Butyrate: What Is It, Postbiotic Benefits, Butyrate Foods, and More

Updated March 2021

In the health and wellness community, butyrate has become a household name seemingly overnight as more awareness is surfacing surrounding its benefits for our microbiome. 

People who want to take advantage of butyrate’s health benefits may be wondering how they can increase their butyrate levels. Through supplementation and increased intake of specific foods, we can definitely raise our internal butyrate levels. 

Here we explain what butyrate is, how butyrate is produced by the body, the benefits of butyrate, what foods help improve butyrate production, and the types of butyrate supplements. 

Table of Contents

What is Butyrate?

Butyrate is a short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) produced by your microbiome within the colon. It is made by the bacterial fermentation of resistant starch in your gut. Healthy levels of butyrate in the gut promote a balanced microbiome, boost healthy gut function, encourage a healthy inflammation response, and support genetic expression by protecting DNA.*  SCFAs are fatty acids with fewer than six carbon atoms, and butyrate in particular has been studied extensively for its benefits on gastrointestinal, microbiome, digestive and cellular health.* 

Protect the gut, protect the whole body

Your digestive tract, from your mouth through the stomach, small intestine, large intestine, and all the way to the rectum, is the only place we intake substances from outside the body. Because of this, it is the most susceptible part of the body to inflammation and disease (especially with all of the pollutants and toxins in our modern world).  

Accordingly, most of our immune cells and the microbes that regulate those immune responses live in our digestive tract. When we feed those cells and the microbiome the right foods—primarily resistant starch and soluble fiber—then the microbiome is happy and appropriately regulates the immune system. The microbiome is responsible for creating the right immune cells and cell responses to different threats, maintaining the integrity of the intestinal wall, and producing the right nutrients to maintain homeostasis in the gut. One of these key nutrients is butyrate.   

Butyrate is especially important because it helps to repair the damage that pesticides, toxins, processed foods, drugs, and more have done to the lining of the gut. Research shows that the right levels of butyrate can help to support a healthy gut lining, reinforce the mucosal barrier, and keep you regular, moving those toxins and metabolic waste out of the body.* 

Is Butyrate the Same as Butyric Acid?

Butyric acid and butyrate are simply different forms of the same molecule. Butyric acid is the form that you’ll find in food and many supplements.

Butyric acid is also called butanoic acid. It’s a short chain fatty acid with four carbon atoms at its heart and is found in butter (hence its name) and other dairy products. When butter goes rancid, (i.e. when your Romano cheese sits on the kitchen table for a few hours at ninety degrees), you can experience the unfortunate aroma of butyric acid—a sharp, fermented, rather unpleasant smell. 

Butyric acid has a pH low enough to cause an upset stomach.  But when compounded with an alkali, it becomes more than just an agreeable friend. When an acid is mixed with a base, the combination forms a salt plus water. At this stage, we no longer have butyric acid, but butyrate, a buffered form of butyric acid. The terms might be used interchangeably because they have some commonality, but they are not the same.

As you’ll see, there are a few ways to make butyrate with butyric acid...

How Does the Body Produce Butyrate?

We get butyrate and other short-chain fatty acids from eating foods that are high in resistant starch. Resistant starch is a type of starch that’s quite literally “resistant” to digestion—meaning your body can’t break it down. Once resistant starch arrives in the colon intact, the good bacteria feed on it, producing butyrate—which provides essential energy to the cells that line the colon walls, also known as colonocytes.

Resistant starch

There are four types of resistant starch:

  • RS Type 1: RS Type 1 is physically inaccessible, bound within the fibrous cell walls of plants. Note that only plants have cell walls surrounding their membranes; animals have only cell membranes. This type of resistant starch is embedded in the coating of seeds, nuts, grains, and legumes.
  • RS Type 2: RS Type 2 is a starch with a high amylose content, indigestible in its raw state. Potatoes, unripe bananas and plantains reside in this group… until they’re cooked. 
  • RS Type 3: RS Type 3 is retrograde, called this because it transforms into resistant starch when cooked and then cooled. This occurs with foods like white potatoes and white rice. If reheated to a temperature lower than 130° F, it maintains its resistant nature and is able to feed colonocytes.
  • RS Type 4: An RS Type 4 does exist, but it’s synthetic and not recommended for human ingestion.

Butyrate-producing Bacteria

There are a few different types of bacteria in the colon that produce butyrate (that we know of so far). The main strains that account for our butyrate production are Faecalibacterium prausnitzii and Eubacterium rectale/Roseburia spp. The groups of bacteria that these strains belong to (think genus and species) make up between 5 and 10 percent of the total healthy bacteria in the stool samples of healthy people.[1]  

Butyrate and the Microbiome

Butyrate is both a product made by the microbiome as well as fuel for the microbiome, in a sense. When the good bacteria, specifically the Faecalibacterium and Eubacterium strains mentioned above, munch on those resistant starches, they create the butyrate that feeds our gut lining. Therefore, we can refer to butyrate and SCFAs as postbiotics, or a product created by bacteria in the microbiome that goes on to nourish our cells.[7]

A healthy gut lining is free from chronic inflammation and able to easily manage nutrient absorption and electrolyte balance, which means a healthier microbiome. Butyrate is a key player in this delicate ecosystem of the healthy microbiome.

Benefits of Butyrate

Butyrate is quite literally the food for the gut lining. Our gut colonocytes are tiny cells that line the colon in the gut and they are fueled by this important short-chain fatty acid. Proper levels of butyrate are vital to maintaining a healthy microbiome and supporting your gut health.* [4]

As a general overview, butyrate: 

  • Promotes gut/microbiome health*
  • Reinforces the mucosal barrier and modulates motility*
  • Functions as an HDAC inhibitor, meaning that it supports a healthy inflammation response by suppressing the activity of specific cells*
  • Supports healthy insulin response and healthy blood sugar regulation*
  • Promotes a healthy gut mucosa—Butyrate serves to close tight junctions and prevent the dysbiosis commonly known as leaky gut.*

Promotes Cell Differentiation*

Of the short-chain fatty acids, and those having fewer than six carbon atoms, butyrate is the one that most nourishes the gut and promotes cell differentiation, a process that helps to prevent serious colonic diseases.* When cells don’t differentiate and proliferate instead, tumors may develop, which may then eventually lead to cancer. 

Supports a Healthy Inflammation Response in the Gut* 

The fiery process of inflammation is linked to most chronic disorders, from heart disease to arthritis to type 2 diabetes. Inflammation fuels a cytokine known as interleukin-6 (IL-6), which remains elevated in chronic sickness. 

Butyrate is a rescue molecule in inflammatory diseases, where it impairs the oxidative processes that stir up inflammation.*  When inflammation is cooled at the source of chronic disease, the gut, the whole-body inflammatory response improves. 

Multi-purpose Repair from Gut to Brain

Butyrate inhibits enzymes that deleteriously unwind DNA, keeping our genetic instructions tightly spiralled and ready to create the proteins our bodies need.  

Butyrate also sequesters harmful ammonia that forms from faulty protein metabolism and/or from inborn metabolic errors. In clearing mental fog, it increases brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).* Depending on its concentration, butyrate decreases intestinal permeability, closing tight junctions and preventing leaky gut*.[3]

Butyrate Deficiency

At this point, you may be wondering if you’re deficient in butyrate, and how would you know if you are? We took this question to our resident expert, Dr. Tom, who let us know that the only way to truly know is by taking a comprehensive stool test. 

But, he also stated that if you’re not getting adequate fiber from starchy foods in your diet, chances are good you could use some extra butyrate. As we know, the SAD (Standard American Diet) is full of processed foods that are devoid of fiber and the 25-28 grams we need per day are severely lacking in many diets. 97% of Americans do not eat enough fiber! 

Butyrate levels in the gut can be negatively affected by high-protein, high-fat, low-carb diets. Keto and Paleo diets that restrict carbohydrates and fiber lack the starch needed to make your own butyrate. Carnivore diets can skew SCFA production away from producing Butyrate and see higher levels of propionate and acetate. If you are following such a diet and are experiencing gastrointestinal issues, consider slowly adding more fiber and resistant starch to your diet to increase your butyrate levels. If you can’t eat enough resistant starch or choose not to, butyrate supplementation may be a good option for you. 

Symptoms of Low Butyrate

Another way to determine if you may be deficient in butyrate is to consider common symptoms of those who are. These symptoms take time to develop and can include:

  • Leaky gut
  • Gas and bloating
  • Frequent illness from impaired immune function
  • Indigestion
  • Foggy thinking from faulty protein metabolism and consequent ammonia accumulation
  • Obesity
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Eventual IBS/IBD
  • Crohn's disease 
  • Behavioral irregularities
  • Aberrant fatty acid metabolism
  • Upset microbiome balance, which may look like candida overgrowth or another bacterial imbalance
  • Increases in inflammation markers
  • Reduced insulin sensitivity

Butyrate and Diet

Although supplemental butyrate has been used by integrative, and even allopathic, medicine, its endogenous manufacture is available—and free!—to those who eat the right foods. In many cases, this means slowly but measurably increasing our dietary fiber intake, which is lacking for so many people. 

Maintaining a Balanced Diet for Microbiome Health

The old school of thought was focusing on supporting our body with our diet–-the micro and macronutrients we need to run our cells. This is still the case, but now we know that we should always be thinking about supporting our microbiome as well when it comes to our dietary choices.

We know now that we share our bodies with the billions of bacteria, fungi and even viruses that make up our microbiome. And their health is just as crucial to our wellbeing as the health of our cells. They are important messengers and endogenous creators of compounds like butyrate that support our bodily processes. 

In many cases, dietary fiber is what feeds the microbiome, what you might have heard called prebioticsPrebiotic dietary fiber is what feeds our probiotics, which then create postbiotics, like butyrate. [5]

Butyrate Foods

butyrate foods

There are certain foods you can add or increase in your diet that either contain butyrate already, or they help the microbiome produce more butyrate in your gut. Here are a few notable examples.[6]

Dairy

Dairy contains butyric acid, and some foods contribute to its manufacture. Butter offers about 2.7 grams in a stick and parmesan cheese about 730 mg in 3.5 ounces. As tasty as it is, eating a quarter pound of butter is not recommended. But it can be a balanced part of your diet! 

Cold Rolled Oats

If you'd like to add some interest to your resistant starch regimen, try overnight cold rolled oats. Just put the oats into a mason jar or other suitable glass container and cover with non-dairy milk (but not soy) or plain water. Refrigerate overnight. Add berries and/or cinnamon, if you like. This cold recipe will give you 8 grams of resistant starch. Cooked oatmeal eaten hot offers about half a gram of RS.

Legumes

Butyrate is produced during the fermentation of undigested dietary fibre such as the resistant starch and galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) found in legumes. Beans, peas, and lentils (and their skins) are a good source of fiber and resistant starch, making them beneficial for digestion. As with many foods in this category, their butyrate levels increase when cooled after cooking.

If you’re starting to add more legumes into your diet, remember to go slow and notice how your body responds. It’s totally fine to start with a few spoonfuls a day and increase from there. Interestingly, beans are the only food that all “blue zone” diets have in common, making them a dramatically undervalued superfood.[2]

Cooled Potatoes

Potatoes contain resistant starches when cooked, then cooled.

Cooled Rice

Rice, when cooled for at least 24 hours, also creates resistant starch.

Underripe Bananas + Plantain Flour

When choosing bananas, go for the green. They may taste less sweet but they are higher in resistant starch. Plantains are more resistant to digestion as well, so trying plantain flour may help increase levels of butyrate.

Whole Grains + Prebiotic Fibers 

You can also get resistant starch from whole grains, fibrous vegetables such as asparagus and broccoli stems, the peels of some fruits, like apples, and other cellulose sources. As always with any food you incorporate into your diet, it’s important to observe your body carefully and notice how your digestion reacts. 

Is It Possible to Get Enough Butyrate Through Diet Alone?

All gut microbiomes are not created equal. That means we cannot necessarily make the same butyrate levels as our friends. Trying to get 25 grams of fiber a day is a noble venture, but one that seems elusive to even the best intentions. Fortunately, you can amplify your endogenous butyrate production with supplemental butyrate. 

Types of Butyrate Supplements 

Butyrate Salts 

BodyBio’s butyrates (We have three kinds!) are simply butyrate, a thirteen-atom complex joined to an alkali. Butyric acid, butyrate and tributyrin are ingredients you may see in this category of supplements. While their names vary slightly, they all have the same purpose with different characteristics. 

At BodyBio, we use butyric acid, aka butanoic acid, a short-chain fatty acid with four carbon atoms at its heart (found in butter, hence its name). As an acid, it has a low pH, so we compound it with an alkali, a combination that forms a salt and water.  At this stage, we no longer have butyric acid, but butyrate, a buffered form of butyric acid.

This powder is covered with MCT from palm kernel oil. This is how it gets to the colon somewhat intact. If at least a little butyrate didn't get partially digested and enter the bloodstream through the walls of the small intestine, it wouldn't be able to act as an ammonia sequestrant, an HDAC inhibitor, a systemic anti-inflammatory agent, and a glucose modulator/appetite suppressant.*

Glycerol-bound Butyrate: Tributyrin 

Glycerol-bound butyrate is called tributyrin–-3 butyrates attached to a glycerol. Now, before we explain tributyrin any further, it helps to understand the concept of a prodrug.  In this case, “pro” has nothing to do with for or against, but with precursor.  

The term describes compounds that must undergo chemical changes within the body prior to exerting their pharmacological or therapeutic actions.  One example is aspirin, which is the prodrug for salicylic acid. Aspirin, you see, is less corrosive to the pathways of the GI system. We may want the benefits of salicylic acid, but in order to get them internally, we take aspirin so that the body can convert it to salicylic acid without having to actually ingest such an acidic substance.  

There are times, too, when prodrugs can sneak past pharmaceutical barriers by adjusting the delivery form. This is how tributyrin works as a stable and rapidly-absorbed prodrug of butyric acid, just like sodium butyrate, calcium-magnesium butyrate or another form of the salt.  The active portion of butyrate and tributyrin is butyric acid, which we can get by ingesting either form. 

And yet–-If tributyrin is butyric acid joined to a glycerol to make a compound of more than forty atoms, why not use the alkalized butyrate with a compound of fewer than twenty? This compound is much easier for the body to process and extract the benefit we want–-the butyric acid. 

Choosing The Right Butyrate Supplement  

A final option, liquid butyrate, is typically butyric acid bound to a fat like MCT oil. There are often many additives, flavorings, and sweeteners to hide the notably pungent smell of effective butyrate supplements. If you are going to go with a liquid butyrate supplement, we recommend checking your labels first!  

BodyBio Butyrate

We created Bodybio Butyrate supplements in three different types: Calcium Magnesium, Sodium, and Sodium Potassium. For most people, the Calcium Magnesium form will do just fine, but athletes or those who have low sodium levels may benefit more from the Sodium or Sodium Potassium forms. Whichever one you decide to try, you’ll get at least a 1,000 mg dose of butyric acid per two capsules. 

You may have read that taking a butyrate supplement won’t increase your butyrate levels because the supplement will not reach the large intestine. Fortunately, for the last 20 years we have been making butyrate, we have worked with countless physicians across the world who tell us their patient's butyrate levels have increased with BodyBio Butyrate. If you cannot add in high-quality fibers to your current diet, supplementation may be a great option for you! 

Butyrate Can Make a Difference in Your Health

Butyrate is a therapeutic postbiotic that is growing in popularity for its incredible impact on digestive health: reducing bloating, speeding up transit time, lowering inflammation, and more incredible effects.* If you’re dealing with digestive symptoms or disease, you can increase your butyrate levels through a combination of diet and supplementation. 

Check out our BodyBio Butyrate for more information!

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Butyrate is a short-chain fatty acid that promotes a healthy microbiome.
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