Reviewed by Dr. Michael Kessler, DC — Butyrate, or butyric acid, is a short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) that is highly abundant in the gut. It is created when healthful gut bacteria break down dietary fiber. So, the amount you have in your body could be related to your total fiber intake.
Some people take butyrate as a dietary supplement, but is this necessary? Read on to find out more about butyric acid.
What Is Butyrate (Butyric Acid)?
Your body doesn’t digest and absorb fiber like it does other nutrients. Instead, it uses the macronutrient as food to fuel the healthy microorganisms living in your microbiome. Butyric acid is a byproduct of their dining.
There is a genetic component to circulating butyrate levels as well, but it’s likely that the amounts are more closely associated with your diet.
Butyric acid is also found in animal- and plant-based food products in small amounts, compared to what is in your gut. Butter, for example, is a good source of dietary butyrate, but features only a fraction of what your body manufactures naturally.
The best way to get butyric acid, therefore, may be by increasing your intake of dietary fiber.
SCFAs are thought to provide colon cells with energy. There is also limited research to suggest that butyric acid, in particular, may offer some specific health benefits.
The Health Benefits of Butyrate (Butyric Acid)
Research highlighting the specific benefits of butyric acid is lacking, but there is some. Studies have found that butyrate is the preferred energy source for colon cells and meets a significant portion of their fuel needs.
That said, considering that butyric acid is a byproduct of fiber, and that fiber intake is associated with a host of health benefits (while also being the best way to increase butyrate in the gut), it is likely that boosting your butyric acid intake will lead to similar benefits.
Here are a few evidence-supported benefits of butyric acid:
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Crohn’s Disease
There is some research to suggest that butyric acid supplementation may help ease the symptoms of IBS and Crohn’s disease.
One double-blind, randomized controlled study found that adults given a 300 milligram (mg) daily dose of sodium butyrate reported less abdominal pain compared to those on a placebo.
Another small study showed that patients with mild Crohn’s disease reported improved symptoms after taking 4 g per day for eight weeks.
Research on animals and individual cells have shown that butyric acid might stop colon cancer cell growth and replication, and enhance cell death.
There is also evidence that a high-fiber diet may help reduce the risk for colon cancer.
Fiber intake is associated with slower blood sugar absorption and improved insulin sensitivity, as well as a lower risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes. There is also evidence indicating that people with type 2 diabetes have lower amounts of butyric acid in their gut than non-diabetics.
Although it is possible that butyric acid supplementation may improve insulin resistance, it has not been proven in humans. Increasing your intake of dietary fiber, however, may help.
SCFAs play a role in immune response regulation, and butyric acid may help fight inflammation.
There is no data to confirm that supplementing with butyrate or eating more butyrate-rich foods will help fight inflammation or improve immune response. However, fiber-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are associated with greater immune health and lower levels of inflammation.
The Best Sources of Butyric Acid
The best source of butyric acid is your own gut. You can boost production by increasing your fiber intake.
Supplements might be the second-best source because of their concentrated dosing, but they are a far second. Use them only if a doctor recommends them.
You can also find small servings of butyric acid in the following foods:
- Ghee (a clarified butter commonly used in South Asian cooking)
- Cow’s milk
- Sheep’s milk
- Goat’s milk
- Parmesan cheese
- Red meat
- Vegetable oil
Those with lactose or casein intolerance should avoid the dairy (especially cow) sources.
As mentioned, boosting your fiber intake can help ramp up butyrate production in your gut. Therefore, increasing the number of resistant starches (also called prebiotics) in your diet might be the best way to increase butyric acid.
Foods that stimulate SCFA production include:
Virtually any high-fiber food can help.
How to Use Butyrate Supplements
If you have digestive issues that prevent you from eating high-fiber foods, you might want to supplement with butyric acid supplements.
At this point, there is not enough research to suggest therapeutic doses. Toxicity levels, if they exist, have also not been determined. There is research to suggest that 300 mg of sodium butyrate is safe and effective for at least four weeks of use.
Consult your doctor before using a butyric acid supplement.
Butyrate Side Effects
Naturally boosting your butyrate levels by increasing your intake of fiber-rich foods is unlikely to have any side effects.
If you don’t currently eat much fiber, you may notice some slight bloating, gas, and indigestion for a few weeks. This will pass as your body adjusts to the dietary change. Getting between 28 and 38 g of fiber per day is recommended.
The best dietary sources of butyric acid are also high in saturated fats. If you have heart disease or heart disease risk factors, you will want to limit your intake of these foods. There is also such a small amount of butyric acid in the foods that they are unlikely to make a noticeable difference.
To date, there is very little evidence surrounding the safety of butyric acid supplements. It is recommended to avoid these supplements if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. As always, talk to your doctor before taking any nutritional supplements.
Increase Your Fiber Intake to Get the Benefits of Butyric Acid
If you are thinking about taking a butyric acid supplement, you might want to refocus and consider eating more fiber-rich prebiotic foods. They offer everything you need to grow and feed the population of healthy bacteria in your gut. In turn, they will supply you with all the butyrate you need.
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