Butyrate is a short-chain fatty acid that’s like superfood for your intestines. It powers your colon cells, reduces inflammation, and improves the health of your gut lining.
Experts claim that butyrate can protect against colorectal cancer and offer an array of gut health benefits. It may also protect against gut disorders like inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, and insulin resistance.
But how exactly does butyrate work? And is this something you should take as a supplement?
This article will cover the benefits of butyrate, how to get more into your diet, and whether or not you should supplement with this anti-inflammatory organic compound.
Butyrate is a short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) produced by good bacteria in your gut.
When you eat fiber, it passes through your stomach intact — you lack the enzymes to break fiber down. However, your gut bacteria do have the enzymes to break down fiber. In fact, fiber is one of their favorite sources of fuel.
When your gut bacteria break down certain types of fiber (called prebiotics), they make three beneficial short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs): acetate, propionate, and butyrate. These SCFAs are the main energy source for your intestinal cells, and also provide about 10% of your total daily energy, by calories[*].
Butyrate provides 60-70% of the energy your intestinal cells use, making butyrate the main fuel source in your digestive tract[*].
That’s what makes this compound essential for good digestion, it and can also help prevent stomach pain, diarrhea, and ulcers[*]. Butyrate is also anti-inflammatory and protects your gut from oxidative stress.
Your butyrate levels depend on a few different things: your gut microbiota, how much prebiotic fiber you eat, your inflammation levels, and more.
But you don’t have to rely solely on gut flora for butyrate. You can also get preformed butyrate in butter, cheese, and other high-fat dairy products. You can also take butyrate supplements, which you’ll read about below.
You may read about butyric acid or see it listed on supplement labels. Are butyrate and butyric acid the same?
For all practical purposes, yes.
Butyric acid and butyrate are different forms of the same molecule. Butyric acid is the form of butyrate you’ll find in food and many supplements. You can treat butyric acid and butyrate as the same thing.
Butyrate is good for you in a bunch of different ways. It may be helpful for weight loss, insulin resistance, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and more.
Here are four benefits of butyrate.
#1: Weight Loss
Nearly 40% of American adults are obese[*]. Weight gain is a challenge in the modern world. If you’re looking to lose a few pounds, nothing beats a sustainable, high-quality diet — but butyrate may help you slim down a little quicker.
Also, researchers have shown that (in mice) butyrate turns off a genetic receptor called PPAR-γ (“PPAR gamma”). PPAR-γ is a fat gene — it makes you store fat more easily, and turning it off with butyrate may make it easier to lose weight[*].
Finally, butyrate affects two gut hormones, GLP-1 and peptide YY, both of which control your hunger. Getting more butyrate in your gut influences these hormones, which may suppress appetite and make it more comfortable for you to stay in a mild calorie deficit[*].
Butyrate may help with weight loss, although it shouldn’t be your main weight loss tool. Start with sustainable nutrition that helps you feel your best, then try increasing your butyrate to hit your goals faster.
#2: Colon Cancer
Colon cancer is the third most common cancer, with about 100,000 new cases reported each year in the United States[*]. Some research suggests that butyrate may serve as a potential therapy in the prevention and treatment of 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 — it reduces cell proliferation, helps kill off unneeded cells, and affects cancer-related gene expression[*].
This is still a fairly new area of study, so take it with a grain of salt. Most of the research on butyrate for colorectal cancer is on rodents.
For instance, rats fed butyrate-increasing fiber (wheat bran) had better cancer protection than rats fed other types of fiber[*]. Resistant starch — a butyrate-boosting type of fiber found in legumes, unripe bananas, and potatoes — had a similar effect on colon cancer cells in rats[*].
In one final rodent-study, mice fed a butyrate-producing bacteria (Butyrivibrio fibrisolvens) had, after the trial period, more butyrate and fewer precancerous colonic lesions[*].
So, butyrate shows promise against cancer in rodents, although it’s too soon to say for sure whether the benefits apply to humans.
#3: Gut Disorders
Butyrate fuels your gut cells, decreases inflammation, and strengthens your intestinal wall, which can make butyrate useful for a variety of gut conditions.
Butyrate and leaky gut
Your intestinal cells act as a barrier between you and the food you eat. Nutrients are allowed in, toxins are filtered out. That’s how it’s supposed to work.
But sometimes — due to infection, poor diet, inflammation, toxins, or even stress — the intestinal barrier can develop tiny holes. This is called leaky gut or intestinal permeability, and it underlies many chronic gut conditions, from IBS to Crohn’s to ulcerative colitis[*].
Fixing leaky gut is complicated, but butyrate is clearly part of the equation. Butyrate helps repair and enhance gut barrier function by increasing protective mucus around your intestinal wall[*]. Butyrate also tightens the junctions through which your gut contents can leak out.
If your gut barrier is a picket fence, butyrate helps repair that fence and fills in the gaps between the posts.
Butyrate and IBS
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 during defecation. Butyrate did not, however, promote improvement in gas, abdominal pain, and stool consistency[*].
Butyrate and Crohn’s Disease
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. The data on butyrate for Crohn’s is limited, yet 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 driven by butyrate’s anti-inflammatory effect on gut cells[*].
Inflammation is not a gut-specific issue but rather a chronic, systemic issue. 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.
Butyrate lowers inflammation via many pathways, but the main pathway involves a transcription factor called NF-κB[*].
Think of NF-κB as a switch that turns on or off hundreds of other inflammatory switches.
The simplest way to get more butyrate in your system is to eat more fiber-rich food.
Certain types of fiber and starch serve as food for your gut bacteria. You can’t digest these fibers, but your gut bacteria can. And when they do, they produce butyrate as a byproduct.
In terms of butyrate production, some types of fiber are better than others. Resistant starch is one such fiber, and diets rich in resistant starch can help your gut bacteria make more butyrate[*].
Foods rich in resistant starch include:
- Under-ripe bananas
- Cooked and cooled rice
Along with resistant starch, you can also eat a variety of other prebiotics for butyrate production like oat bran, pectin, guar, inulin, and fructans.
Foods rich in prebiotic fiber include:
- Jerusalem artichokes
Butyric Acid in Foods
You can also eat foods rich in butyric acid, the food-based form of butyrate.
The best source of butyrate is dairy from cows. That’s because cows produce loads of butyrate (and other SCFAs) in their guts by digesting plant material.
Foods naturally high in butyrate include:
Pro tip: Favor raw or cultured dairy products from grass-fed or pasture-raised cows. As a bonus, these butyrate-rich foods are also perfect keto foods.
If you don’t want to change your diet (or if you want extra butyrate), you can also take a butyrate supplement.
There’s no established protocol for butyrate supplementation, but human studies usually use between 300-600 mg of butyrate, either as butyric acid or as sodium butyrate[*]. So, you might want to start with about 300 mg per day.
There are no reported side effects to taking butyrate orally (although it can irritate your lungs if you inhale it), and people have taken up to 41 grams (41,000 mg) a day with no toxicity[*].
The Takeaway: Should You Supplement with Butyrate?
Butyrate supplements are promising, but they’re still in the early stages of research. And without more evidence in humans, it’s hard to say whether taking a butyrate supplement is helpful.
Instead, focus on boosting your internal butyrate production.
Feed your gut bacteria resistant starch, pectin, guar, and other prebiotics, and get plenty of leafy greens. As for keto-friendly fats high in butyrate? Stick with full-fat dairy like grass-fed butter.