Butter-up Your Social Life
As I have often said, it is a great time to be a “health food nut” (as we were called in my father’s day). Many of the tastiest foods, once considered unhealthy, are back on the map again, scientifically confirmed to be good for you. These include red wine, chocolate (70% or higher), cheese, and butter.
Butter is back because it is one of the few sources of butyric acid (also known as butyrate). Butyric acid is a short-chain fatty acid (SCFA), one of the three most common SCFAs found in the gut (the other two being acetic acid, and propionic acid).
SCFAs are saturated fatty acids, created when friendly bacteria break down dietary fiber. This is one reason why eating a good amount of fiber can improve gut health, because it leads to the colon producing more butyric acid.
Butter is one of the best dietary sources of butyric acid. About 11% of the saturated fat in butter comes from SCFAs, and butyric acid makes up about half of those SCFAs.
The main health benefit SCFAs is their ability to provide colon cells with energy, and butyric acid provides the colon cells with about 70% of their total energy needs.
Health Benefits of Butyric Acid
- The science on butyric acid suggests it could be used as a treatment for irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease (study), and it may help reduce the risk of colon cancer (study).
- People with type 2 diabetes often have low amounts of butyric acid–producing bacteria in their gut. (Study) In several rodent studies, butyrate supplementation improved glucose balance, insulin sensitivity, and even mitochondrial function (energy production in the cells).
- Butyric acid regulates weight by stimulating hormones in the gut, and increasing the synthesis of leptin, which works to regulate appetite. (Study)
- Butyric acid has been shown to be effective at reducing gut permeability (“leaky gut”), a major factor in autoimmune-related digestive disorders, such as colitis. (Study
- Through its action on dopamine, butyric acid may stabilize mood. In mouse studies it has been shown to prevent mania, and in mice kept under chronic stress conditions, it acted as an antidepressant; (Study)
Butter and Your Social Life
As promised in the title of this newsletter (the “hook”), I will now address this fascinating, odd feature of butyric acid.
Human beings can detect even miniscule amounts of butyric acid by smell; in fact we can pick up this odor better than any other naturally occurring chemical on the planet. At high levels the smell of butyric acid causes disgust, because it is found occurring in things which are diseased, or rotting. However, at low levels, the smell of butyric acid conveys information about the immune status of others. So, a light smell (not perceptible to us) issuing from someone’s body odor, tells us they are healthy and strong, and worth socializing with. (In other words, a potentially valuable addition to the gene pool).
Thus, butyric acid (or butyrate) is considered a “social odor”, and may even influence whether or not people find someone attractive. (Study)
Sources of Butyric Acid
While butter is the best source of butyric acid, the highest amount will be found in butter (or ghee) from grass-fed cows, followed by organic butter. Some is found in kombucha (fermented tea), but for vegans (or those who are dairy intolerant), the best option is to encourage the body to produce its own butyric acid by eating foods high in resistant starch.
Such foods include green (underripe) bananas, dandelion greens, Jerusalem artichokes, cooked then cooled sweet potatoes (refrigerated for at least 12 hours), and raw jicama (an edible root vegetable native to Mexico). (Source)
Because fiber in excess can cause digestive disturbances, as can too much butyric acid (in both cases due to shifting the microbiome too fast), one should begin to introduce these foods slowly.
For example, start with adding a little extra butter, or half a cup of green bananas, see how that feels, and if no dramatic changes occur, up the amount. When digestion appears to improve, along with other positive symptoms, add more butter and/or resistant starch foods.
One can also take butyric acid as a supplement, available as calcium/magnesium butyrate, or sodium/potassium butyrate.