Butyrate: The Surprising Ingredient For Gut and Brain Communication


Butyrate is a short-chain fatty acid [1], which is helpful for maintaining cellular health. Butyrate can be made by bacteria in the gut [2] and is also common in dairy products (like butter) [3]. The benefits of butyrate, whether from natural and dietary sources or supplements, are not specific to the brain. The entire human system benefits from adequate levels of butyrate.

Because butyrate aids in cellular health and improves mitochondrial functioning (the powerhouse of each cell), there are universal benefits from treating cancer [4] to balancing blood sugar [5]. The brain sees numerous benefits including improved long term memory [6], reduction in inflammation [7], improved neuronal growth and protection [8], and even treatment for symptoms of Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s disease [9].

What is Butyrate?

The term butyrate comes from a molecule called “tributyrin”, which is a form of butyrate in butter. Even though butter gets a bad reputation as an unhealthy food, there are plenty of benefits. About 3 – 4% of butter is made up of butyrate [10]. Even people who do not eat butter usually find butyrate in their diet in other sources.


Grass-fed butter is a great source of butyrate

As a short-chain fatty acid, butyrate helps form the building blocks for cells in our body. It plays a vital function in the health of our digestive system, our brain, and every other part of our body. This may be one of the side benefits of consuming Bulletproof coffee, which has grown in popularity over the past few years.

For the purposes of improving our mental performance, butyrate can act as an HDAC inhibitor, which is a useful function. We will not go into detail about what this means for this article, but keep in mind the HDAC inhibition is one of the reasons butyrate can stimulate benefits for the brain.

Butyrate and the Brain

One of the many benefits of butyrate is neurogenesis, which is literally the growing of new neurons. In a study from the Journal of Neurochemistry, scientists discovered that sodium butyrate could upregulate levels of BDNF in those with brain injury [11]. Whether this applies directly to healthy adults is unclear, but other studies confirm similar findings.

Another 2017 study in Nutritional Neuroscience found that another form of butyrate could improve working memory and cognitive flexibility especially in animals that were aging [12]. From this study (which affected both middle-age and old animals of both sexes), it is more clear the benefits for healthy adults.

There are also benefits for elderly who suffer from degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s. In one 2011 study in the Journal of Alzheimers Disease scientists found that HDAC inhibitors could help combat Alzheimer’s [13]. Another 2003 in the Journal of Neuroscience concluded the same HDAC properties could help with Huntington’s [14].

For millions of people (especially in the western world), anxiety and depression rates are alarmingly high and rising. Butyrate can aid in combating both anxiety and depression. One study showed sodium butyrate could alleviate depression (and increase cognitive ability) [15]. Others have provided a host of depressive-related benefits and there is some evidence to suggest this is related to the gut benefits of butyrate.

Gut-Brain Connection and Butyrate

The gut (digestive system) and the brain are closely connected. When our gut is not healthy and we don’t have a microbiome that supports high performance, it will affect our brain. We need specific bacteria in our digestive system to create butyrate from our food [16]. Within our colon and digestive tract, butyrate is a preferred source of energy [17] and it is directly correlated with mental activity.

There is plenty of research to suggest that maintaining a healthy gut will affect our mental performance and butyrate is clear evidence of that. When we have a thriving microbiome in our stomach and digestive tract, we can far easier produce the brain chemicals necessary for optimal performance.

Butyrate Mitochondrial Benefits

The mitochondria are small “power factories” in each of our cells, which produce energy. This energy is what our cells use in order to do “work”, which refers to things like storing memories, concentrating on a task, or producing something creative when we discuss the brain.

The greater the mitochondrial health, the greater performance you will have even if it is subtle. Most people who consume nootropics like CoQ10, PQQ, or nicotinamide riboside, don’t feel immediate differences, but they do have long-term effects.

By improving our mitochondrial function, we can improve the root of our entire system. Adding more butyrate to your diet or taking a sodium butyrate supplement will not necessarily provide immediate results (though it can for some people). Instead, it will help aid in the function of your entire system and provide long-term benefits through mitochondrial function.

More Beauty with More Butyrate

The greatest way to add butyrate into your system is to focus on two main things:

  • Healthy and thriving microbiome
  • Providing the raw materials for butyrate

The first requires a deeper dive into gut health, but the second is a bit easier to do. Not only that, but by providing the raw materials for butyrate, there is a good chance you are also helping to improve your gut health.

Eating more fiber can play a big role in producing butyrate in your digestive tract. One study of inulin supplementation (a form of fiber not to be confused with insulin), found that participants raised butyrate levels and improved long-term memory formation because of the HDAC benefits [18].

Another natural source of butyrate is butter and dairy products. For people who want to avoid dairy, butter may be the best option and it does have the highest butyrate content.

Finally, for those who want to supplement, one option is sodium butyrate, which is what most of the studies use. Another (more readily available option) is calcium-magnesium butyrate, which you can get here. This will be the best choice because most people already consume enough sodium in their diet.

References (Click to Expand)
  1. //pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/butyric_acid%23section=Top
  2. //femsle.oxfordjournals.org/content/217/2/133.long
  3. //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23146568
  4. //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3678322
  5. //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24833634
  6. //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26896292
  7. //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22517765
  8. //www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006899316301317
  9. //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21593570
  10. //www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/030438359490023X
  11. //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19549282
  12. //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26896292
  13. //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21593570
  14. //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14561870
  15. //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26957230
  16. //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1419533
  17. //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4644874/#B8
  18. //clinicalepigeneticsjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1868-7083-4-4


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