Did you know that your gut is teeming with trillions of microscopic organisms? While this might seem creepy and even a little gross at first, these little microbes are actually incredibly important. You see, the relationship between us as humans and these itty-bitty invaders is what’s known as symbiotic – meaning we both benefit from our intermingling.
One example of this mutually beneficial, symbiotic relationship can be found in the production of a little molecule known as butyrate. We house and feed microbes, and they, in turn, create butyrate which boosts our health and improves the condition of their home – your gut.
Today we’re going to explore exactly what butyrate is, how it’s produced by our microbiome, why it’s so crucial for gut health, and most importantly – how you can support optimal levels of this mighty molecule.
What Is Butyrate and How Is It Made?
Butyrate, also referred to as butyric acid, is a type of short-chain fatty acid. Fatty acids are a class of compounds that make up the building blocks of fat within your body and in food. Butyrate, along with other short-chain fatty acids, is produced in your gut via a process that goes something like this:1,2
- Step 1: When you consume foods that contain fiber – a specific type of carbohydrate that your digestive tract can’t break down on its own – it travels through your gut largely undigested.
- Step 2: Once this undigested fiber reaches your large intestine it begins mingling with the bacteria in your microbiome – the ecosystem of microscopic organisms that inhabit your gut.
- Step 3: As these molecules of fibrous food interact with this conglomeration of bacteria, specific strains of microbes begin chowing down on the undigested fiber.
- Step 4: These microbes consume and digest the fiber – disassembling the molecules to extract nutrients and energy in a process known as fermentation.
- Step 5: As dietary fiber is broken down and fermented, there are a number of by-products created – one of which is the short-chain fatty acid butyrate.
- Step 6: Butyrate and the other by-products produced by these fiber-loving microbes are then released into your gut where it begins working its magic and exerting a wide range of health benefits.
Let’s zoom in on exactly what these health benefits include.
What Are the Health Benefits of Butyrate?
Some of the health benefits linked to this short-chain fatty acid include:3,4,5,6,7
- Increased sensitivity to insulin and reduced body fat
- Improved brain health and protection against neurodegeneration (the breakdown of the protective covering that shields your nerve cells)
- Decreased inflammation
- A more balanced immune response
- Decreased risk of serious gut-based conditions like colon cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, and Crohn’s disease
These are just a handful of the health benefits linked to butyrate. But these impressive health benefits all circle back, at least in part, to the same underlying mechanism of action – improved gut health. You see, where butyrate really shines, is in its role in promoting the health of your digestive tract.
And improved gut health has a ripple effect that then positively impacts every other aspect of your well-being. Let’s dive into exactly how butyrate is able to supercharge your gut health.
Butyrate and Gut Health: Why It’s So Important
Butyrate is a heavy hitter when it comes to supporting and bolstering the health of your digestive system. Research has found that this mighty molecule plays a pivotal role in:8,9,10,11
Serving As the Primary Source of Fuel for Colonocytes:
Colonocytes are the specialized type of cells that line your gut. These cells have a hefty role, serving as a sort of “gatekeeper” between the environment within your digestive tract and the rest of your body. And these cells' favorite food source is butyrate – with butyrate serving as the colonocyte's primary fuel source.
Your colonocytes are wholly dependent on the butyrate derived from your microbiome and without adequate amounts, these gut cells simply can’t perform at optimal levels.
Keeping the Integrity of Your Gut Lining Strong:
The cells that line the inside of your gut are designed to be packed in close and sealed up tight to serve as a selective barrier. This means they selectively allow nutrients and electrolytes to pass into your bloodstream while keeping toxins, harmful microbes, and waste sealed up tight to be eliminated. If this barrier is compromised, tiny gaps can develop and allow these damaging materials to essentially “leak” out of your gut and into your bloodstream – causing what’s known as leaky gut syndrome.
Butyrate helps keep the cells that line your intestine strong and well-fed – allowing them to maintain a strong and well-functioning intestinal barrier.
Regulating Blood Flow And Movement In Your Intestines:
Your intestines require lots of blood flow during digestion to properly shuttle nutrients from your gut to the rest of your body so they can be dispersed and utilized as energy. Your intestines also rely on regular and rhythmic contractions to keep material moving at a steady pace throughout your digestive tract. Without adequate blood flow and movement, your digestion can become sluggish – resulting in improper absorption, a buildup of waste, and oftentimes, an overgrowth of harmful bacteria in your gut.
Butyrate has been found to both stimulate muscle contractions in your digestive tract and boost blood flow.
Increasing Villi Height and Function:
Your intestines are lined with villi – tiny, finger-like projections that move in swaying, contracting motions. These structures may be itty-bitty, but they play a major role in nutrient absorption by maximizing intestinal surface area and serving as a transport channel – absorbing nutrients into your bloodstream to be utilized by your cells.
Butyrate is important for villi health and can increase the size and function of these microscopic projections – allowing them to more effectively absorb nutrients.
Boosting Production of Mucin:
Your gut is lined with a mucus layer that is composed of proteins called mucins. This mucousy, gel-like substance that lines your gut plays an essential role in:
- Shielding your cells from stomach acid, toxins, and other damaging compounds
- Providing lubrication for the passage of food and wastes along your GI tract
- Participating in cell signaling pathways and communication between your gut and the rest of your body
Studies have found that butyrate can stimulate the expression of the genes that regulate mucin production – upregulating the amount of mucin being released in the lining of your gut.
So, How Can I Increase My Butyrate Naturally?
Clearly butyrate packs a powerful punch when it comes to boosting the health of your digestive system. So how can you get more of this mighty molecule in your life? The secret to maximizing your butyrate levels is to support your own natural production of these health-boosting compounds by:
- Ensuring you have a diverse and thriving microbiome with a healthy population of butyrate-producing bacteria: Ideally, your gut should contain a plethora of beneficial microbes that all work together to keep your gut happy, healthy, and balanced. It can be helpful to regularly re-introduce these beneficial bacteria by taking a daily probiotic along with a spore-based probiotic.
- Eating plenty of fermentable fiber to provide those microbes with plenty of fuel: Your microbiome thrives on fermentable fiber – like the kind you’ll find in fruits, veggies, and legumes. If you need some help incorporating fiber-rich foods in your diet, be sure to check out my recipe library. If you struggle to get enough fiber in your diet, it can also be helpful to add in a fiber supplement like my Essential Fiber capsules.
- Keeping the integrity of your gut barrier strong and functional to properly house your microbiome: Your gut houses your microbiome – so it’s crucial to keep their “home” strong and secure by bolstering the integrity of your gut lining. Supplements like Gut Shield, Collagen Boost, and Gut Calm can help give your body the tools it needs to beef up your gut lining and keep it strong.
Optimizing your overall gut health will not only maximize your butyrate levels, but will have a positive effect on just about every facet of your well-being.
You Gut Truly Is the Gateway to Health
We’ve only begun to scratch the surface of just how important our microbiome is. But there’s no denying that the microbes that inhabit our gut and the life-sustaining compounds they create are key to creating the health, performance, happiness, and longevity we all deserve.
If you’re looking for some science-backed and simple-to-implement ways to boost your butyrate production, optimize your microbiome, and create vibrant health, I encourage you to browse through my blog and YouTube channel and subscribe to my weekly newsletter (all you have to do is enter your name and email in the form below). I’ve got hundreds of articles, interviews, and resources to help you take control of your health – and I drop new content every week.
And if you want a roadmap full of actionable, relatable, tips to help you craft a life full of not only health, but love, adventure, and resilience, you’ve got to get your hands on a copy of my newly released book Unexpected: Finding Resilience Through Functional Medicine, Science, and Faith. This book is a raw and honest account of my own challenges ranging from life-changing diagnosis to devastating heartbreak and how I turned them around to create a life beyond my wildest dreams. And I’ve taken all the tools I’ve gleaned from this journey – using Functional Medicine, science, and a whole lot of unwavering faith – and packaged them up to help you create your own extraordinary life.
Now it’s time to hear from you. Were you surprised to learn just how crucial butyrate is for gut health? What steps are you taking to keep your gut and microbiome happy and healthy? Leave your questions and thoughts in the comments below!
- Review article: short chain fatty acids in health and disease – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Butyrate: A Double-Edged Sword for Health? | Advances in Nutrition | Oxford Academic (oup.com)
- Butyrate improves insulin sensitivity and increases energy expenditure in mice – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Butyrate suppresses demyelination and enhances remyelination | Journal of Neuroinflammation | Full Text (biomedcentral.com)
- Butyrate: A Double-Edged Sword for Health? | Advances in Nutrition | Oxford Academic (oup.com)
- Implications of butyrate and its derivatives for gut health and animal production – PMC (nih.gov)
- The Immunomodulatory Functions of Butyrate – PMC (nih.gov)
- Butyrate’s role in human health and the current progress towards its clinical application to treat gastrointestinal disease – Clinical Nutrition (clinicalnutritionjournal.com)
- Butyrate Enhances the Intestinal Barrier by Facilitating Tight Junction Assembly via Activation of AMP-Activated Protein Kinase in Caco-2 Cell Monolayers | The Journal of Nutrition | Oxford Academic (oup.com)
- Formation of short chain fatty acids by the gut microbiota and their impact on human metabolism – PMC (nih.gov)
- Dynamics of Human Gut Microbiota and Short-Chain Fatty Acids in Response to Dietary Interventions with Three Fermentable Fibers | mBio (asm.org)
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The product mentioned in this article are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information in this article is not intended to replace any recommendations or relationship with your physician. Please review references sited at end of article for scientific support of any claims made.