To learn more about butyrate, watch Pendulum CSO John Eid's conversation about butyrate on the Dr. Gundry podcast.
Butyrate is an important short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) that appears to be intimately tied to health.
Despite its importance, however, many people may not be getting enough of this essential postbiotic.
Humans can't make butyrate on their own. Instead, we get butyrate from our food and from a series of reactions that take place in the gut microbiome.
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 Glucose Control, which contains 3 probiotic strains that have been shown to product high levels of butyrate. Those strains are Clostrdium butyricum, Anaerobutyricum hallii, and Clostridium beijerincki.
What is butyrate and how is it made?
The name "Butyrate" 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 dairy.
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.
This butyrate is discarded back into the gut where human cells can then absorb it and put it to use.
Like other SCFAs, butyrate serves multiple purposes within the body:
It often serves as an energy source for cells when sugar isn’t available (it's 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)
What are the health benefits of butyrate?
Dr. Emeran Mayer, a gastroenterologist, neuroscientist, and distinguished research professor 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's 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 uses sugars, fats, and proteins for energy. Being a fatty acid, butyrate serves as an energy source for some cells.
This is particularly true for colonocytes—the cells that line the intestinal barrier of the colon—which get 70% of their energy from butyrate.
Because colonocytes digest it, only about 5% of the butyrate made in the gut actually makes it into circulation.
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 levels.
Several studies performed in cells and mice have reported a link between butyrate production and the release of hormones that are known to:
Suppress the appetite
Promote the breakdown of fats
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.
Regardless of the mechanism, there is strong evidence to suggest that butyrate production helps regulate blood sugar levels.
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 regulation.
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's a decrease in the number of butyrate-producing bacteria in your gut, you decrease the amount of butyrate-containing foods in your diet, or you body is less able to absorb butyrate.
Foods like butter and other dairy products are rich with butyrate.
Fiber is a major component in the diets of cattle and other farm animals, so they also have a gut microbiome that's capable of converting that fiber into butyrate, which ultimately finds its way into the animals' milk.
If you don’t eat much dairy, your body will have to look elsewhere for its 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 whose 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, lower levels of butyrate are produced.
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).
Lastly, some health conditions—like type 2 diabetes—can affect the microbiome composition, which correlates with a decrease in butyrate-producing bacteria.
How 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
What specific bacteria help create butyrate?
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 .
There are many species of bacteria that either contribute to the butyrate making process, or are responsible for the actual production of butyrate.
Here, we’ve listed some of the most common species responsible for producing butyrate:
Roseburia spp. (Roseburia faecis, Roseburia inulinivorans, Roseburia intestinalis, and Roseburia hominis)
Eubacterium spp. (Eubacterium hallii)
Anaerostipes spp. (Anaerostipes butyraticus, Anaerostipes caccae, and Anaerostipes hadrus)
Additionally, species of bacteria in the Bifidobacterium genus are known to help carry out the first steps in fiber digestion, providing molecules to the gut microbiome that the above species can use to make butyrate.
Are there supplements/probiotics that can increase your butyrate levels?
There are different probiotic-containing supplements that can help you boost the number of butyrate-producing bacteria—so called butyrate-producing probiotics.
Butyricum is a powerful new probiotic packed with a butyrate-producing strain that can help relieve occasional gas, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation.
In evaluating butyrate-producing probiotics, it's important to make sure that they have the right bacteria and come with a prebiotic to help those bacteria survive.
Another butyrate-containing probiotic is 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 environment.
In a recent peer-reviewed paper published in the January 8, 2022 issue of BMC Microbiology, it was discovered that people with type 2 diabetes who took Glucose Control during a 12-week, placebo-controlled, double-blinded, randomized trial showed increased levels of butyrate and the secondary bile acid ursodeoxycholate (UDCA).
In people with type 2 diabetes who were also taking metformin, boosting butyrate-producing bacterial species is believed to help reduce their A1C and after-meal blood sugar levels.
This hypothesis is supported by recent findings using Glucose Control. In a double-blinded study, researchers gave patients with type 2 diabetes this 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 tend to be high in butyrate.
You can also boost your butyrate levels by eating foods 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.
These foods include:
Cooled boiled potatoes
What is butyric acid—and is it different that butyrate?
Butyrate and butyric acid are two forms of the same molecule.
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 nature.
After decades of research, it's clear that butyrate is an important molecule that can influence many aspects of health.
With the right diet and help from probiotics, it's possible to boost your butyrate levels and potentially improve many aspects of your health.