If you want to promote better digestion and rack up wellness wins across the board, one of the best things you can do is to get more butyrate in your system. Never heard of it, or need an explainer of what it is and why it’s basically the unsung hero of gut health? Keep reading for a master class on butyrate, courtesy of board-certified gastroenterologist Kenneth Brown, MD.
- Kenneth Brown, MD, board-certified gastroenterologist and GI doctor in Plano, Texas
What is butyrate?
Butyrate is a short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) and a byproduct of the gut’s fermentation of certain foods. “Named for its four-carbon chemical structure, butyrate is produced when ‘good’ bacteria in the gut help the body break down dietary prebiotics such as polyphenols and fiber in the colon,” Dr. Brown explains.
“Named for its four-carbon chemical structure, butyrate is produced when ‘good’ bacteria in the gut help the body break down dietary prebiotics such as polyphenols and fiber in the colon,”
—Kenneth Brown, MD
Per a 2011 review in the World Journal of Gastroenterology, this SFCA is hard at work at the intestinal level; it “plays regulatory role on the transepithelial fluid transport, ameliorates mucosal inflammation and oxidative status, reinforces the epithelial defense barrier, and modulates visceral sensitivity and intestinal motility.” In plain English, this all means that butyrate is crucial to maintain intestinal homeostasis. Yet as we’ll soon see, it has the potential to offer many benefits not only for your gut but also other important facets of your overall health.
The benefits of butyrate
The positive effects of butyrate can’t be underestimated. According to Dr. Brown, these are some of the most impressive benefits of this gut-friendly, massively protective compound:
- It provides energy for cells in the colon lining. “Firstly, butyrate is a primary fuel source for the cells in the lining of the colon,” Dr. Brown says. “It plays a crucial role in supporting the growth and maintenance of these cells, which can help prevent leaky gut syndrome and other digestive disorders.” By regulating the assembly of tight junctions, butyrate strengthens the integrity of the intestinal barrier, thus reducing the likelihood of intestinal permeability and other manifestations of gut dysfunction.
- It staves off colorectal cancer cells. Given its positive effects on cells in the colon, butyrate is even linked to the prevention of colon cancer. “It has been shown to promote the differentiation of colon cells, which can help prevent the development of cancerous cells,” Dr. Brown explains.
- It’s anti-inflammatory. Since butyrate has anti-inflammatory properties, it “can help reduce inflammation in the gut and prevent conditions such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease,” says Dr. Brown.
- It wards off cell damage. “Butyrate may increase the production of certain proteins that can help protect the colon cells from DNA damage and oxidative stress,” the gastro continues.
- It may mitigate the risk of metabolic disorders. It turns out that butyrate also stands to benefit metabolic health. “It may regulate blood sugar by improving insulin sensitivity through pancreatic gene expression,” says Dr. Brown. “This can help reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and other metabolic disorders.”
- It has neuroprotective effects. There are many ways to protect your brain and cognition—and as far as brain-boosting dietary hacks go, revving up the production of butyrate is among them. “It promotes the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that is essential for proper brain functioning,” Dr. Brown explains. “This can help protect against neurological disorders such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.”
How to increase butyrate
By this point, it’s clear that butyrate is beyond impressive… which makes me wonder if and why most of us have been sleeping on this overachieving SFCA for too long. (Just me?) If you’re galvanized to get more of it in your diet and enjoy the world of benefits it can offer, Dr. Brown says that butyrate supplements exist… yet taking them isn’t necessarily the best protocol.
“One potential challenge with butyrate supplements is their absorption and bioavailability,” Dr. Brown shares. “Butyrate is rapidly metabolized in the body and can be broken down in the stomach and small intestine before it reaches the colon, where it is normally produced by the gut microbiome.” In other words, there’s a decent chance it won’t survive long enough to do its job where it needs to do it. Moreover, he notes that there are currently no official recommendations for butyrate intake. So what gives?
Dr. Brown says the best way to boost the presence of butyrate is to promote the natural production of it by eating a few key foods—namely those that are rich in polyphenols and prebiotic fibers, which includes the likes of fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. “Incorporating these foods into your diet can help support butyrate production and promote gut health,” he shares.
Dr. Brown says the best way to boost the presence of butyrate is to promote the natural production of it by eating a few key foods—namely those that are rich in polyphenols and prebiotic fibers, which includes the likes of fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.
In addition, while it’s true that probiotic supplements aren’t a one-and-done solution for thriving gut health, Dr. Brown advocates for their use upon approval from a healthcare professional. “They can help to increase the number of beneficial bacteria in the gut, which can also help to increase butyrate production,” he says. That said, a food-first approach remains the gold standard to nurture your gut and promote overall well-being. By prioritizing probiotic-rich foods in your rotation—think kimchi, kefir, and Greek yogurt—in tandem with polyphenols and prebiotic fiber, you’ll boost the production of butyrate and chew your way closer to a stronger gut (and promote better health outcomes) in no time.
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