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1. Eat more butyrate-containing foods.

Some foods contain butyrate naturally. These include hard cheeses (think Parmesan and pecorino), butter, full-fat yogurt, and fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, pickles, and tempeh.

2. Eat more butyrogenic foods.

Certain foods, especially those high in fiber, promote butyrate production in the gut: flax and chia seeds; beans and lentils; high-pectin fruits, such as apples and berries; and vegetables like garlic and onions.

Whole grains are also supportive, and resistant starch from green bananas and cold potatoes helps feed the microbes that make butyrate. Functional-medicine physician Kara Parker, MD, ABIHM, IFMCP recommends adding a table­spoon of potato starch to soups or smoothies.

3. Get enough sleep.

Rest is a critical factor in butyrate production. “In deep sleep, you repair the gut,” explains Parker.

In turn, optimal butyrate levels also help support sleep. One animal study found that SCFAs send sleep signals to the brain, and that higher butyrate levels increase duration of deep, non-REM sleep.

4. Fast.

According to Parker, a fast-mimicking diet (which involves fasting for 12 or more hours) may help raise butyrate levels. “When you stop putting the food in, you stop making the gut do the functions of digestion, and you allow it to switch to absorption and repairing the holes,” she explains. “This helps heal a leaky gut and helps grow more anti-inflammatory bacteria.” (For more on intermittent fasting, see “Everything You Need to Know About Intermittent Fasting“.)

5. Exercise.

Studies show that exer­cise increases butyrate levels in the gut, perhaps because it encourages blood flow to the bowels, says Parker. She cautions against overdoing it, though, because stress can exacerbate gut permeability. “Marathon runners classically have breaches in their intestinal barrier,” she says.

Researchers are still seeking to define the line between exercise levels that improve gut health and stressful extremes that exacerbate permeability.

6. Mind your stress.

When the body gets overly stressed for too long, cortisol levels rise, and the hormone is “an inflamer of dysbiosis and a suppressor of a healthy microbiome” that contributes to gut permeability, says Parker.

7. Supplement.

If you experience gut pain, constipation, or poor sleep, and you already eat a varied, fiber-rich diet, you may wish to work with a healthcare provider to try butyrate supplements.

This can be especially useful if you’ve just finished a course of antibiotics and are having a hard time getting your gut back on track. “For a week of normal antibiotics, it can take up to a year to rebalance the microbiome, so, you’re going to lose some of the players that make butyrate,” Parker explains.

She says most of us will regain those bacteria over time through diet, but sometimes the process is too slow. “If you have severe bowel symptoms — an inflammatory bowel, or acute GI distress — you might want to take some butyrate for a period of time to help reduce that.”

In these situations, Parker may prescribe sodium-butyrate or calcium-butyrate capsules. It is possible to get too much, so she recommends working with a functional-medicine provider to get the right dose.

This was excerpted from “The Little Molecule That Could” which was published in the May 2022 issue of Experience Life magazine.

Helen Martineau

Helen Martineau is a Minneapolis-based writer and editor.

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