Butyrate for Treating Ulcerative Colitis

Emerging Research Has Not Yet Determined Butyrate's Effectiveness

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

Butyrate is a fatty acid that is synthesized in the intestine. During the digestive process, certain 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.

What Is Butyrate?

Some carbohydrates pass through the intestines without being fully digested. Instead, they are fermented by the bacteria in the colon, and the result is the formation of various byproducts. Butyrate is one such byproduct, but it is not just 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.

Butyrate enemas have been studied for use in treating ulcerative colitis. Some studies have shown that the topical use of butyrate 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.


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