Butyrate is a short-chain fatty acid that’s like a superfood for your intestines. It keeps your colon cells healthy, reduces inflammation, boosts your immune system, and improves gut health.
Experts claim that it can also reduce the risk of colorectal cancer and protect you from gut disorders like inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, and insulin resistance.
But how exactly does it work? And is it something you should take as a supplement?
Read on to learn about the beneficial effects of this SCFA, how to get more into your diet, and whether or not it’s a good idea to supplement with this anti-inflammatory organic compound.
Butyrate is a short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) that’s made by the good bacteria — probiotics — that are part of your gut microbiome.
When you eat dietary fiber, it passes through your stomach in one piece. That’s because you don’t have the right enzymes to break it down. But, your gut bacteria do. Fiber is one of their favorite sources of fuel, and this fermentation of dietary fiber has enormous beneficial effects.
When your gut bacteria break down certain types of fiber (called prebiotics), they make three beneficial short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). These SCFAs include acetate, propionate, and butyrate. And they’re the main energy source in your digestive tract.
SCFAs also provide about 10% of your total daily energy, by calories[*].
Your body’s butyrate concentration depends on a few different things: your gut microbiota, how much prebiotic fiber you eat, your inflammation levels (and inflammatory responses), and more.
But you don’t have to rely solely on gut flora. You can get it from foods like butter, cheese, and other high-fat dairy products. You can also take it as a supplement.
You may read about butyric acid or see it listed on supplement labels. But is it the same thing as butyrate?
For all practical purposes, yes.
Butyric acid and butyrate are different forms of the same molecule. Butyric acid is the form that you’ll find in food and many supplements.
Butyrate has several beneficial effects. It may be helpful for weight loss, insulin resistance, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and more.
Here are four specific butyrate benefits to consider when deciding whether or not you want to supplement with this compound. Of course, always consult your physician.
#1: Weight Loss
Weight gain is a big problem in the modern world. Nearly 40% of American adults are obese[*].
If you’re looking to lose a few pounds, nothing beats a high-quality diet — but butyrate may help you slim down by balancing your metabolism and increasing your energy expenditure (or the number of calories you burn).
Also, researchers have shown that (in mice) butyrate turns off a genetic receptor called PPAR-γ (“PPAR gamma”), which is a fat gene. In other words, it makes you store fat more easily. Turning it off may make it easier to lose weight[*].
Finally, the short-chain fatty acid affects two gut hormones called GLP-1 and peptide YY. Both of these hormones help control your hunger. Getting more butyrate in your gut positively affects these hormones. As a result, you have less of an appetite, making it more comfortable for you to stay in a mild calorie deficit[*].
But while the short-chain fatty acid may help with weight loss, it shouldn’t be your main weight loss tool. Start with a healthy nutrition plan, like the keto diet, then try increasing butyric acid to hit your goals.
#2: Colon Cancer
Colon cancer is the third most common cancer in the United States, with about 100,000 new cases reported each year[*]. Some research suggests that butyrate may play an important role in preventing and treating this disease of the large intestine.
One of the most promising new treatments for colon cancer is using histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitors, special drugs that make it harder for cancer to spread and can kill off cancer cells[*].
Butyrate is a natural HDAC inhibitor. In other words, it reduces cell proliferation, helps kill unneeded cells, and affects cancer-related gene expression[*].
For instance, rats fed wheat bran, a prebiotic fiber, had better cancer protection than rats fed other types of fiber[*]. Resistant starch — a prebiotic fiber found in legumes, unripe bananas, and potatoes — had a similar effect on colon cancer cells in rats[*].
In one rodent study, mice fed a certain bacteria (Butyrivibrio fibrisolvens) had more butyrate and fewer precancerous colonic lesions[*].
This is still a fairly new area of study, and most of the research for colorectal cancer is done with animal models, so take it with a grain of salt.
While the evidence shows promise against cancer in rodents, it’s too soon to say for sure whether the benefits apply to the human colon.
#3: Gut Disorders
Butyrate fuels your gut cells, decreases inflammation, and strengthens your intestinal wall, which can make it useful for a variety of gut conditions.
Your intestinal cells act as a barrier by forming a tight junction between you and the food you eat. Nutrients are allowed in, and toxins are filtered out. That’s how it’s supposed to work.
But sometimes — due to infection, an overactive immune response, poor diet, colonic inflammation, toxins, or even stress — the intestinal barrier can develop tiny holes. This is called leaky gut, and it’s connected to many chronic gut conditions, from IBS to Crohn’s to ulcerative colitis[*].
Fixing leaky gut is complicated, but butyrate can be part of the equation.
The SCFA helps repair and enhance gut barrier function by increasing protective mucus around your intestinal wall[*][*]. It also tightens the junctions in the large intestine, so its contents can’t leak out[*].
If your gut barrier is a picket fence, butyric acid helps repair that fence and fills in the gaps between the posts.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Leaky gut is strongly linked to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) — a collection of chronic symptoms that includes abnormal bowel habits and recurrent stomach pain[*].
In one study, 66 IBS patients were given sodium butyrate or placebo (along with standard IBS pharmacology) for four weeks. By the end of the trial, the butyrate group had significant improvements in pain when going to the bathroom. However, they didn’t see improvements in gas, stomach pain, or stool consistency[*].
Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that typically affects the small intestine, though it may inflame any part of the gastrointestinal tract. Although the data for Crohn’s is limited, it’s promising.
In one trial, researchers gave 13 Crohn’s patients 4 grams of butyrate per day for eight weeks. Of the 13 patients, seven achieved total remission, and two achieved partial remission. The scientists believe this effect was a result of its anti-inflammatory effect on gut cells[*].
#4: Anti-Inflammatory Effects
Inflammation is not a gut-specific issue. It’s usually chronic and systemic, which means it happens all over your body. Chronic inflammation seems to play a role in a lot of different diseases, from obesity to diabetes to cancer[*].
Butyrate is a powerful anti-inflammatory — not just in your gut, but in the rest of your body, too. The short-chain fatty acid lowers inflammation in several ways, but the main pathway is through a transcription factor called NF-κB[*].
Think of NF-κB as a switch that turns hundreds of other switches that can cause inflammation on or off.
The easiest way to get more butyric acid is to eat more dietary fiber.
Certain types of fiber and starch are food for your gut bacteria. You can’t digest these fibers, but your gut bacteria can. And when they do, they make butyrate.
Some types of fiber are better at this than others. Resistant starch is one of those fibers[*].
Some foods high in resistant starch include:
- Under-ripe bananas
- Cooked and cooled rice
Along with resistant starch, you can also eat a variety of other prebiotics, like oat bran, pectin, guar, inulin, and fructans.
Prebiotic fiber-rich foods include:
- Jerusalem artichokes
Butyric Acid in Foods
You can also eat foods rich in butyric acid.
Dairy is the best source. That’s because cows produce a lot of butyrate (and other SCFAs) in their guts when they digest the plants they eat.
Foods naturally high in butyric acid include:
Pro tip: Choose raw or cultured dairy products from grass-fed or pasture-raised cows as much as possible. As a bonus, these foods are also perfect keto foods.
If you don’t want to change your diet, you can take a supplement instead.
There’s no one-size-fits-all rule for how much you need, but human studies usually use between 300-600 mg[*]. So, you might want to start with about 300 mg per day.
There are no reported side effects to taking butyrate orally, but it can irritate your lungs if you inhale it. That said, people have taken up to 41 grams (41,000 mg) a day with no serious side effects[*].
Should You Supplement With Butyrate?
Butyrate supplements are promising, but research is still in the early stages. Without more evidence in humans, it’s hard to say whether taking a supplement is helpful.
Instead, focus on increasing your body’s own butyrate production.
Feed your gut bacteria plenty of dietary fiber. The best forms are resistant starch, pectin, guar, and other prebiotics. Get plenty of leafy greens, as well.
As for keto-friendly fats high in butyric acid? Stick with full-fat dairy like grass-fed butter.