Does your gut need a reset?

Yes, I'm Ready

Do you want to start feeling better?

Yes, Where Do I Start?

Do you want to start feeling better?

Yes, Where Do I Start?

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].

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].

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, 3]:

  • 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:

  • In IBS-C (irritable bowel syndrome where constipation is the main symptom), levels of butyrate in the stool were found to be lower than in controls [4].
  • In IBS-D (irritable bowel syndrome with diarrhea), butyrate levels were found to be higher than in controls [4].
  • People with obesity tend to have higher SCFAs. In one study, butyrate was 28% higher in people with high body weight, and propionate was 41% higher [5, 6].
  • Severe or active inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) has correlated with both higher and lower butyrate [7, 8, 9].
  • People with poor metabolic health (including insulin resistance, and raised blood glucose) also tend to have higher stool butyrate levels [10].

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]
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]
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]
DiverticulosisSodium butyrate supplementationYesReduction in acute inflammation of intestinal pouches after 12 months [14]
Traveler’s diarrheaSodium butyrate, and other SCFAs taken three days before travelYesReduced risk of symptoms including pain, bloating, nausea, and fever [15]
Ulcerative colitisButyrate enemasNoA systematic review found that, on balance, butyrate enemas did not help the condition [16]

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, 18]. 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].
  • 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].

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:

  • Be very effective for treating SIBO [21, 22]
  • Help improve IBS symptoms, especially bloating and abdominal pain [23, 24, 25, 26, 27]
  • Reduce the gut inflammation that underlies many gut and wider health conditions [28]
  • Improve IBD symptoms and put active ulcerative colitis into remission [29, 30, 31]
  • Help heal a leaky gut [32, 33, 34]

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: Note that there are many other options available, and we encourage you to research which products may be right for you.

➕ References
  1. Bourassa MW, Alim I, Bultman SJ, Ratan RR. Butyrate, neuroepigenetics and the gut microbiome: Can a high fiber diet improve brain health? Neurosci Lett. 2016 Jun 20;625:56–63. DOI: 10.1016/j.neulet.2016.02.009. PMID: 26868600. PMCID: PMC4903954.
  2. Zhang L, Liu C, Jiang Q, Yin Y. Butyrate in energy metabolism: there is still more to learn. Trends Endocrinol Metab. 2021 Mar;32(3):159–69. DOI: 10.1016/j.tem.2020.12.003. PMID: 33461886.
  3. Couto MR, Gonçalves P, Magro F, Martel F. Microbiota-derived butyrate regulates intestinal inflammation: Focus on inflammatory bowel disease. Pharmacol Res. 2020 Sep;159:104947. DOI: 10.1016/j.phrs.2020.104947. PMID: 32492488.
  4. Sun Q, Jia Q, Song L, Duan L. Alterations in fecal short-chain fatty acids in patients with irritable bowel syndrome: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Medicine (Baltimore). 2019 Feb;98(7):e14513. DOI: 10.1097/MD.0000000000014513. PMID: 30762787. PMCID: PMC6408019.
  5. Schwiertz A, Taras D, Schäfer K, Beijer S, Bos NA, Donus C, et al. Microbiota and SCFA in lean and overweight healthy subjects. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2010 Jan;18(1):190–5. DOI: 10.1038/oby.2009.167. PMID: 19498350.
  6. Kim KN, Yao Y, Ju SY. Short Chain Fatty Acids and Fecal Microbiota Abundance in Humans with Obesity: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Nutrients. 2019 Oct 18;11(10). DOI: 10.3390/nu11102512. PMID: 31635264. PMCID: PMC6835694.
  7. Ferrer-Picón E, Dotti I, Corraliza AM, Mayorgas A, Esteller M, Perales JC, et al. Intestinal inflammation modulates the epithelial response to butyrate in patients with inflammatory bowel disease. Inflamm Bowel Dis. 2020 Jan 1;26(1):43–55. DOI: 10.1093/ibd/izz119. PMID: 31211831. PMCID: PMC6905302.
  8. Jaworska K, Konop M, Bielinska K, Hutsch T, Dziekiewicz M, Banaszkiewicz A, et al. Inflammatory bowel disease is associated with increased gut-to-blood penetration of short-chain fatty acids: A new, non-invasive marker of a functional intestinal lesion. Exp Physiol. 2019 Aug;104(8):1226–36. DOI: 10.1113/EP087773. PMID: 31243807.
  9. Zhuang X, Li T, Li M, Huang S, Qiu Y, Feng R, et al. Systematic Review and Meta-analysis: Short-Chain Fatty Acid Characterization in Patients With Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Inflamm Bowel Dis. 2019 Oct 18;25(11):1751–63. DOI: 10.1093/ibd/izz188. PMID: 31498864.
  10. de la Cuesta-Zuluaga J, Mueller NT, Álvarez-Quintero R, Velásquez-Mejía EP, Sierra JA, Corrales-Agudelo V, et al. Higher Fecal Short-Chain Fatty Acid Levels Are Associated with Gut Microbiome Dysbiosis, Obesity, Hypertension and Cardiometabolic Disease Risk Factors. Nutrients. 2018 Dec 27;11(1). DOI: 10.3390/nu11010051. PMID: 30591685. PMCID: PMC6356834.
  11. Banasiewicz T, Krokowicz Ł, Stojcev Z, Kaczmarek BF, Kaczmarek E, Maik J, et al. Microencapsulated sodium butyrate reduces the frequency of abdominal pain in patients with irritable bowel syndrome. Colorectal Dis. 2013 Feb;15(2):204–9. DOI: 10.1111/j.1463-1318.2012.03152.x. PMID: 22738315.
  12. Facchin S, Vitulo N, Calgaro M, Buda A, Romualdi C, Pohl D, et al. Microbiota changes induced by microencapsulated sodium butyrate in patients with inflammatory bowel disease. Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2020 Oct;32(10):e13914. DOI: 10.1111/nmo.13914. PMID: 32476236. PMCID: PMC7583468.
  13. Valcheva R, Koleva P, Martínez I, Walter J, Gänzle MG, Dieleman LA. Inulin-type fructans improve active ulcerative colitis associated with microbiota changes and increased short-chain fatty acids levels. Gut Microbes. 2019;10(3):334–57. DOI: 10.1080/19490976.2018.1526583. PMID: 30395776. PMCID: PMC6546336.
  14. Krokowicz L, Stojcev Z, Kaczmarek BF, Kociemba W, Kaczmarek E, Walkowiak J, et al. Microencapsulated sodium butyrate administered to patients with diverticulosis decreases incidence of diverticulitis–a prospective randomized study. Int J Colorectal Dis. 2014 Mar;29(3):387–93. DOI: 10.1007/s00384-013-1807-5. PMID: 24343275. PMCID: PMC3936115.
  15. Krokowicz L, Kaczmarek BF, Krokowicz P, Stojcev Z, Mackiewicz J, Walkowiak J, et al. Sodium butyrate and short chain fatty acids in prevention of travellers’ diarrhoea: a randomized prospective study. Travel Med Infect Dis. 2014 Apr;12(2):183–8. DOI: 10.1016/j.tmaid.2013.08.008. PMID: 24063909.
  16. Jamka M, Kokot M, Kaczmarek N, Bermagambetova S, Nowak JK, Walkowiak J. The Effect of Sodium Butyrate Enemas Compared with Placebo on Disease Activity, Endoscopic Scores, and Histological and Inflammatory Parameters in Inflammatory Bowel Diseases: A Systematic Review of Randomised Controlled Trials. Complement Med Res. 2021;28(4):344–56. DOI: 10.1159/000512952. PMID: 33352566.
  17. Ong DK, Mitchell SB, Barrett JS, Shepherd SJ, Irving PM, Biesiekierski JR, et al. Manipulation of dietary short chain carbohydrates alters the pattern of gas production and genesis of symptoms in irritable bowel syndrome. J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2010 Aug;25(8):1366–73. DOI: 10.1111/j.1440-1746.2010.06370.x. PMID: 20659225.
  18. Hustoft TN, Hausken T, Ystad SO, Valeur J, Brokstad K, Hatlebakk JG, et al. Effects of varying dietary content of fermentable short-chain carbohydrates on symptoms, fecal microenvironment, and cytokine profiles in patients with irritable bowel syndrome. Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2017 Apr;29(4). DOI: 10.1111/nmo.12969. PMID: 27747984.
  19. van Lanen A-S, de Bree A, Greyling A. Efficacy of a low-FODMAP diet in adult irritable bowel syndrome: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Eur J Nutr. 2021 Sep;60(6):3505–22. DOI: 10.1007/s00394-020-02473-0. PMID: 33585949. PMCID: PMC8354978.
  20. Schumann D, Klose P, Lauche R, Dobos G, Langhorst J, Cramer H. Low fermentable, oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyol diet in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutrition. 2018 Jan;45:24–31. DOI: 10.1016/j.nut.2017.07.004. PMID: 29129233.
  21. Zhong C, Qu C, Wang B, Liang S, Zeng B. Probiotics for Preventing and Treating Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth: A Meta-Analysis and Systematic Review of Current Evidence. J Clin Gastroenterol. 2017 Apr;51(4):300–11. DOI: 10.1097/MCG.0000000000000814. PMID: 28267052.
  22. Soifer LO, Peralta D, Dima G, Besasso H. [Comparative clinical efficacy of a probiotic vs. an antibiotic in the treatment of patients with intestinal bacterial overgrowth and chronic abdominal functional distension: a pilot study]. Acta Gastroenterol Latinoam. 2010 Dec;40(4):323–7. PMID: 21381407.
  23. Yuan F, Ni H, Asche CV, Kim M, Walayat S, Ren J. Efficacy of Bifidobacterium infantis 35624 in patients with irritable bowel syndrome: a meta-analysis. Curr Med Res Opin. 2017 Jul;33(7):1191–7. DOI: 10.1080/03007995.2017.1292230. PMID: 28166427.
  24. Tiequn B, Guanqun C, Shuo Z. Therapeutic effects of Lactobacillus in treating irritable bowel syndrome: a meta-analysis. Intern Med. 2015;54(3):243–9. DOI: 10.2169/internalmedicine.54.2710. PMID: 25748731.
  25. McFarland LV, Dublin S. Meta-analysis of probiotics for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome. World J Gastroenterol. 2008 May 7;14(17):2650–61. DOI: 10.3748/wjg.14.2650. PMID: 18461650. PMCID: PMC2709042.
  26. Whelan K. Probiotics and prebiotics in the management of irritable bowel syndrome:  a review of recent clinical trials and systematic reviews. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2011 Nov;14(6):581–7. DOI: 10.1097/MCO.0b013e32834b8082. PMID: 21892075.
  27. Ford AC, Quigley EMM, Lacy BE, Lembo AJ, Saito YA, Schiller LR, et al. Efficacy of prebiotics, probiotics, and synbiotics in irritable bowel syndrome and chronic idiopathic constipation: systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Gastroenterol. 2014 Oct;109(10):1547–61; quiz 1546, 1562. DOI: 10.1038/ajg.2014.202. PMID: 25070051.
  28. Hoveyda N, Heneghan C, Mahtani KR, Perera R, Roberts N, Glasziou P. A systematic review and meta-analysis: probiotics in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome. BMC Gastroenterol. 2009 Feb 16;9:15. DOI: 10.1186/1471-230X-9-15. PMID: 19220890. PMCID: PMC2656520.
  29. Pabón-Carrasco M, Ramirez-Baena L, Vilar-Palomo S, Castro-Méndez A, Martos-García R, Rodríguez-Gallego I. Probiotics as a Coadjuvant Factor in Active or Quiescent Inflammatory Bowel Disease of Adults-A Meta-Analytical Study. Nutrients. 2020 Aug 28;12(9). DOI: 10.3390/nu12092628. PMID: 32872272. PMCID: PMC7551006.
  30. Losurdo G, Iannone A, Contaldo A, Ierardi E, Di Leo A, Principi M. Escherichia coli Nissle 1917 in Ulcerative Colitis Treatment: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. J Gastrointestin Liver Dis. 2015 Dec;24(4):499–505. DOI: 10.15403/jgld.2014.1121.244.ecn. PMID: 26697577.
  31. Avalueva EB, Uspenskiĭ IP, Tkachenko EI, Sitkin SI. [Use of Saccharomyces boulardii in treating patients inflammatory bowel diseases (clinical trial)]. Eksp Klin Gastroenterol. 2010;(7):103–11. PMID: 21033091.
  32. Vandeputte D, Joossens M. Effects of Low and High FODMAP Diets on Human Gastrointestinal Microbiota Composition in Adults with Intestinal Diseases: A Systematic Review. Microorganisms. 2020 Oct 23;8(11). DOI: 10.3390/microorganisms8111638. PMID: 33114017. PMCID: PMC7690730.
  33. Sindhu KNC, Sowmyanarayanan TV, Paul A, Babji S, Ajjampur SSR, Priyadarshini S, et al. Immune response and intestinal permeability in children with acute gastroenteritis treated with Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Clin Infect Dis. 2014 Apr;58(8):1107–15. DOI: 10.1093/cid/ciu065. PMID: 24501384. PMCID: PMC3967829.
  34. Lamprecht M, Bogner S, Schippinger G, Steinbauer K, Fankhauser F, Hallstroem S, et al. Probiotic supplementation affects markers of intestinal barrier, oxidation, and inflammation in trained men; a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012 Sep 20;9(1):45. DOI: 10.1186/1550-2783-9-45. PMID: 22992437. PMCID: PMC3465223.
  35. Marinova VY, Rasheva IK, Kizheva YK, Dermenzhieva YD, Hristova PK. Microbiological quality of probiotic dietary supplements. Biotechnology & Biotechnological Equipment. 2019 Jan 1;33(1):834–41. DOI: 10.1080/13102818.2019.1621208.
➕ Links & Resources

Need help or would like to learn more?
View Dr. Ruscio’s, DC additional resources

Get Help


I care about answering your questions and sharing my knowledge with you. Leave a comment or connect with me on social media asking any health question you may have and I just might incorporate it into our next listener questions podcast episode just for you!