What is Butyrate: The Key to Gut Symbiosis


If you’re used to reading articles that feature the ‘Key to Success’ or the ‘Key to Happiness’ - this one's for you, but maybe not in the way you expect. 

For one thing, channeling inner health, balance, and wellbeing can be incredibly different from person to person. But with a little patience - and precision attention - you too can learn how to hack the ultimate key that promotes synergy between your gut microbes and you for optimal digestive health.

The Building Blocks of Health

At Viome, we are dedicated to unraveling the interconnectedness of our gut microbiome with our own health. The data we’ve accumulated - and continue to accumulate - has helped us develop our precision scoring system that supports individuals in their health journeys. If you’ve noticed your Butyrate Production Score seems low, it might be because you’re lacking an essential nutrient that supports the health of your gut.

Although the right foods for us may vary, the essential nutritional building blocks we all need remain the same. Each person needs vitamins and minerals, carbohydrates, proteins, and fats to make up all the possible components of our cells that keep them healthy and happy. But what often varies is the form those nutrients may take when they enter our body and after digestion.

Inside the gut, our intestinal cells are partial to small fat molecules called Short Chain Fatty Acids (SCFAs) that are easily passed through the intestinal cell membrane and converted to fast energy perfect for them. One SCFA in particular - Butyrate - is preferred above all, like the crème brûlée of the intestinal cell diet. Their favorite food, butyrate benefits extend to their natural anti-inflammatory properties and metabolic boosting effects. Although we can find SCFAs in our diet, our intestinal cells require consistent access to help them maintain healthy function throughout the day. And unfortunately, it’s not always that easy to mine from the foods we consume.

How the Gut Creates Butyrate

Derived from plant fibers, it usually requires a fermentation process to generate butyrate. While our digestive system is an impressive machine great at breaking down many foods, this is not an area our body excels in. Instead, we find help from some of our microscopic friends in our gut microbiome. Fortunately, the gut is the perfect environment for butyrate producing bacteria that love to eat hard-to-digest fibers, and convert them into those very SCFAs. 

Without these bacteria, most of the potential for butyrate would be lost and pass through our system untapped. The impact of this small function could translate to monumental changes in the health of our gut. Without butyrate, our intestinal cells may starve and die, causing holes or gaps in the thin lining of our digestive tract. After all - if you may remember - the digestive tract is only made of a single layer of endothelial cells. It doesn’t always take much to break through the other side, allowing particles, bacteria, and toxic compounds to leak out of the gut and into the rest of the body.

Symbiosis and Why it Matters

In nature, balance means harmony. When the natural scales tip one way or another, the balance is broken and one side favors the others. In nature, when organisms function in harmony together, this is called symbiosis - and refers to a mutually beneficial relationship between two different organisms living in close physical association. Within our body, symbiosis between our gut microbes and their host - us - reaps mutual benefits. They receive safe haven to colonize and thrive, in a nutrient-rich environment. In return, they help digest and produce a number of helpful nutrients (not just Butyrate!). Moreover, as we support commensal and beneficial microbes in our gut environment, they in turn protect us against pathogenic microbes competing for space. In a cycle of give-and-take, this symbiosis helps protect us and support us in hundreds of ways.

This is why symbiosis is important to maintain. Without it, as the scales tip, our relationship could easily deteriorate and turn unhealthy. Known as a ‘parasitic’ relationship - one organism reaping benefits from another while placing the other in harm’s way - our health could quickly be affected. We see it when our gut microbiome is imbalanced and pathogenic bacteria overrun the landscape of our gut, snuffing out beneficial microbes that support us. 

If your gut microbiome is out of whack, you can often feel it through various indicators like bloating, constipation or diarrhea, GI discomfort - or much worse. Long-term consequences may even manifest to various chronic diseases. Researchers in a number of fields have tied links of gut dysbiosis to various illnesses that spread past the gut and into the rest of the body and even the brain. 

Imbalance in one system has a tendency to reach other systems. But by supporting symbiosis we’re not just helping regain the harmony our gut craves - we’re promoting resilience and health in our entire body. But the key to gut symbiosis has less to do with tamping down pathogenic microbes, and a little bit more with supporting our favorite, beneficial butyrate producing bacteria. 

Tips on Increasing Butyrate 

The best way to boost butyrate - and keep our intestinal cells happy - is to optimize the health of our butyrate producing friends. Although there are various ‘butyrate’ supplements on the market, they don’t always do a great job of making it past the acidic environment of the stomach.

Instead, the first step should start with consuming more prebiotic-rich foods, or foods that contain fiber like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. By taking in high-fiber foods, you're eating insoluble fibers that are difficult to digest but easily fermented by beneficial microbes that can readily convert it into SCFAs like butyrate. More food for them can often translate to more butyrate for you.

You can also help reintroduce butyrate producing microbes back into your gut ecosystem with targeted probiotics. Adding the right foods to your diet and vamping up the colonies of beneficial microbes in your gut can help tip the scales toward a more balanced environment. 

Another food for thought: some trendy diets might also be hurting your ability to support your butyrate producing bacteria by limiting the fiber (and carbohydrates) you consume. These low-carb diets might be actually indirectly harming your gut. In addition, some fiber rich foods might also be disrupting other beneficial microbial activities preventing your gut microbiome from reaching a balanced ecosystem. The important thing to remember is that although our foundations may be the same, we all still require individual knowledge of our gut to build our own unique protocols for optimal health.

But if your Butyrate Production Score is suffering, there is no need to worry. Viome is here to help give you the necessary tools and blueprints you specifically need to help find that inner harmony and gut symbiosis for optimal, healthy living.