August 19, 2014
Wishing you could find a new way to break through your weight-loss plateau? Butyrate, a.k.a butyric acid, might be just what you’ve been looking for.
Butyrate is a prebiotic—an element that nourishes the friendly bacteria in your microbiome. Your microbiome is the community of trillions of microbes living in your digestive tract and elsewhere in your body. These amazing bacteria make it possible for you to digest and absorb your food. They regulate your immune system, govern your mood, support mental clarity and focus, and perform a dozen other crucial functions.
They also help determine whether your metabolism burns high and hot, or whether it runs sluggish and slow. Friendly bacteria are, in my view, the hidden “x factor” behind the obesity epidemic. When you have enough friendly bacteria in your microbiome, you remain effortlessly at a healthy weight. Not enough friendly bacteria, and your metabolism starts to slow down as the pounds come on.
Those friendly bacteria need to be nourished, and prebiotics are what nourish them. And butyrate is one of the most powerful prebiotics of them all.
The wonders of butyrate were detailed in a study published by Gao Zhuangao in the July 2009 edition of Diabetes, the journal of the American Diabetes Association (Volume 58, No. 7, pp. 1509-1515). Scientists fed a high-fat diet to two obese groups of mice. One of the groups was also given butyrate supplements. The control group was not.
The mice who consumed butyrate showed improved insulin sensitivity. This is important because insulin is the hormone that moves glucose—blood sugar—into your cells. When your cells lose sensitivity to insulin—known as insulin resistance—your body has to make extra insulin to do the same job, and you end up with high levels of insulin in your bloodstream.
And guess what insulin does at those levels? It promotes the storage of fat. Reduce insulin in the bloodstream, and you immediately rev up your metabolism. That’s the effect that the butyrate seemed to have.
Normally, a high-fat diet promotes insulin resistance. The more fat you eat the less willing your cells are to respond to insulin.
Butyrate, however, seemed to counteract that effect. Even when eating a high-fat diet, the “butyrate” group of mice showed more sensitivity to insulin than their “non-butyrate” counterparts.
The mice also showed improved mitochondrial function. The mitochondria are the energy generators in each cell. When your mitochondrial function is high, that means your cells are burning lots of energy.
The butyrate also seemed to reduce cholesterol, triglycerides, and other blood fats.
But here’s the really exciting part of the study: when the obese mice were given butyrate, they lost 10 percent of their body weight. Mice on the same diet who were not given butyrate didn’t lose any weight.
In other words, taking butyrate seemed to result in significant weight loss, even without a change in diet. You could call it a metabolic miracle.
After all, the gut bacteria know more than we do about regulating our metabolism. Why shouldn’t we tap into their knowledge?
When I prescribe butyrate to my patients, I jokingly tell them that now they can stop violating one of the Ten Commandments. You don’t have to covet your neighbor’s high-burning metabolism, I tell them, because now you’re going to have that terrific metabolism for yourself!