Butter . . . for intestinal health?

No question: Dairy products have issues.

We can minimize or reduce the problems associated with dairy products through prolonged fermentation, as we do in our L. reuteri yogurt, or by removing problematic components.

Of all forms of dairy products, butter is among the least problematic (as well as ghee, “clarified” butter with milk proteins and water removed), as it is 99% fat, with minimal quantities of lactose, casein, and whey, the three most common sources of problems in dairy. (Ironically, the American public has spent the last 40 years trying to minimize consumption of dairy fat with low- and non-fat milk, yogurt, ice creams, margarine, etc., reducing the most beneficial of all dairy components.)

The most plentiful fats in butter are saturated fats that we do NOT avoid, followed by monounsaturated fats and minimal quantities of polyunsaturated fats, just the sort of composition we seek on the Wheat Belly lifestyle. Butyric acid, or butyrate, is among the saturated fats in butter, only four carbons in length and thus being classified as a so-called “short chain fatty acids” along with acetoacetate. Butter is 3% butyrate by weight, the richest direct source of dietary butyrate. This means that 100 grams (approximately 1/2 cup or just under one stick of butter) contains around 3 grams of butyrate.

Butyrate is especially interesting as it is a fatty acid that the cells of the intestinal lining thrive on, using butyrate as their preferred energy source, providing around 60-70% of their energy needs. Butyrate also helps heal any injury to the intestinal lining while providing anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidative, and anti-carcinogenic effects.

Butyrate is produced by many species of bowel flora that convert prebiotic fibers, such as those in legumes or inulin, into butyrate, mostly in the colon. The more prebiotic fiber you consume, the greater the butyrate production. One way to increase the healing and protective effects in the colon is to therefore obtain at least 20 grams of prebiotic fiber per day that are thereby converted to butyrate.

But there’s another way to amp up your intake of butyrate above and beyond that produced by bowel floral. You guessed it: eat butter.

Emerging evidence suggests that abundant butyrate, produced either via prebiotic fibers or dietary intake via foods like butter, also:

  • Help manage weight by, for instance, increasing mobilization of stored fatty acids in fat cells
  • Improves insulin sensitivity
  • Exerts numerous cancer-preventing effects
  • Contributes to protection or reversal of fatty liver
  • Helps mediate immune responses
  • May protect against neurodegenerative diseases

But butyrate may also be a two-edge sword: If there is any cause for increased intestinal permeability present such as the gliadin protein of wheat and related grains or dysbiosis/SIBO, increased entry of butyrate into the bloodstream may exert detrimental effects over time, as has been demonstrated in an experimental model for autism. The potential solution: eat no wheat or grains, address your dysbiosis/SIBO, then consume prebiotic fibers and butter.

Prebiotic fibers should remain your preferred method of obtaining healthy levels of intestinal butyrate, as a healthy microbiome yields numerous profound health benefits. But including butter in your diet gives your colon that extra little butyrate nudge . . . and it makes everything taste better.



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