November 14th, 2013 by Digestive Detective
Fiber has been touted for years as a beneficial nutrient in aiding digestion, lowering cholesterol, improving blood sugar regulation, and for weight loss/maintenance. Recent research is adding another advantage to the long list of health benefits associated with fiber: reduced colon inflammation. This specific benefit offers a dietary, modifiable method to aid in the prevention and potentially the control and management of inflammatory bowel conditions such as Crohn’s, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and ulcerative colitis. Cost effective and easily to implement, the addition of specific, fibrous dietary compounds provides a whole new way that individuals can optimize their digestive health and reduce the effects of an inflamed GI tract.
While fiber in general has proved to be linked to numerous health benefits, it’s a specific type of fiber, fermentable fiber, that is getting increasing attention for its resulting anti-inflammatory benefits. Fermentable fibers are those that are indigestible in the small intestine but that are acted upon in the large colon by bacteria. There are a wide variety of fermentable fibers available in the diet and include non-starch polysaccharides, carbohydrate fibers (such as resistant starches), and lignans.
Fermentation of these fibers by gut bacteria results in the production of various fatty acids. These short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) include formic acid, acetic acid, propionic acid, butyric acid, and valeric acid. Of these fatty acids, butyric acid or butyrate, has shown to be most effective in significantly reducing colonic inflammation.
Butyrate and Colon Cancer Risk
SCFA perform a number of general actions to promote large bowel function that include modulation of colonic motility, promotion of visceral blood flow, and prevention of the overgrowth of potential pathogens (1, 2, 3). Butyrate in particular is thought to be important in promoting normal functioning colon cells, which could contribute to lowering the risk of colorectal cancer (CRC) 4. Researchers examining the effects of fermentable fibers in the diet found that the inclusion of resistant starches significantly increased levels of butyrate proving that RS fermentation favors butyrate production 5. In this same study, the increased levels of butyrate were associated with decreased levels of pH or a more acidic environment. Researchers cited:
“Greater SCFA production lowers digestive pH through direct acidification, with lower values within the large bowel when fermentation is promoted. A more acid environment may lower the absorption of basic carcinogens.” 5 As a result of this observation, researchers asserted: “A combination of raised butyrate and lower pH could be optimal for lowering CRC risk.”
Butyrate as Therapy for Inflammatory Bowel Diseases
Another study by Japanese researchers examined butyrate’s role in immune system function. In their research, scientists exhibited that butyrate promotes immune system T-regulatory cells 6. These cells serve to help contain excessive inflammatory responses as well as positively influence autoimmune disorders. With the knowledge that patients suffering from inflammatory bowel disease lack butyrate-producing bacteria and have lower levels of butyrate in their gut, researchers surmised that raising butyrate levels can provide a therapeutic benefit to individuals with inflammatory, autoimmune conditions such as Crohn’s, IBD, and ulcerative colitis 6.
Bring on the Butter!
With the positive effects of butyrate being exhibited in various studies, you may be wondering how you can maximize the benefits of this compound in your body. Here are 3 simple steps to take to increase butyrate production in your digestive tract:
- Consume resistant starches. These foods increase butyrate most significantly and include potatoes (cooked then cooled – increases starch content), bananas (green not ripe), black beans (soaked & sprouted when possible), oats (gluten-free) and brown rice. A possibly surprising source of butyrate is butter (think butyr –ate). Grassfed butter is 3-4 percent butyrate, the richest known source.
- Build up healthy gut bacteria. Since the fibers and starches need to be acted upon by bacteria to produce the SCFA such as butyrate, you need a healthy environment of gut bacteria. You can achieve this through probiotic supplementation, and consumption of fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, pickled beets, kombucha, and pickles (such as Bubbies brand).
- Feed your gut bacteria. In order for your gut bacteria to survive and thrive, they need a fuel source. Prebiotic foods act as meals for the healthy bacteria in your gut. Incorporate artichokes, asparagus, peas, mushrooms, garlic, and onions to boost healthy bacteria.