I have previously discussed how the butyrate (butyric acid) content of butter provides benefits for intestinal health, given the fact that the cells of the intestinal lining depend on butyrate for around 60-70% of their nutrition. But there is plenty more to butyrate than intestinal health.
Most butyrate should derive from prebiotic fibers, such as those in inulin, legumes, or pectin, that are converted by bowel flora to butyrate. However, because only 15% of the short-chain fatty acids produced by bacterial metabolism are butyrate (the rest is acetoacetate and propionate), our target daily prebiotic fiber intake of 20 grams per day is likely to yield only a modest quantity of butyrate (assuming that you have the proper assortment of bacterial species and strains that yield butyrate). Nonetheless, greater intake of prebiotic fibers results in lower blood sugar, improved insulin sensitivity, reduced triglycerides, reduced blood pressure, among other benefits, with many of the effects mediated via production of butyrate.
In experimental models, supplemental butyrate prevents obesity and insulin resistance, “turns off” several inflammatory pathways, improves learning and partially reverses the impaired memory of dementia, and, while butyrate is a product of bacterial metabolism, it can also positively influence composition of bowel flora, i.e., a bidirectional effect.
The evidence in humans is still preliminary but suggests that greater levels of butyrate are associated with:
- Lower blood sugar and visceral fat
- Protection against colon cancer
- Reduced inflammatory marker C-reactive protein, substantially reduced blood pressure, and cultivation of the beneficial bowel flora species Akkermansia muciniphila
While we know with confidence that greater intake of prebiotic fibers results in numerous and considerable health benefits, we need more exploration of the effects of directly consuming larger quantities of butyrate. But the emerging evidence suggests substantial benefits, consistent with the experimental animal evidence.
I hope you also appreciate how overly-simplistic the old thinking was about butter, i.e., avoid due to saturated fat content and replace with the polyunsaturates in margarine. In the Wheat Belly lifestyle, we have all the butter we want, never sweat the saturated fat that does NOT contribute to cardiovascular risk, never replace saturated fats with polyunsaturates, and enjoy the better intestinal and metabolic health that comes with consuming a food that yields plentiful quantities of butyrate: butter. The effects of increased butyrate are so powerful that there is actually a vigorous research effort to apply it as a “drug” for treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s dementia. But we don’t have to wait for Big Pharma and misinformed doctors to tell us that we need more butyrate as a prescription; we can indulge in all the butyrate we desire by including plentiful prebiotic fibers in our diets and by including generous quantities of butter in our meals.