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Butyrate, butyric acid: what are they? What are their benefits?

Do you know what butyrate / butyric acid is? Do you know the role of butyrate in our body? What is the difference between butyrate and butyric acid?

Butyrate is a short-chain fatty acid normally produced in the gut during the fermentation of fibre by the microbiota.

In fact, butyrate is the main source of energy for the cells of the colon.

It is, therefore, an important fatty acid to support intestinal transit and promote good intestinal function. (Papillon 1999)


What is butyrate? What is butyric acid?

Butyrate is a short-chain fatty acid with four carbon atoms.

It is the traditional name for the conjugate base of butyric acid (butanoic acid).

Butyric acid has an unpleasant smell and a bitter, pungent taste.


What does “butyrate” mean?

The name comes from the Greek word βουτυρος which means butter.


What are short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs)?

Short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) are fatty acids composed of 2 to 6 carbons.

Acetic acid (C2), propionic acid (C3) and butyric acid (C4) are produced in the gut during the digestion of fibre and carbohydrates.


Which foods contain butyrate?

Butyrate is found in butter in the form of triglycerides, butyrin (also called tributyrin). It is also found in ghee (clarified butter).

Butter may contain 3-5% butyrin (tributyrin).

What is butyrin?

Butyrin is a fat found in butter. It is a triglyceride derived from glycerol and three molecules of butyrate. It is also called tributyrin.


How is butyrate produced in our organism? 

Butyrate plays an important role in our body.

It is produced naturally in the gut during the fermentation of dietary fibres by the intestinal microbiota.

Indeed, good bacteria from our intestinal flora, especially in the colon, consume non-digested fibres from our food. Bacteria are thus able to reproduce.

Bacteria produce mainly short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs): Acetic acid (C2), propionic acid (C3), and butyric acid (C4).


What is the role of butyrate or butyric acid in our body?

Butyrate is rapidly absorbed by the cells of the intestinal wall (epithelium). It is almost completely metabolized after absorption into the cells of the colon.

It is the main source of energy for the cells of the colon (colonocytes).

It, therefore, allows the cells to multiply and function normally. Otherwise, the cells undergo a process of autophagy and eventually enter into apoptosis and die.


What fibres are involved in the production of butyrate?

Vegetable dietary fibre from grains, fruits, vegetables and other sources appears to be the main substrate for bacteria.

These fibres, also known as “prebiotics“, are bound sugars that are not assimilable, but are nevertheless essential to the intestinal microbiota.


How to increase the butyrate level in the body?

Bacteria that colonize the digestive tract, especially the colon, feed on the prebiotics we consume in order to reproduce.

The amount of short-chain fatty acids produced by this fermentation process is therefore dependent on the type of diet of individuals and the bacterial pool maintained within the colon.


The importance of prebiotics

Prebiotics are food substances generally composed of linked sugars (oligosaccharides and polysaccharides) with short chains. However, prebiotics are essential to the intestinal microbiota.

Indeed, these fibres are transformed by the microbiota into short-chain fatty acids.

Among them, butyrate plays a key role in intestinal physiology. Without butyrate, these cells would be in energy “deficiency”.


The intestinal microbiota allows a good production of SCFAs

This is an example of the symbiosis between humans and bacteria. Humans provide their bacteria with fibres which, in exchange, transform them into a source of carbon for epithelial cells. (Butterfly 1999)

In fact, low consumption of prebiotics or the intake of antibiotics reduces the production of AGCC, especially butyrate.


Which bacteria convert fibre into short-chain fatty acids?

Several bacteria that transform fibre into butyrate have been identified:

Anaerostipes spp. (A, L), Coprococcus catus (A), Eubacterium rectale (A), Eubacterium hallii (A, L), Faecalibacterium prausnitzii (A), Roseburia spp. (A) (Canani 2011; Koh 2016)


What are the benefits of butyrate?

First of all, short-chain fatty acids have an effect on the gastrointestinal tract and ensure good intestinal function. Their main function is to serve as a source of energy for the cells in the colon.

Butyrate is the main source of energy for colonocytes or the cells that form the lining of the colon. It, therefore, contributes to the proper functioning of the intestinal wall.


Numerous studies have highlighted its benefits: 

– It has an anti-inflammatory action on the intestinal wall.
– it also acts on intestinal motility: it improves the absorption of ions (sodium, chlorine and potassium) and the consistency of stools.
– It also helps to maintain the protective mucus layer of the intestine and to restore the equilibrium of the microbiota (dysbiosis). (Canani 2011)
Read our article, if you want to know more about the clinical studies and the benefits of butyrate and butyrin.


What form of butyrate should be taken as a dietary supplement?

Butyrin is the triglyceride found in butter. It is an interesting form to take as a dietary supplement as a source of butyrate. Unlike butyrate, it does not have an unpleasant odour.

In addition, the microencapsulated tributyrin of Butycaps is more effective than butyrate salts (sodium or calcium butyrate) for digestion, bioavailability and activity in the colon.

Key points:

To conclude, butyrate is a short-chain fatty acid produced during the natural fermentation of fibres by our intestinal microbiota. It plays a key role in the intestinal wall and particularly in the colon.

Watch our webinar on Short-Chains Fatty Acids and gut microbiota



Canani RB, Costanzo MD, Leone L, Pedata M, Meli R, Calignano A. Potential beneficial effects of butyrate in intestinal and extraintestinal diseases. World J Gastroenterol2011 Mar 28;17(12):1519-28.

Koh A, De Vadder F, Kovatcheva-Datchary P, Bäckhed F. From Dietary Fiber to Host Physiology: Short-Chain Fatty Acids as Key Bacterial Metabolites. Cell2016 Jun 2;165(6):1332-1345.

Manrique Vergara D, González Sánchez ME. Short chain fatty acids (butyric acid) and intestinal diseases. Nutr Hosp2017 Oct 15;34(Suppl 4):58-61.

Papillon E, Bonaz B, Fournet J. [Short chain fatty acids: effects on gastrointestinal function and therapeutic potential in gastroenterology]. Gastroenterol Clin Biol1999 Jun-Jul;23(6-7):761-9.