Butyrate is a very important short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) that appears to be intimately tied to our health.
Despite its importance, however, many people may not be getting enough butyrate.
These "reactions" are what convert dietary fibers into a bounty of butyrate.
The loss of butyrate-producing bacteria in the gut microbiome can have far reaching effects in the human body.
If you are looking to increase the levels of butyrate-producing bacteria in your gut, learn more about Pendulum Glucose Control, which contains 3 probiotics strains (Clostridium butyricum, Anaerobutyricum hallii, and Clostridium beijerinckii) that have been shown to produce high levels of butyrate.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- What is butyrate?
- What are the health benefits of butyrate?
- What causes low butyrate levels?
- How to boost your butyrate levels
- Final Thoughts
What is butyrate and how is it made?
Butyrate's name comes from the ancient Greek word for butter.
That's because the Greeks noticed that as butter or milk goes rancid, it takes on a potent smell, which is partly due to the production of butyrate in the dairy3.
Butyrate is produced in the large intestine as a byproduct of soluble-fiber metabolism. Butyrate is often made in the process of breaking down large, complex, and resilient molecules such as fibers and resistant starches.
Humans rely almost entirely on bacteria to produce their butyrate, and it takes a lot of effort to break up these molecules—and human cells just aren’t good at it.
When you eat foods that are rich with these molecules (e.g. green bananas, cold potatoes, or oats), your cells struggle to break them down. As a result, the fibers and resistant starches tend to survive the digestive process.
That is until they reach the gut microbiome—more specifically the large intestine.
Many bacterial species can use fibers and resistant starches as sources of energy. These bacteria absorb the fiber and resistant-starch molecules and then begin to digest them—ripping them apart and extracting the parts of these molecules that they find useful.
In the process, butyrate is formed.
Like other SCFAs, butyrate can serve multiple different purposes within the body:
- Oftentimes, it serves as an energy source for cells when sugar isn’t available (it is one of the primary sources of energy for the cells that line the colon—also known as colonocytes).
- Sometimes it’s used as a building block to help cells construct larger molecules.
- Other times it functions as a basic signaling molecule, able to change a cell’s behavior in dramatic ways (more on this below)1.
What are the health benefits of butyrate?
Dr. Emeran Mayer, who is a gastroenterologist, neuroscientist, and distinguished research professor in the Departments of Medicine, Physiology, and Psychiatry at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, calls SCFAs the "main currency of the microbial world.
Dr. Mayer says that SCFAs are a major influencer in maintaining proper functioning of the complex system of different cell types that interact with each other.
“Within the gut, butyrate receptors can be found in a wide range of epithelial, endocrine, immune, and nerve cells,” says Dr. Mayer. “Because of the ubiquitous expression of these short-chain-fatty-acid receptors on various gut cells, butyrate has a wide range of homeostatic effects on gut function.”
One of the great things about butyrate is that once it is released into the gut, it can have both local and global effects on the human body.
Research into the effects of butyrate covers many diverse topics and is still very much a work in progress. But, here is what we do know:
Butyrate fuels your gut cells
The body will use sugars, fats, and proteins for energy. Being a fatty acid, butyrate can serve as an energy source for some cells.
This is particularly true for colonocytes—the cells that line the intestinal barrier of the colon—who get 70% of their energy from butyrate.
When butyrate levels are low, colonocytes show signs of distress due to the lack of their preferred energy source.
Butyrate helps with managing Type 2 diabetes
Butyrate has been well studied for its influence over blood-sugar levels7.
Several studies performed in cells and mice have reported a link between butyrate production and the release of hormones that are known to:
- Suppress a person’s appetite
- Promote the breakdown of fats, and
- Increase sensitivity to insulin
The exact mechanism of how butyrate is linked to these hormones isn’t clear. However, it likely has to do with the regulation of DNA and how or when sections of it are read.
One study showed that people with Type 2 diabetes who were given a high-fiber diet had an increase in butyrate-producing bacteria that correlated with a >20% decrease in A1C levels (compared to a <15% decrease in the control group).
These results are echoed in numerous other studies showing that increased fiber and butyrate-producing bacteria improve blood-sugar regulation18.What causes low butyrate levels?
Humans primarily get butyrate from two sources:
- Butyrate-producing bacteria in the gut microbiome
Low butyrate levels can happen when:
- There is a decrease in the number of butyrate-producing bacteria in your gut
- You decrease the amount of butyrate-containing foods in your diet
- Your body is less able to absorb butyrate
Fiber is a major component in the diets of cattle and other farm animals, so they too have a gut microbiome that is capable of converting that fiber into butyrate, which ultimately finds its way into the animal’s milk3.
If you don’t eat much dairy, your body will have to look elsewhere for it’s butyrate.
Like all ecosystems, the gut microbiome is a complex environment where survival of bacterial species depends on their ability to get nutrients and outcompete other bacteria for scarce living space.
For butyrate-producing bacteria, this means they stand the best chance at survival when their host (the person who’s gut they live in) eats fibers and resistant starches.
When these are lacking from the diet, the butyrate-producing bacteria may not be as competitive and are less likely to thrive.
As a side effect of this, lower levels of butyrate are produced1.
Antibiotics can also dramatically shift the landscape of the gut microbiome.
Aside from targeting the bacteria that may be causing an infection, antibiotics also affect bacteria in the gut microbiome, potentially devastating the population of butyrate-producing bacteria (as well as other species)7.
Lastly, some health conditions—like Type 2 diabetes—can affect the microbiome composition, which correlates with a decrease in butyrate-producing bacteria.3How to boost your butyrate levels
Fortunately, there are multiple ways to boost your butyrate levels.
In essence, each approach aims to make sure that:
- You have a balance of butyrate-producing bacteria in your gut
- You’re giving these bacteria the food (i.e., fiber and resistant starches) they need to survive
Production of butyrate is a collective effort as some bacteria partially break down carbohydrates (like fiber and resistant starches) and release the fractured molecules into the gut where other species can then convert these molecules into butyrate 4,5,11.
There are many species of bacteria that either contribute to the butyrate making process, or are responsible for the actual production of butyrate.
- Faecalibacterium prausnitzii
- Eubacterium rectale
- Roseburia spp. (Roseburia faecis, Roseburia inulinivorans, Roseburia intestinalis, and Roseburia hominis)
- Clostridium butyricum
- Clostridium beijerinckii
- Eubacterium spp. (Eubacterium hallii)
- Anaerostipes spp. (Anaerostipes butyraticus, Anaerostipes caccae, and Anaerostipes hadrus)
- Butyricicoccus pullicaecorum
Additionally, species of bacteria in the Bifidobacterium genus are known to help break carry out the first steps in fiber digestion, providing molecules to the gut microbiome that the above species can use to make butyrate11.Are there supplements/probiotics that can increase your butyrate levels?
In evaluating butyrate-producing probiotics, it's important to make sure that they:
- Have the right bacteria and
- Ideally, come with a prebiotic to help those bacteria survive
One such probiotic is Pendulum Glucose Control, which helps deliver several species of butyrate-producing bacteria (e.g. Anaerobutyricum hallii, Clostridium butyricum, Clostridium beijerinckii) as well as inulin to help these bacteria establish a competitive foothold in the microbiome environment17.
In people with Type 2 diabetes who were also taking metformin, boosting butyrate-producing bacterial species is believed to help reduce:
- After-meal blood-sugar levels
This hypothesis is supported by recent findings using Pendulum Glucose Control. In a double-blinded study, researchers gave patients with Type 2 diabetes this medical probiotic for 12 weeks, measuring their change in blood A1c levels from the beginning of the study to the end.What foods can increase your butyrate levels?
There are several foods that can help boost butyrate levels.
As mentioned earlier, dairy products also tend to be high in butyrate.
You can also boost your butyrate levels by eating foods that are rich in fibers and resistant starches. In general, foods that come from plants tend to have fibers and digestion-resistant starches. As the specific strains mentioned above break down these fibers, it will produce butyrate in the large intestine.
- Guar gum
- Jerusalem artichoke
- Cooled boiled potatoes
- Cereal Bran
Butyrate and butyric acid are two forms of the same molecule in the same way that a pen and a pen without its cap are the same thing—it’s a pen either way.
Butyric acid is butyrate with an extra hydrogen molecule attached to it, which alters how it interacts with other molecules.
Butyrate can fluctuate between states, existing as butyric acid in one environment and then transitioning to butyrate in another (or vice versa).
Butyrate is the more common form of the molecule in nature3.
After decades of research, it is clear that butyrate is an important molecule that can influence many aspects of our health.
With the right diet and some help from probiotics, it is possible to boost your butyrate levels and potentially improve many aspects of your health.
To learn more about butyrate and gut-microbiome health, follow Pendulum on social media at the following places:
Before you consider any of these gut-health solutions, talk to your healthcare provider.
The FDA has not approved or evaluated these statements. Pendulum products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any diseases.
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