Curious about how sodium butyrate benefits your health? Here Hannah, one of our resident nutrition experts, explores exactly how and why this short chain fatty acid affects your body!
Wondering about sodium butyrate and its purported health benefits? Though a relative newcomer in the health field, sodium butyrate’s benefits have been explored by science for a number of years.
So, I’m going to take a dive into the world of butyrate, gut bacteria, and some simply amazing outcomes for health and well-being and tell you exactly what the science says!
- What is Butyrate?
- What’s the Difference Between Sodium Butyrate, Calcium Butyrate, and Butyric Acid?
- How Does Sodium Butyrate Work in Your Body?
- What are the Most Important Sodium Butyrate Benefits for Your Health?
- What Are the Best Sources of Sodium Butyrate?
- Does Sodium Butyrate Have Any Side Effects?
- Take Home Message
What is Butyrate?
Butyrate is a type of fat known as a “short chain fatty acid”. These types of fats actually produced by your body.
Well, to be more specific, they are produced by the bacteria living in your gut. The bacteria touted as being top butyrate producers include those from the Clostridium, Eubacterium, and Butyrivibrio genera.
These healthy bacteria eat undigested fiber and then they produce butyrate.
What’s the Difference Between Sodium Butyrate, Calcium Butyrate, and Butyric Acid?
Butyrate is what researchers call an “unstable compound”. This means that it breaks down very quickly when it gets the opportunity.
Early studies with butyrate found that if it is taken in its “free” (non-compound form), it is quickly absorbed in the upper gastrointestinal tract. That’s not very useful for your health because butyrate needs to reach your colon to have most of its benefits!
So, butyrate has to be made more stable!
To do this, manufacturers combine butyrate with metals to make salts. This is why you see “sodium butyrate” “calcium butyrate”, or “magnesium butyrate” on labels.
There is no major difference between these three types of salts in terms of butyrate benefits.
In this article, I’m going to specifically talk about sodium butyrate because it is the most commonly used butyrate salt in supplements and it has been the most well-researched. In principle, though, all of these butyrate salts should have the same effects!
How Does Sodium Butyrate Work in Your Body?
There are three main ways butyrate works in your body. Butyrate:
- acts as a histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitor
- activates a group of proteins called “G-protein-coupled receptors” (GPCRs)
- serves as a source of energy for your cells (especially your colon cells)
These are pretty complicated (and science-y!) mechanisms! But let’s tackle them one at a time in a little bit more detail!
Hang on with me through the next couple science-heavy sections! We’ll get to the benefits in a second! Promise!
Butyrate Acts as a Histone Deacetylase (HDAC) Inhibitor
Histone deacetylases are a group of important enzymes in your body. They work by removing a structure called “acetyl groups” from a group of proteins called “histones”.
Histones are responsible for holding your DNA secure in your cells. Depending on if your histones have acetyl groups attached or not, your DNA is held loosely or tightly.
DNA held loosely (when the acetyl groups are attached) is DNA that your cells can read, use, and repair. This helps keep your cells healthy and functioning properly!
By making sure the acetyl groups stay on your histones, butyrate can help protect your DNA and keep your cells running in tip-top shape!
Butyrate Activates G-Protein-Coupled Receptor (GPCR)
When your gut bacteria produce butyrate, the butyrate activates an important group of proteins called “G-protein coupled receptors” (GPCRs).
What do these receptors do?
Very basically, they play a role in regulating how the signals from outside the cell get into the cell. This makes them important for:
- nervous system signals
- energy maintenance
- sensory function
- immune cell health
As you will see shortly, poor GPCR function can lead to Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, as well as a myriad of other diseases.
In fact, GPRCs are so important that they are the target of more than 40% of the prescription medications (for all diseases) currently on the market.
Butyrate Serves as a Source of Energy for Your Colon
Butyrate can serve as a source of ATP — the energy currency of your body — for your colon cells.
Essentially, when gut bacteria produce butyrate, the cells lining your gut wall absorb it to use as energy for growth and repair. It keeps your colon cells healthy!
This is potentially important for strengthening your gut wall and preventing leaky gut syndrome, amongst other benefits. More details coming up!
What are the Most Important Sodium Butyrate Benefits for Your Health?
Since butyrate has effects on such important proteins and enzymes in your body, its benefits can be hard to pin down. You could really almost say, “sodium butyrate benefits your whole body”, and get away with it!
But there are a few specific sodium butyrate benefits (nine, actually!) that:
- are definitely really important for specific areas of your health
- have good scientific evidence backing them up already
These are the sodium butyrate benefits I want to focus on in more detail here!
1. Butyrate Can Help Prevent and Treat Cancer
Butyrate can activate GPCRs in cancer cells to trigger “cell suicide” (“apoptosis” in science-speak), causing them to die off. That’s exactly what you want with cancer cells, of course!
Additionally, as an HDAC inhibitor, butyrate may help with the uptake of anti-cancer medication. This can make cancer treatment more effective at clearing the disease.
Finally, butyrate (via its HDAC effects) may be able to help prevent side effects from cancer treatments (such as hearing loss), boosting your quality of life after treatment.
2. Butyrate Stabilizes Mood
Butyrate has been shown to have positive effects when it comes to common mental illnesses, such as anxiety and depression.
Probiotics and a fiber-rich diet that promoted butyrate production produced better mood outcomes in rat studies as well as in healthy human volunteers.
In conditions related to anxiety and depression (such as chronic fatigue syndrome), butyrate was also found to be useful at easing symptoms. Again, this was found both in human and animal studies.
The exact mechanism which butyrate uses to improve mood is not clear. However, many of these studies show a link between gut inflammation and mental health.
It is proposed that the gut is able to “talk” to the brain via a long connecting pathway called the vagus nerve. When there is chronic inflammation, the vagus nerve signals this disease state to the brain, which responds with anxiety and depression symptoms.
3. Butyrate Prevents and Treats Leaky Gut
Your intestinal cells (gut membrane) act as an important line of defense. They stop toxins from seeping through into your body (while still letting food and nutrients through!)
This makes your gut membrane what scientists call “semi-permeable”. This means that there are certain junctions, or gates, in them that allow substances — but only certain substances — to come in and out.
If these “gates” are weak, then the gut membrane becomes more permeable, potentially letting more harmful substances through into your body. This condition has been coined “leaky gut”.
Through a few mechanisms, but mainly through its role in ATP production, butyrate has been shown to repair and enhance the barrier function of intestinal cells. Basically, it makes sure your cells have what they need to keep the “gates” functioning perfectly.
4. Butyrate May Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease
Research looking into the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease has thrown up some interesting results around sodium butyrate. Studies suggest this short chain fatty acid may have the ability to recover memory function and increase the expression of genes likely involved in learning. This seems to work even when Alzheimer’s symptoms have gotten pretty bad.
Additionally, butyrate may also be able to ease Alzheimer’s symptoms by serving as a source of energy for nerve cells. (In Alzheimer’s disease, the brain has trouble using glucose — its normal source of energy — properly.)
Whilst there have been short term small studies in this area, there is still a lot of research to carry out before we will know for sure if butyrate can help Alzheimer’s this way.
5. Butyrate Could Slow the Progression of Huntington’s Disease
In mouse models of Huntington’s Disease, researchers found that sodium butyrate prevented nerve cell death leading to an increased lifespan. The researchers could prove that butyrate’s effects in helping the mice’s symptoms were caused by its HDAC inhibition.
6. Butyrate May Relieve the Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease
Additionally, butyrate may be able to ease behavior symptoms of Parkinson’s disease by reducing brain inflammation (via GPCR activation).
This effect still needs to be tested in humans, though.
7. Butyrate May Prevent Atherosclerosis and Stroke
Studies are now suggesting that gut microbiota play a primary role in plaque build-up. It is hypothesized that bad gut bacteria produce a byproduct that is transported to the liver and, ultimately, enters the bloodstream and causes plaque.
Butyrate also travels to the liver, but it produces an anti-inflammatory response in your arteries. This counteracts the negative effects of plaque.
Fascinatingly, butyrate can even make the effects of a stroke (should you still suffer one) less severe. By its protective HDAC effects in the brain, butyrate has been found to reduce stroke severity and improve neurological outcomes after a stroke.
8. Butyrate May Aid Cognitive Function
Butyrate may boost cognitive function, both in neurotypical people as well as in those (including children) with autism. There is a lot more research to be done in this space but butyrate may prove to be a useful therapy in autism or other neuroatypical conditions.
Additionally, mouse studies have shown that butyrate (probably via its HDAC effects) can aid learning and memory after traumatic brain injury. This may, eventually, make butyrate a helpful treatment following car accidents or sport injuries.
9. Butyrate Can Ease Inflammatory Bowel Disease
It is now widely believed that IBD results from dysfunction between gut microbes and the immune system. The precise mechanisms and microbiota involved remain to be fully determined.
While researchers work on figuring out the exact details, butyrate may help manage IBD symptoms.
Butyrate supports the health of the cells lining the intestine and reduces intestinal inflammation via GPCRs. Combined, these effects can go a long way to easing the pain and digestive symptoms of IBD.
What Are the Best Sources of Sodium Butyrate?
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Interested in reaping some (or all!) of the sodium butyrate benefits for your health? Then you need to boost the levels in your body! And there are two ways to do that — through your diet or a supplement!
Food Sources of Butyrate
The best food sources of butyrate are the foods that feed your good gut bacteria to produce this healthy short-chain fatty acid. We call these food sources “prebiotics”.
Common prebiotic foods include:
- whole grains – brown rice, oats, barley, rye, quinoa, buckwheat, millet, corn
- legumes – lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, pinto beans, mung beans, adzuki beans
- fruits and vegetables – leafy green vegetables, apples, onion, kiwifruit, berry fruits, bananas, citrus fruit
You can also get butyrate directly from butter and cheese. However, the quantities of butyrate in these foods are small. And the relatively high quantities of saturated fat in butter and cheese may negate the health benefits of their butyrate. So, be cautious when using dairy as a key butyrate source in your diet.
5 Best Sodium Butyrate Supplements
For many people, sodium butyrate supplements offer a healthy alternative to worrying if you are getting enough butyrate from diet alone.
Below is a concise summary of the top 5 sodium butyrate supplements on the market. (If you wish, you can read our in-depth reviews of these supplements here).
Ecological Formulas 2:1 Butyric Acid delivers butyric acid in a reasonably low dose as a calcium and magnesium salt.
4. Biome Equal
Biome Equal contains butyrate and another fatty acid called propionate.
BodyBio Butyrate is high potency, offering 600 mg per filler-free capsule.
It’s also guaranteed free from yeast, wheat, corn, soy, dairy, artificial color, or resins. This makes it great for anyone who suffers from food allergies or follows a specific diet (for example, a vegan or gluten-free diet).
Healus Tri-Butyrate stands out as the most convenient, most effective butyrate capsule you can buy.
Like Butycaps granules below, Healus deliver their butyrate in tributyrin form, the natural form of this fatty acid found in butter.
Butycaps is my top pick for powdered butyrate.
The butyrate in this formula is delivered in tributyrin form and held in micro-encapsulated granules.
If you have severe digestive issues and you’re concerned about whether your digestion is strong enough to break down a capsule or tablet, then Butycaps is the supplement for you.
Does Sodium Butyrate Have Any Side Effects?
Generally speaking, no. Sodium butyrate doesn’t appear to have any negative side effects.
However, you should consider the following points before you decide to add butyrate to your routine:
- There is not a massive body of evidence looking at the side effects of taking butyrate supplements for long periods of time. So, there may be some side effects we just don’t know about yet.
- Sodium can be part of this supplement salt. For those who already suffer from cardiovascular conditions or high blood pressure, adding more sodium to your diet may be bad for your health. You should opt for the magnesium or calcium salts if at all possible.
Take Home Message
Butyrate is a naturally occurring short chain fatty acid in your gut. It has numerous health benefits. Sodium butyrate benefits include reducing inflammation, supporting immune function, regulating energy metabolism, and improving cognition.
You can increase the quantity of butyrate in your body either by eating fiber-rich foods (which healthy bacteria in your gut use to produce butyrate) or by taking a butyrate supplement. Since butyrate is natural to your body, has a wide range of potential benefits, and has no known side effects, you can safely eat a butyrate-promoting diet and take a supplement to maximize your health benefits.