Butyrate for Treating Ulcerative Colitis

Emerging Research Has Not Yet Determined Butyrate's Effectiveness

Suppositories
Another possible route of administration for butyrate is with suppositories. Image © art-4-art / E+ / Getty Images

Butyrate is a short-chain fatty acid that is synthesized in the intestine. During the digestive process, carbohydrates go through a fermenting process. One of the products of this is butyrate. Butyrate enemas have been studied for use in treating inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and ulcerative colitis in particular. However, at this time, there is no consensus on if, or when, butyrate enemas might be used to treat patients with ulcerative colitis or the other forms of IBD (such as Crohn's disease).

Butyrate Is Fuel For The Body

Some carbohydrates pass through the intestines without being fully broken down and digested. Instead, they are fermented by the bacteria in the colon (large intestine), and the result is the creation of various byproducts. Butyrate is one of these byproducts, but it is not excreted by the body. Butyrate is actually used as a fuel by the cells in the lining of the colon.

Why Butyrate May Be Beneficial in Treating Ulcerative Colitis

Butyrate has been shown to be beneficial to the cells in the intestinal tract by combating inflammation, preventing cells from becoming cancerous, reducing the effects of oxidative stress, and strengthening the colonic defenses. Butyrate enemas have been shown to reduce oxidative stress in healthy adults, when compared to those receiving a placebo enema of saline. Oxidative stress is a process by which cells can get damaged and then be unable to function properly.

Butyrate enemas have been studied for use in treating ulcerative colitis. Some studies have shown that the topical use of butyrate (that is, applying it directly to the rectum or the end of colon via an enema) may help decrease the inflammation in the colon that is caused by the ulcerative colitis. Butyrate enemas may be most effective in treating ulcerative colitis in the very last sections of the colon (which is often called distal ulcerative colitis).

The Future of Butyrate in Treating IBD

Even though these initial studies have shown some promise, butyrate is not yet in wide use for treating ulcerative colitis. Many of the studies done have been on mice, but not on humans. At least one study used oral butyrate instead of an enema, but again the study was on mice, and human studies have yet to take place. The authors of many of the studies on butyrate indicate that further research is needed. Butyrate has also been studied for use in Crohn's disease, although there is currently not as much research as there is on butyrate and ulcerative colitis. It has been reported, however, that some alternative health care practitioners prescribe butyrate enemas for their patients with ulcerative colitis in the last section of the colon.

A Word From Verywell

Butyrate is available over-the-counter, so it's important to tell a gastroenterologist and other physicians when taking this supplement, either in pill form or as an enema or a suppository. There aren't many reports of serious adverse effects, but it's always important to make sure there's no potential adverse effects or harms from using this, or other, supplements, to treat IBD. For people who have severe disease that extends beyond the end of the colon, an enema or a suppository might not have much effect, and therefore relying on it as a therapy could cause harm if it is being used in the place of another effective medication.

Treating IBD may involve lots of different therapies and finding something that works is important, keeping in mind that not every treatment that has shown promise in a research study is going to be effective for a wide range of people with the disease. 

Sources:

Hamer HM, Jonkers DM, Bast A, et al. "Butyrate modulates oxidative stress in the colonic mucosa of healthy humans." Clin Nutr 2009 Feb; 28:88-93. doi: 10.1016/j.clnu.2008.11.002

Hamer HM, Jonkers D, Venema K, et al. "Review article: the role of butyrate on colonic function." Aliment Pharmacol Ther 2008 Jan 15; 27:104-119. 14 Sept 2015.

Lührs H, Gerke T, Müller JG, et al. "Butyrate inhibits NF-kappaB activation in lamina propria macrophages of patients with ulcerative colitis." Scand J Gastroenterol 2002 Apr; 37:458-466. 

Malago JJ1, Sangu CL. "Intraperitoneal administration of butyrate prevents the severity of acetic acid colitis in rats." J Zhejiang Univ Sci B. 2015 Mar;16:224-234. doi: 10.1631/jzus.B1400191.

Scheppach W, Sommer H, Kirchner T, et al. "Effect of butyrate enemas on the colonic mucosa in distal ulcerative colitis." Gastroenterology 1992 Jul; 103:51-56. 

Vieira EL, Leonel AJ, Sad AP, et al. "Oral administration of sodium butyrate attenuates inflammation and mucosal lesion in experimental acute ulcerative colitis." J Nutr Biochem. 2012 May;23(5):430-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jnutbio.2011.01.007. Epub 2011 Jun 12. 

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