With all of our scientific research in the last few decades on the role of the microbiome in health and disease, plus rising cases of autoimmune digestive disorders, it’s become apparent that the digestive and immune systems are inextricably linked.
In some ways it seems like we’ve barely scratched the surface of this connection, but we do have a solid grasp of some of the mechanisms that tie these two integral systems together in the body. One component that connects the health and integrity of both systems is the short-chain fatty acid butyrate.
In this blog, we will discuss:
- How much of your immune system is in your gut
- How the microbiome and the immune system work together
- How short-chain fatty acids play into gut immunity
- How butyrate supports the immune system and digestive system
- Who would benefit from having more butyrate in their gut
- How to increase butyrate levels
- Eating butyrate producing foods
- Bodybio Butyrate
Gut Health and the Immune System
To understand butyrate’s role in protecting the immune system in the gut, we can first examine how the immune system and the gut cross paths.
How much of your immune system is in your gut?
You’ve probably heard by now the astonishing statistic that at least 70% of our immune system is housed in the gut, in what’s called gut associated lymphoid tissues, or GALT. And some 80% of plasma cells, mostly IgA-producing immune cells, also reside in these tissues.
But, at a certain point, we’re splitting hairs here. The point is, a majority of your immune system lives in your gut, so taking care of your gut should be your biggest priority when optimizing and/or healing the immune system.
How does the immune system work with the digestive system?
The more you think about it, the more it makes sense that most of our immune system resides within the gut tissues.
Our digestive system, after all, comes into the most contact with external stimuli of any system in the body (except possibly the skin, which is also very important to maintain!). These stimuli include microorganisms such as native gut bacteria, aka the microbiome, as well as food and the many nutrients that come from whatever we choose to consume.
The GALT initiates immune responses depending on the microbial state of the gut, reacting when there are pathogens and toxins present. Sometimes it causes damage to the intestinal mucosa, as in celiac or inflammatory bowel disease.
So, the state of our microbiome plays a huge role in how well our immune system is able to respond to invaders and toxins in the body. When we have enough of the good bacteria, not too much and not too little, our microbiome can effectively signal to the GALT when to initiate an immune response or signal to the colonocytes when to digest food or break down waste.
How do the microbiome and immune system work together?
So, now we know that 1) a majority of the immune system resides in the gut, 2) the immune system is integrated into the digestive system via the gut-associated lymphoid tissue or GALT and 3) the GALT initiates an immune response based on the microorganisms, good or bad, that are present in the gut. This brings us to the role of the microbiome in the immune system.
The microbiome is the composition of organisms in a person’s large intestine. (The small intestine should be mostly sterile.) These microorganisms carry out numerous functions, including breaking down nutrients, clearing toxins, and other vital functions. While there are certain strains of bacteria and fungi that can be found in everyone’s microbiome, no two microbiomes are the exact same composition, even among identical twins.
When your microbiome is healthy, it is working for you by performing its many functions, one of which is to create short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), like butyrate, which go on to feed and support the GALT.
Gut Food: Short-Chain Fatty Acids for Gut Health and Immunity
What are short-chain fatty acids?
Short-chain fatty acids or SCFAs are metabolites created by the microorganisms in our gut. There are several kinds of these SCFAs, including acetate, butyrate, and propionate. They all serve an important purpose in the gut, but we’ll be focusing mostly on butyrate.
How do short chain fatty acids play into gut immunity?
Short-chain fatty acids are critical to maintaining the structure and function of the gut lining, where the GALT lives—they are essential to our gut health and immunity. SCFAs provide energy for the cells of our colon, the selectively permeable gut lining. When our gut lining is strong, it only allows nutrients to pass through and blocks microbes and other unwanted particles from reaching the bloodstream and the rest of the body.
Without SCFAs and a strong gut lining, we become predisposed to leaky gut, which then leads to further chronic disease.
SCFAs are only created by the microorganisms in the microbiome when those microorganisms feed off of certain resistant starches. Therefore, the main way we can regulate their production is by consuming more of these resistant starches and feeding the microbiome.
How does butyrate support the immune system and digestive system?
Butyrate is one of these key SCFAs that support the colon and the gut lining. In fact, butyrate in particular has been found to be a key factor in reducing inflammation and disease in the colon, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
Butyrate on its own provides up to 90% of the energy required by the colonocytes, the cells of the colon! It’s no wonder a deficiency can lead to degradation of the gut lining and subsequent illness. When we have enough butyrate, we have a stronger gut, stronger GALT, and stronger immunity.
Butyrate also supports the mucosa that hydrates the gut lining, prevents colon cancer, promotes cell differentiation, and inhibits enzymes that can interfere with DNA replication.*
Who would benefit from having more butyrate in their gut?
Anyone who is experiencing digestive symptoms such as gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and abdominal pain and discomfort may benefit from having more butyrate in their gut. However, every microbiome and body is unique, so you should consult with a trusted practitioner to determine what is right for you.
- Research on butyrate in clinical use has focused primarily on treating inflammatory bowel disease with favorable results.
- Butyrate has also been found to have protective effects on brain health, including improving symptoms in autism and decreasing brain fog.
- SCFAs in general, including butyrate, have also been shown to affect cholesterol metabolism and increase mineral absorption, which is highly beneficial for heart health and circulation health.
- And with its anti-inflammatory properties, butyrate may be helpful for many other autoimmune and inflammatory conditions that we have not clinically tested yet!
What can I do to increase my butyrate levels?
Eat butyrate producing foods
As we mentioned earlier, butyrate and SCFA production only comes from the food we ingest and the microbial balance in the gut available to break down that food into SCFAs. Most of the foods that allow our microbiome to produce SCFAs are resistant starches, and some of them aren’t the most appetizing. But, when you’re dealing with severe digestive issues or autoimmune disease, you may find them worth adding into your diet.
These foods include:
- Cooled cooked potatoes
- Cooled cooked rice
- Cold oats
- Legumes such as lentils and beans, when tolerated
- Unripe bananas
- High-quality dairy, especially butter.
For more information, check out our blog: What Foods Can Help Increase Your Butyrate Levels?
In addition to adding butyrate-producing foods, you may also consider butyrate supplementation.
Bodybio Butyrate is formulated without extra additives or fillers to deliver the beneficial butyrate your gut craves without any junk. Because it’s fermented, butyrate is well known for its smell, but this is a natural byproduct of the fermentation process—don’t worry! This is exactly how it’s supposed to be.
Butyric acid on its own is quite acidic, so we pair it with different minerals to raise the pH and stabilize it for delivery to the gut. We have created Calcium Magnesium, Sodium, and Sodium Potassium Butyrate varieties depending on your needs. Due to widespread calcium and magnesium deficiency, we recommend most people start with our Calcium Magnesium Butyrate.
Dozens of folks have reviewed our butyrate saying that it helped ease their digestive problems and get back to a healthy, balanced gut.
The immune system and the gut are intricately linked, with at least 70% of your immune system residing in the tissues of the gut lining. In order for these tissues to stay healthy and productive, they need fuel in the form of SCFAs.
Among the SCFAs, butyrate especially has protective effects on the gut wall and intestinal function, helping in many cases to heal autoimmune reactions and improve overall health.
Whether you incorporate more butyrate-producing foods or supplement butyrate, you are boosting and strengthening the connection between your digestive and immune systems for better health overall. Well done!
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.