Butyrate Benefits: What It Can and Can’t Do for Gut Health

Butyrate Benefits: What It Can and Can’t Do for Gut Health

The Science Behind Butyrate’s Effects on Your Gut Microbiome and Beyond

Key Takeaways

  • Butyrate is a substance produced by gut bacteria that helps keep the cells lining your intestinal tract healthy. Butyrate benefits may include a healthier microbiome, lower colon cancer risk, and reduction in some IBS symptoms. High butyrate levels aren’t necessarily associated with better gut or general health. For example, being obese is associated with higher butyrate levels.
  • Butyrate-producing bacteria feed on prebiotic fibers, so a higher fiber diet will tend to promote butyrate production. However, fiber can also cause bloating and abdominal pain for some.
  • A lower prebiotic dietary fiber regimen like the low FODMAP diet is recommended for those with gut sensitivities as it can relieve symptoms. It offers benefits despite a probable decrease in butyrate levels.
  • Reducing symptoms allows the gut healing time. You can increase the fiber in your diet (to optimize butyrate levels) later on, when your gut is more robust.

If you’re interested in gut health, you’ve probably heard of butyrate, which is produced by our gut microbiota and helps maintain the intestinal barrier.

Butyrate is now such a byword for gut health that a high fiber diet (designed to stimulate butyrate production), is often recommended for good digestive health.

Unfortunately, this type of diet can have downsides for people dealing with gut symptoms.

In this article, we’ll take a balanced look at possible butyrate benefits, as well as potential downsides for people with gut sensitivities. 

Butyrate Basics

Butyrate (also known as butyric acid or sold in supplement form as sodium butyrate) is one of a family of short-chain fatty acids, or SCFAs. The two other common SCFAs are acetate and propionate. 

Though you can get small amounts of butyrate from some food sources (butter being the richest source), most of the butyrate in our body is made by the bacteria in our gut [1 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].

Good gut bacteria produce butyrate when they “eat” (ferment) prebiotic fibers and other indigestible carbohydrates (such as resistant starch) in the colon (large intestine). The fermentation process creates SCFAs as a metabolite (a byproduct). 

After being made by microbes in the bowel, butyrate can get distributed to other tissues beyond the intestines, including the brain, liver, and fat tissue [2 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].

Butyrate Benefits

Butyrate benefits: person touching a hologram of an intestine

There’s a lot of buzz around butyrate’s health benefits because it has some interesting roles that could protect gut health and wider health.

For example, we know that butyrate [1 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 3 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]:

  • Has anti-inflammatory properties that may help improve the immune system within the gut
  • Improves gut barrier function, which can prevent the leakage of toxins and allergens into the bloodstream
  • Is the major energy source for colonocytes (cells that make up the internal lining (mucosa) of the colon
  • Has antioxidant properties that could contribute to a reduction in colon cancer and colorectal cancer risk
  • May help improve the microbial composition of the gut
  • Is, as a histone deacetylase inhibitor (HDAC inhibitor), associated with increased apoptosis (controlled death of cells that could turn into cancer cells).

Should You Try to Boost Your Butyrate Levels?

With so many  potential  butyrate benefits, it would be easy to think that higher butyrate levels are always better. However, more butyrate doesn’t always equal better gut health or wellness. 

Patients with some gut health issues have been shown to have lower levels of butyrate in their guts. But patients with other conditions have been shown to have higher levels. For example:

The Conflicting Effects of Butyrate on Gut Ailments

Man holding his stomach

Similarly, the few clinical trials that have looked at the effect of boosting butyrate levels on gut conditions have shown limited butyrate benefits.

For example, taking butyrate supplements or eating a prebiotic-rich diet to stimulate natural butyrate production helped to improve symptoms of IBS and traveler’s diarrhea. However, it had no or mixed effect in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD):

Effects of Increasing Butyrate Levels on Different Gut Conditions

Health ConditionButyrate Levels Increased ByOf Benefit?Details
IBSSodium butyrate supplementation (alongside standard therapy) YesDecreased abdominal pain, and less constipation compared to placebo [11 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]
IBD (ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease)Sodium butyrate supplementationNoNo improvement in disease activity, despite a small increase in butyrate-producing bacteria and quality of life scores [12 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]
Mild or moderate ulcerative colitisLower and higher prebiotic dosesMixed effectHigher dose prebiotics caused more patients to go into remission, but also caused more flatulence and bloating [13 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]
DiverticulosisSodium butyrate supplementationYesReduction in acute inflammation of intestinal pouches after 12 months [14 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]
Traveler’s diarrheaSodium butyrate, and other SCFAs taken three days before travelYesReduced risk of symptoms including pain, bloating, nausea, and fever [15 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]
Ulcerative colitisButyrate enemasNoA systematic review found that, on balance, butyrate enemas did not help the condition [16 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]

What’s Better Than Butyrate for Gut Issues?

Overall, while butyrate benefits gut health in some ways, it’s not the best idea when you have health issues. If your gut is sensitive and symptomatic, extra fiber and prebiotics may not help [17 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 18 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]. In fact, they can cause irritation, inflammation, and ultimately slow down the healing process.

Instead, there is much more evidence to support interventions such as the low FODMAP diet — which may actually decrease butyrate levels — for IBS, SIBO, and other gut conditions. For example:

  • A large 2021 systematic review and meta-analysis — which is the highest quality of scientific information available — found that a low FODMAP diet was associated with a moderate to large improvement in IBS symptoms. Quality of life scores also increased compared to control diets [19 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].
  • A 2018 systematic review and meta-analysis found that a low FODMAP diet was associated with significant improvements in GI symptoms and abdominal pain, compared to other diets. No side effects were reported [20 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].

The Low FODMAP Diet

Butyrate Benefits: What It Can and Can’t Do for Gut Health - FODMAP%20Food%20List Larger%20Text L

The low FODMAP diet is designed to specifically target and eliminate the fermentable fibers that cause your gut to be irritable and reactive. The diet can reduce butyrate levels but allows your symptoms to improve and your gut to begin its healing process.

After 2-3 weeks of eliminating FODMAPs, when your symptoms are under much better control, you can start to reintroduce some higher FODMAP foods.

Everybody is different in their ability to tolerate different foods, and no two people will have the same list of food sensitivities. But the elimination process followed by reintroducing foods one by one allows you to find your individual tolerance level. Bear in mind your ability to tolerate specific foods will likely change over time too.

In time it’s likely that you’ll be able to tolerate higher levels of the prebiotic fibers and carbs that once were a problem for you. This means your butyrate levels are also likely to naturally optimize themselves over time anyway.

Probiotic Supplementation

Research also supports the beneficial effects of probiotics for gut problems like SIBO, IBS, and IBD. There is a much larger wealth of research in this area than there is for butyrate supplements. 

For example, probiotics have been shown to:

The quality of probiotic supplements is important, so doing your product research matters. One study of 26 probiotics on sale to the public found they all differed in some way from what was claimed on the label. Some even contained unacceptable microbes [35].

It’s a good idea to choose a product with high potency and which is third-party tested to fulfill probiotic quality and Current Good Manufacturing Practice requirements. A product that has a mixture of different probiotic species for broader benefit is a good idea.

Butyrate Bottom Line

In summary, butyrate benefits gut health in some important ways, but trying to bump up your butyrate levels by eating lots of fiber and prebiotics could be counterproductive for people with gut sensitivities. 

Instead, an elimination diet, more specifically the low FODMAP diet, is better for tackling symptoms such as pain and bloating, especially when combined with probiotics. 

The low FODMAP diet has much more research backing for gut problems, despite the fact that it will likely temporarily reduce your butyrate production.

My book, Healthy Gut, Healthy You, has a comprehensive step-by-step plan of how to turn poor gut health around. Or for more individual gut health and support, request a consultation.

The Ruscio Institute has developed a range of high quality formulations, including soil-based probiotics, to help our patients and audience. If you’re interested in learning more about our soil-based probiotics, please click here: https://store.drruscio.com/products/soil-based-probiotic. Note that there are many other options available, and we encourage you to research which products may be right for you.

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