The importance of a healthy gut is nothing new. Discussions on the role the microbiome plays in our health continue to make their way into the mainstream. However, beyond general health benefits, recent research into the microbiome has illuminated its important role in aging and longevity. Studies on the microbiome and aging show that a commonality in healthy older people is a healthy gut metabolism - in large part due to the relationship between our guts and inflammation.
We know a proper gut microbiome is imperative to a well functioning immune system. In turn, a damaged gut results in inflammation and disease. Issues with gut metabolism are frequently at the root of poor health.
Anaerobes and Colonocytes - A Symbiotic Relationship
In order to digest otherwise indigestible fibers from foods we eat, our guts need anaerobes (organisms that thrive in the absence of oxygen) to help us break down fiber and turn it into a more usable energy source called butyrate. Butyrate is a building block of fats that our cells need to function, and importantly, butyrate is critical for the healthy functioning of our colonocytes, or the cells that make up the lining of our colon.
Without butyrate, colonocytes cannot properly function, leading to a breakdown in the barrier between the colon and the bloodstream. Without this strong barrier, our gut environments become increasingly aerobic (with oxygen) and can no longer support our good, anaerobic microbes that digest fiber and make butyrate. You can see the vicious cycle starting - less anaerobes leads to less butyrate, which leads to dysfunctional colonocytes and an unhealthy, inflamed gut.
A Dysfunctional Gut is Often Poorly Managed
When our guts become aerobic and inflamed, it often leads to many well-known gut dysfunctions, such as leaky gut, diarrhea, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or Disease (IBD), colitis, or colon disease. Unfortunately, many of our “solutions” to these issues are misguided and problems with the gut microbiome are too often mismanaged. We have often heard that probiotics are the solution to a healthy microbiome; but, probiotics added into an aerobic environment in which the bacteria cannot survive is futile. Dr. Elizabeth Yurth, co-founder and medical director at the Boulder Longevity Institute says, “Throwing anaerobes (probiotics, for example) into an unhealthy gut is a waste of time.”
An aerobic environment is hostile to the bacteria required for gut health - anaerobes.
The Process of Normalizing Gut Metabolism
To achieve the goal of a well-balanced microbiome, we must prioritize health before maintenance. Why attempt to maintain the gut if it is not functioning properly to begin with? Fixing the gut first is critical to long term health and wellness - and is foundational to fighting off the disease of aging.
Fortunately, butyrate can be reintroduced to the equation - a key cog to normalizing gut metabolism. Once butyrate re-enters the cycle, colonocytes become happy, the gut lining strengthens, and the anaerobic environment returns. As the anaerobic environment is restored, promoting gut balance (i.e. via probiotics) can then take place.
For people who are extremely ill and need a rapid improvement in gut health, butyrate can be introduced through rectal suppositories. This directly feeds the colonocytes allowing them to quickly influence the microbiome to be anaerobic.
For those who are experiencing mild to moderate gut health issues or who are simply wanting to maintain a healthy gut, supplemental Tributyrin could be an option. Tributyrin metabolizes to butyrate production and can be helpful for individuals not consuming enough fiber to support a healthy microbiome (looking at you, keto friends). Additionally, we can encourage increased butyrate production in our guts by increasing consumption of foods high in complex fibers or resistant starches, such as artichokes, onions, asparagus, carrots, apples, or cooked and cooled rice.
In our modern, over-information environments, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the “hacks” and trends regarding what to do for optimal health. To distill down where to start, it often helps to look at those things that address the foundation and that have downstream effects. Sometimes, refocusing on the basics of health is the most novel idea of all. As Hippocrates said, “All disease begins in the gut.”
Where to Find Butyrate
Once logged into your OHP Health account, search for Tri-Butyrin. The recommended dose is 1-2 capsules per day depending on your gut goals.
For the more direct form of butyrate, Mitozen offers a rectal suppository form that can be found here!
To listen to a brief recap of the microbiome and the importance of butyrate by Dr. Yurth, visit our partner education site, the Human Optimization Academy and search microbiome in the search bar!
- Anaerobic : without oxygen
- Anaerobe : an organism that lives and grows in the absence of molecular oxygen
- Aerobic : requiring oxygen
- Aerobes : an organism that requires oxygen to live and grow
- Colonocyte : an epithelial cell of the colon
- Epithelium : thin, continuous, protective layer of cells that lines the outer surfaces of organs and blood vessels, as well forms the lining of our respiratory, reproductive, digestive, and excretory tract.
- Glucose : a simple sugar energy source for living organisms
- Suppository : a way of delivering material for quick absorption by inserting a dissolvable pill into the rectum or vagina.