCFAs in general, including butyrate, have also been shown to affect cholesterol metabolism and increase mineral absorption, which is highly beneficial for heart health and circulation health.*
Learn more about the benefits of butyrate here.
Butyrate Side Effects
The good news is there appear to be very few side effects associated with supplementing butyrate. Our on-staff expert RD, Dr. Tom, says “All reports in the medical papers admit there are no known ill effects from butyrate taken at "normal" doses, which I have extrapolated to be less than 8.0 grams a day for several months. One study does state that more than 20.0 grams a day will waken latent herpes simplex (fever blisters). But that high a dose is not recommended.”
Dr. Tom also notes that, “colonocytes absorb butyrate supplements immediately and rapidly, with more than 95% precision and completeness. The remaining 5% goes to the toilet.” The FDA cites butyrate as Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS).
How to Increase Butyrate in the Colon
Knowing that there are serious benefits to increasing your butyrate levels and not many negative side effects, how can you incorporate it into your everyday life? The two main ways to achieve this are by eating food with butyrate, or taking specialized butyrate supplements.
Eat foods containing butyrate
As we mentioned earlier, butyrate and SCFA production only come from the food we ingest and the microbial balance in the gut available to break down that food into SCFAs. Most of the foods that allow our microbiome to produce SCFAs are resistant starches, and some of them aren’t the most appetizing. But, when you’re dealing with severe digestive issues or autoimmune diseases, you may find them worth adding to your diet.
It is possible to get butyrate from the foods you consume, but in looking at the average diet, there are generally not enough slowly-digesting fibers to produce the necessary levels with food alone. That’s because a lot of the foods highest in resistant starch are not particularly appetizing, think cold mashed potatoes and white rice.
Foods that do help boost butyrate include:
- High-quality dairy (but the high serving sizes needed may not be recommended for all)
- Cold rolled oats (try soaking oats in non-dairy milk overnight)
- Legumes (when cooled after cooking)
- Cooled potatoes
- Cooled white rice
- Unripe bananas and plantain flour
- Whole grains
- Fibrous vegetables like asparagus and broccoli stems
- Some fruit peels like apples
For more information, check out our blog: What Foods Can Help Increase Your Butyrate Levels?
While many foods contain small amounts of butyrate-producing resistant starch, it’s still quite hard to reach the adequate amount. For this reason, ample supplementation with a butyrate supplement is vital to overall well-being.
In addition to adding butyrate-producing foods, you may also consider butyrate supplementation. Supplementing butyrate is a great way to keep your gut happy and healthy, but as always, quality matters! BodyBio Butyrate is formulated without extra additives or fillers to deliver the beneficial butyrate your gut craves without any junk. Because it’s fermented, butyrate is well known for its smell, but this is a natural byproduct of the fermentation process — don’t worry! This is exactly how it’s supposed to be.
Butyric acid on its own is quite acidic, so we pair it with different minerals to raise the pH and stabilize it for delivery to the gut. We have created Calcium Magnesium, Sodium, and Sodium Potassium Butyrate varieties depending on your needs. Due to widespread calcium and magnesium deficiency, we recommend most people start with our Calcium Magnesium Butyrate. Dozens of folks have reviewed our butyrate saying that it helped ease their digestive problems and get back to a healthy, balanced gut.
Interested in trying butyrate? Learn more here.
Types of Butyrate Supplements
Sticking to a diet with high levels of butyrate can be difficult, so if you’re thinking that supplements are the better option for you, there are three general categories that products fall under. Below we discuss each in more depth, and help you make an informed decision on which is right for you.
BodyBio’s butyrates (we have three kinds!) are simply butyrate, a thirteen-atom complex joined to an alkali. Butyric acid, butyrate, and tributyrin are ingredients you may see in this category of supplements. While their names vary slightly, they all have the same purpose with different characteristics.
At BodyBio, the butyrate powder we use is covered with MCT from palm kernel oil. This is how it gets to the colon somewhat intact. If at least a little butyrate didn't get partially digested and enter the bloodstream through the walls of the small intestine, it wouldn't be able to act as an ammonia sequestrant, an HDAC inhibitor, a systemic anti-inflammatory agent, and a glucose modulator/appetite suppressant.*
Glycerol-bound butyrate (tributyrin)
Glycerol-bound butyrate is called tributyrin — 3 butyrates attached to a glycerol. Now, before we explain tributyrin any further, it helps to understand the concept of a prodrug. In this case, “pro” has nothing to do with for or against, but with precursor.
The term describes compounds that must undergo chemical changes within the body prior to exerting their pharmacological or therapeutic actions. One example is aspirin, which is the prodrug for salicylic acid. Aspirin, you see, is less corrosive to the pathways of the GI system. We may want the benefits of salicylic acid, but in order to get them internally, we take aspirin so that the body can convert it to salicylic acid without having to actually ingest such an acidic substance.
There are times, too, when prodrugs can sneak past pharmaceutical barriers by adjusting the delivery form. This is how tributyrin works as a stable and rapidly-absorbed prodrug of butyric acid, just like sodium butyrate, calcium-magnesium butyrate, or another form of the salt. The active portion of butyrate and tributyrin is butyric acid, which we can get by ingesting either form.
And yet — If tributyrin is butyric acid joined to a glycerol to make a compound of more than forty atoms, why not use the alkalized butyrate with a compound of fewer than twenty? This compound is much easier for the body to process and extract the benefit we want — the butyric acid.
A final option, liquid butyrate, is typically butyric acid bound to a fat like MCT oil. There are often many additives, flavorings, and sweeteners to hide the notably pungent smell of effective butyrate supplements. If you are going to go with a liquid butyrate supplement, we recommend checking your labels first.
Choosing the Right Butyrate Supplement
We created BodyBio Butyrate supplements in three different types: Calcium Magnesium, Sodium, and Sodium Potassium. For most people, the Calcium Magnesium form will do just fine, but athletes or those who have low sodium levels may benefit more from the Sodium or Sodium Potassium forms. Whichever one you decide to try, you’ll get at least a 1,000 mg dose of butyric acid per two capsules.
You may have read that taking a butyrate supplement won’t increase your butyrate levels because the supplement will not reach the large intestine. Fortunately, for the last 20 years, we have been making butyrate, we have worked with countless physicians across the globe who tell us their patient's butyrate levels have increased with BodyBio Butyrate. If you can’t add high-quality fibers to your current diet, supplementation may be a great option for you!
Learn more with our Butyrate/Gut+ Get Started Guide!
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