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Check social media and you’ll find thousands of glowing posts about the latest microbiome buzzword: #butyrate.
From TikTok to Instagram to Twitter, users and advertisers alike are posting cheers for this short-chain fatty acid, claiming it helps with everything from digestion to depression. Butter enthusiasts add fiber-rich sauerkraut to soup, binge on butter and kombucha, and take supplements to boost levels in their bodies.
But what is boots and can he really do everything his fans say he does? Or is it all advertising and no help?
Early evidence, mostly from animal studies, suggests the truth may be somewhere in the middle. Registered dietitian and gut microbiome researcher Gail Kresky, PhD, RD, explains what you need to know about butter.
What is butyrate?
Butyrate is produced when the “good” bacteria in your gut help your body break down dietary fiber in the large intestine (colon). It is one of several short-chain fatty acids that are named after their chemical structure.
Dr. Cresci has studied butyrate for over a decade. “It’s amazing how many things it does for the body,” she says.
Bootyrate (pronounced “wow-ter-ate”) plays an important role in the health of the digestive system by providing the main source of energy for the cells of the large intestine; meets about 70% of their energy needs. And it can provide other health benefits, including supporting your immune system, reducing inflammation and preventing diseases like cancer.
What are the types of butyrate?
One type of butyrate is butyric (or butanoic) acid, a chemically modified version of butyrate that is sometimes used in foods and supplements.
Other types include:
- Ethyl butyrate (flavor enhancer).
- Hydrocortisone butyrate (corticosteroid).
- Sodium butyrate (used in supplements).
Where can I find butyrate?
Butter is a good source of butyrate, but you’ll need to eat much more than recommended; it is high in saturated fat and may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Instead, boost your body’s butyrate levels by increasing your daily fiber intake with plant-based foods.
Since your body doesn’t break down fiber during the digestion process, it’s left for your gut bacteria to break down. Your healthy gut bacteria make butyrate from dietary soluble, fermentable fiber that only they can break down.
Other sources include prebiotics and high-fiber supplements.
Foods to improve butyrate production
You can boost butyrate production by eating foods high in fermentable fiber. For excellent natural sources, eat a healthy diet rich in:
Let’s break down some of these categories in a little more detail.
Many fruits contain fermentable fiber, including:
Vegetables and legumes
Vegetables and legumes high in fiber include:
- Green peas.
- Leafy vegetables.
- Turnip greens.
Full fat dairy products
It is wise to consume these foods in moderation (no more than 5% to 6% of your total daily calories) because they are high in saturated fat and cholesterol. They include:
- Milk (cow, sheep, goat, etc.).
If you don’t consume a lot of fiber, add it slowly to your diet and drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated. You may experience gas or bloating, but that should start to subside after a few days, says Dr. Cresci.
“If you eat a lot of fiber and don’t drink a lot of water, you can get really constipated,” she says. “Also, look at your urine. Aim for a light yellow throughout the day, which means you’re adequately hydrated.
Additives of butyrate and butyric acid
Some supplements can promote butyrate production, but you should talk to your healthcare provider before taking any. Most supplements use butyric acid and some type of salt, but they have not been proven to be helpful.
“The best way to get butyrate is to eat fresh fruits and vegetables that contain soluble, fermentable fiber,” advises Dr. Cresci. “Feed your body so it makes butyrate for you.”
What can lower my butyrate levels?
You may have low butyrate levels and a higher risk of infection or inflammation in your gut if you:
- You are not eating enough foods that help your body produce butyrate.
- Eat foods that lower the levels of butyrate-producing bacteria in your body, such as a low-carb or high-protein and/or fat diet. These foods reduce dietary fiber intake, which means less butyrate.
- Your body is less able to produce and absorb butyrate due to certain medications (antibiotics), or you have a disturbance in your gut microbiome due to a chronic disease, such as type 2 diabetes.
What does butyrate do to my body?
Early research suggests that butyrate may benefit gut health, but we need more research to understand how it works in humans and whether it has other benefits. Butyrate may promote weight loss, stabilize blood sugar, maintain or improve bowel function, and prevent or help treat disease.
Here are some benefits that butyrate is believed to have for your body.
1. Reduce inflammation
Studies show that butyrate supplements can reduce the severity of disease-causing (pathogenic) bacterial infection by reducing inflammation. This can help prevent potentially fatal conditions such as sepsis.
Researchers have also linked low butyrate levels to an increased risk of inflammatory bowel disease and colon cancer.
2. Alleviation of gastrointestinal conditions
Butyrate supports the intestinal barrier that keeps bacteria and other microbes from entering your bloodstream. A sodium butyrate supplement may help with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diverticulitis, and Crohn’s disease.
In one study, 66 adults with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) who took a daily dose of sodium butyrate reported less abdominal pain. In another study, 9 out of 13 people with Crohn’s disease reported improvement in symptoms after taking butyric acid daily for eight weeks.
3. Reduce the risk of colon cancer
Other research suggests that a diet high in dietary fiber, which promotes the production of butyrate, may help reduce the risk of colon cancer.
A laboratory study of human cancer cell lines found that sodium butyrate stopped the growth of colorectal cancer cells and caused the cancer cells to die (known as apoptosis). It has also been shown to reduce damage caused by cancer or chemotherapy.
4. Increasing insulin sensitivity
People with type 2 diabetes often experience insulin resistance and obesity. Because butyrate helps produce gut hormones that regulate blood sugar levels, it may improve these symptoms. One study showed a potential link between butyrate production and lower insulin resistance.
5. Protect your brain
Butyrate-friendly foods and supplements can improve brain health. Researchers have shown that butyrate can protect your brain and improve its ability to adapt (known as plasticity).
Early studies show it may help prevent or treat stroke, depression, and other diseases that affect the brain, such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
6. Treat cardiovascular diseases
Some studies show that butyrate may help protect your body against widespread cardiovascular disease. Heart and blood vessel problems can increase the risk of:
7. Improve sleep
Butyrate’s promise extends all the way to your bedroom. Emerging evidence suggests that your gut bacteria are the source of sleep-promoting signals.
A 2019 study showed that mice and rats given butyrate showed a dramatic increase in non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep for four hours after treatment. NREM includes important stages of sleep for your physical and mental health.
How much butyric acid do I need?
It’s not yet clear exactly how much butyrate you need. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the recommended intake of dietary fiber is 25 grams per day for women and 35 grams per day for men, or about 28 grams as part of a 2,000-calorie daily diet. Your value may be higher or lower depending on your calorie intake. This fiber should be a mixture of soluble (butyrate-generating) and insoluble sources.
Does butyrate have any side effects?
We need more research to know if butyrate is safe and at what levels, but here are a few concerns worth noting:
- Some healthcare providers suggest avoiding butyric acid supplements if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
- Butyrate has also been shown to cause symptoms in people with bloating or sensitive guts (food intolerances) who need lower levels of fiber.
- For obese people who already have high butyrate levels, supplements may not be a good idea.
In other words, more butyrate is not necessarily better. As always when it comes to add-ons, don’t take advice from TikTok celebrities. Instead, talk to your healthcare provider.