A healthy gut is one of the foundations to strong overall health and longevity. Though people are finally beginning to understand this fact, most are still unaware of how to attain it. This is mostly because having a healthy gut is all about treating it holistically. There is a whole ecosystem called the microbiome in your gut and each part of it needs tending to. Simply popping probiotics won’t correct all the intricate mechanisms of your gut. The two main variables involved with having perfect gut health are your fiber intake and the amount of short chain fatty acids in your gut. If you maintain a proper diet and supplementation regimen, you will be able to keep both of these things in check, thus allowing your internal ecosystem to thrive and be in a position to truly benefit from probiotics for peak gut health.
It’s no secret that your diet is one of the biggest factors in keeping you healthy. What you put into your gut clearly will affect how it functions, but there are certain elements to foods that are more important than others. Two of the most important are fiber and butyrate. The two, as you’ll see, are tied together inseparably in how they function. Fiber has the reputation of being beneficial to the body because of its “scrubbing” effect on the gut. Even though this is helpful, it pales in comparison to the most underrated positive thing fiber can do for you: create butyric acid. It is part of a symbiotic cycle that serves to keep the gut healthy. Fiber creates butyric acid that bacteria in your gut turn into butyrate, a salt which nourishes the colon cells and produce other factors that encourage the balance of beneficial flora. Knock out one part of the cycle and the whole thing stops working. We all know what fiber is and the role it plays but what exactly is the butyric acid it creates and its overwhelming importance?
The Power of Butyrate
Although most health consumers are aware of the benefits of so-called essential fatty acids (EFAs) and the conditionally essential fatty acids (such as the omega-3s), few are aware of the tremendous importance of short chain fatty acids (SCFAs). Unlike the EFAs which are long chains of over twenty hydrocarbons, SCFAs are much smaller, often only having three or four hydrocarbons. Because of their small size SCFAs are easily made by bacteria as byproducts of fermentation in their life process.
The two principal SCFAs with biological activity are propionic acid and butyric acid. Propionic acid (PA) is commonly found on the skin, where it can be produced by bacteria. PA inhibits the growth of mold and some bacteria and is a common preservative for both animal feed and food for human consumption. The other SCFA is the aforementioned butyric acid.
Named after butter, the substance it was first discovered in, butyric acid is something mammals have a long-running relationship with. It has been in our gut for so long that the lining of our colon has evolved to use it as its primary source of energy. Without butyrate for energy, our colon cells undergo a self-destruction cycle and eventually die. With butyrate, the colon cells can grow and develop normally, better control the permeability of the gut, and regulate inflammation. Butyrate also effects gene regulation and may play an important role in sugar regulation.
How to Get It?
Butyrate can be a tricky thing to include in your diet though. As we mentioned, dietary fiber is one source of this important chemical. While none exists in the fiber itself, the chemical reaction within your gut when breaking down the fiber produces butyric acid through the process. Butyrate does exist in foods independently as well. Butter, its namesake, contains 3-4%. The healthiest way to consume butter is by turning it into ghee, a process that clarifies it and removes the milk solids. This is one of the most natural ways to consume butyrate. It’s also found in some of the most pungent cheeses, such as parmesan. Although butyrate is available in supplement form, its use is not widespread and consumer awareness of their great health benefits is quite low. In many situations, dietary sources will not be sufficient to correct an imbalance, but are often adequate to help maintain a healthy ecosystem.
If you plan to use a butyrate supplement, it may be helpful to know that I have developed one for use in my clinical practice that is also available for retail purchase. It is called Intrinsa and includes the synergistic factors caprylic acid and larch arabinogalactan. Caprylic acid is a naturally occurring fatty acid that helps yeast overgrowth, while the larch arabinogalactan serves as a source of soluble fiber. Intrinsa works especially well when combined with the blood type specific diets and a blood type specific probiotic.
The Whole Picture
By putting together a good diet rich in fibers, probiotics specific to your blood type and the proper amount of butyrate, your gut will have all it needs to naturally balance. Just as a garden needs the soil, the seeds and the weather to all harmonize, your gut needs these elements to work together. The human body is an amazing thing, capable of running these complex internal reactions to maintain health. Treat your body right and give it the ingredients it needs to keep this symbiotic cycle running strong for years to come.