Brain Health: How Butyrate Helps Power the Brain


We decided to sit down and have a chat with our practice owner and MD, Dr. Philip Oubre, and functional nutritionist, Aubree Steen.

We're diving into another 4 part series focusing on brain health. We're diving into part 2 here, following with:

1. How Indoor Air and Mold Affect the Brain
2. How Butyrate Helps Power the Brain
3. How to Test Your Brain Function
4. Keto, Cycling Keto, and Fasting

 

Philip Oubre (00:00):
Hey, everybody. We're going to continue our Brain Health podcast for this month. And now we're going to talk about, I'm kind of really excited about video two the most, about butyrate, butyric acid, in both the gut and in system-wide. And you've probably heard of this already, but you may not know anything about it until we talk about it. So, stay tuned. I am Dr. Philip Oubre.

Aubree Steen, FNTP (00:18):
I'm Aubree.

Philip Oubre (00:20):
And so, we're going to be talking about butyrate and how you can both take it as a supplement, but also create it yourself. So, first of all, let's go back a little bit, and I did a lot of talking in the first video, so I'm going to make you do this. Butyrate.

Aubree Steen, FNTP (00:33):
You're very excited.

Philip Oubre (00:34):
Yes. I'm excited, but I'm excited for us. So, butyrate in the bowels. Give us the story behind butyrate in the bowels, in your intestines.

Aubree Steen, FNTP (00:41):
Okay. So, basically, what happens is you eat fiber and the bacteria in your gut ferment fiber and produce something called short-chain fatty acids. Short-chain fatty acids, there's a few of them. Butyrate's the most prominent one. That's the one that we want to focus on today. That's beautiful for brain health, but more importantly, they produce a short-chain fatty acid called butyrate, and it nourishes the colon, it helps balance insulin levels, helps with inflammation, but it also kind of is used to feed that same beneficial bacteria. There's only two ways to regrow beneficial bacteria. Fiber is really the only way, but sometimes you can help with butyrate supplementation to help kind of fluff them up a little bit more. That's basically it. [crosstalk 00:01:18]

Philip Oubre (01:18):
That's cool, though. The nerdy side of me gets excited because there's a component to our health that we cannot live without bacteria. And we eat a food that we don't actually digest, something else digests it for us.

Aubree Steen, FNTP (01:32):
It ferments it.

Philip Oubre (01:33):
Ferments it for us.

Aubree Steen, FNTP (01:33):
Farts it.

Philip Oubre (01:34):
And then feeds it to us. Did you say farts it?

Aubree Steen, FNTP (01:35):
Yeah.

Philip Oubre (01:35):
It does make gas.

Aubree Steen, FNTP (01:41):
That's what he says.

Philip Oubre (01:42):
A little immature. So, you can see it called either one, butyric acid or butyrate. It's the same thing, it's just some biochemistry terms. And so, once again, say it, you eat fiber. So, if you're not eating enough fiber, you are not feeding these beneficial bacteria. If you are not feeding them, they're not multiplying, and they're in very small populations. So, the first step to regenerate these guys is to start eating more fiber. As you eat more fiber, then they start reproducing and making more, and then they digest even more of this fiber and then feed yourself.

Philip Oubre (02:09):
And so, not only does this butyrate feed other microorganisms, it feeds your own intestinal lining. And if you know anything about your intestinal lining, we like to compare it to the shag carpet of a carpet or a rug. And so, if you've got a nice shag carpet, you could pour a whole pot of coffee on it and it would absorb it. But if you poured a whole pot of coffee on a tile floor, it would spread really far out. So, your intestines have limited real estate in order to absorb all of your nutrients. If your intestinal lining has been burned and killed off with inflammatory foods, then it's more like that tile floor and it can't absorb things, so things just slip right on through and you poop them out. Whereas if you have a very shag carpeted, very fluffy intestinal lining, then you have lots of real estate, lots of surface area to absorb all those nutrients.

Aubree Steen, FNTP (02:56):
And they've proven that three days on a low to no fiber diet has a detrimental effect on that beneficial bacteria. Three days. But that inadvertently also means that three days of a very high fiber diet, and I'm talking about you want no less than 38 grams of fiber, try to get 50, try to get 70 if you can. That's a lot of fiber, but you can do it.

Philip Oubre (03:15):
And how can someone calculate that? Because I'm like, 38 grams, I don't know what that means.

Aubree Steen, FNTP (03:18):
So, you can do it on an app called Cronometer. C-R-O-N-O meter. And it will tell you your kind of net carbohydrates.

Philip Oubre (03:25):
It's free. No excuses.

Aubree Steen, FNTP (03:26):
It's free. You can track it on your phone or on the computer. Yeah. And once you kind of are aware about how many foods have different fiber in there, you can just get a ton. Ideally, if you can get that nine cups of fiber a day, you're already going to change-

Philip Oubre (03:36):
Nine cups of vegetables, not pure fiber. Ooh.

Aubree Steen, FNTP (03:37):
Vegetables, sorry. Poop yourself.

Philip Oubre (03:39):
Talk about mega.

Aubree Steen, FNTP (03:40):
Or not at all. Yeah. So, basically, just eat more fiber.

Philip Oubre (03:45):
Yes. But over time, as we've learned more and more about butyric acid, supplement companies started making butyrate or butyric acid as a supplement. And at first, it came out in capsules and it was attached to calcium and magnesium and stuff. And those are great. But we later learned that those are actually kind of destroyed by the stomach acid before they actually make it to the small intestine. And so, it's nice, sure, it's some extra nutrients, but if it's not making to the small intestine, it's really not doing what you need it to do. So, they started making it in triglyceride form, and primarily we've seen this in oil-based, as a liquid, not a capsule.

Aubree Steen, FNTP (04:21):
Yeah. You'll see it commonly kind of patented as SunButyrate, and it's 70% more absorption through the gut.

Philip Oubre (04:28):
I'm sure they will make capsules out of it eventually. But right now, we only have it in the-

Aubree Steen, FNTP (04:31):
We do. Oh, no, we have the capsules. It's Tri-Butyrin Supreme by Designs for Health, it's a phospholipid complex on the pill itself.

Philip Oubre (04:38):
Okay. I have seen that on the shelf. Okay. So, that's newer, too. The main one that we use, because it's a lot. So, any time it's a lot, you end up having to swallow a lot of capsules. And that's the time we usually tell people, just go straight for the liquid. It's cheaper. It's easier to get in. And it tastes fine. It's really not even-

Aubree Steen, FNTP (04:52):
It's blueberry and lemon. I mean, the only weird thing is that you feel like your mouth is full of oil, but pour it in your protein shake, porridge.

Philip Oubre (04:58):
I put it in my coffee the other day. I was like, "Why does this coffee taste like lemon? Oh, it's flavor." Because the one we like the most, the one we use is called Butyrate MCT. And so, what?

Aubree Steen, FNTP (05:10):
Which is actually a really good thing to tie in later of two different types of butyrate when you're taking that supplement.

Philip Oubre (05:15):
Oh, well, tell me, because I didn't know this.

Aubree Steen, FNTP (05:18):
No, we're good. We'll keep going. We'll bring it in.

Philip Oubre (05:20):
Oh, okay. So, the Butyrate MCT is made by Douglas Labs. It comes in a glass jar.

Aubree Steen, FNTP (05:24):
Pier has it too, but we use Douglas. Yeah.

Philip Oubre (05:26):
Yeah. And you can order these from our store if you want to. So, plenty of people add MCT to their coffee, it's good for brain health, speaking of which. And so, the butyrate comes in MCT oil base, you pour it in your coffee or shake or whatever, with a spoon. I often pour mine in my shake. I just wasn't making a shake that day, so I poured it in my coffee. But anyway, it's one tablespoon once a day or twice a day, preferably twice a day. But as Aubree mentioned earlier, any time you're increasing the fiber, increasing the butyrate in your bowels, you want to make sure that you do it kind of slowly because you can get some gas and bloating as you ramp that up. But that is something as the new microbiome, or as the new micro organisms grow and develop, they'll actually start making less and less gas over time. So, don't start taking it and be like, "Oh, my gosh, I'm so bloated and gassy. This is bad." You need to wait, and you can get through that phase and onto the healing phase of that.

Aubree Steen, FNTP (06:15):
Right. Yeah. So, don't be nervous if all of a sudden, you're taking the butyrate and you get gassy or bloated or something like that. That means you're actually having a healing reaction, in my opinion, that you're increasing some beneficial bacteria. You're having some healing elements to it, so you're going to get some residual digestive kind of symptoms. Totally fine. If you want to, you can trade up and maybe do a teaspoon once a day and then go to twice a day, because people have sensitive bowels and you don't want to play with this before you go to work. Again, don't take a lot of MCT oil on an empty stomach. So, don't be the person who's-

Philip Oubre (06:44):
Especially if you haven't ever done MCT before.

Aubree Steen, FNTP (06:45):
Exactly.

Philip Oubre (06:46):
It can be like a slip and slide through your bowels.

Aubree Steen, FNTP (06:48):
Yes. Basically, MCT oil-

Philip Oubre (06:49):
With a crash landing at the end.

Aubree Steen, FNTP (06:51):
I know. It's super fractionated. It's absorbed immediately. But what happens is if you have too much, you don't need to actually break down the MCT oil. It's just absorbed. It's going to go to your bowels. What happens with oil in the bowels? It makes loose stool. So, don't be the person who's like, "I can't wait to take butyrate", and takes two tablespoons or three or just chugs it in the morning before they go to work. It's going to be a horrible ride on the way to work.

Philip Oubre (07:13):
You're going to poop yourself, basically.

Aubree Steen, FNTP (07:14):
Yeah. Maybe a good, necessary poop, but you know. But yeah. So, that's going to be the MCT butyrate that's going to help with your intestinal kind of microbiome.

Philip Oubre (07:24):
So, we talked about making it on your own. You can eat the nine cups of vegetables. You can take a supplement, some butyrate or butyrate MCT from Douglas Labs is the one we're using mostly, or tributinin?

Aubree Steen, FNTP (07:34):
Tri-Butyrin Supreme from Designs for Health.

Philip Oubre (07:37):
Okay. Both of which are on our store.

Aubree Steen, FNTP (07:38):
Yeah. And we say it's good for brain health, but can you kind of just do a quick synopsis on exactly why butyrate is good for your brain health?

Philip Oubre (07:45):
That's a good point. So, the main hormone in the brain that a lot of focus is put on is this hormone called BDNF, brain-derived neurotrophic factor. So, this BDNF, yep. This BDNF hormone is only made in the brain. And it is the direct stimulant to regenerate brain cells, kill off old ones and regenerate and grow and heal and things, because your brain is always learning and growing. If you sit on a couch for seven days and don't move, you're going to be kind of a vegetable when you get out of it. So, you're always evolving, even if you're not doing brain games or whatnot, your brain is always identifying the environment and changing. And so, without BDNF, you can't regenerate. You can't regrow. So, ultimately, the brain health starts to get sacrificed without it. So, butyrate is one of the direct and most powerful stimulants to the brain health, to that BDNF.

Philip Oubre (08:33):
Frequently, I ask patients, what do they think the most powerful thing to stimulate the brain is, and we get a mixture of all kinds of answers. But actually, butyrate and fiber is actually the number one stimulant to regrow and regenerate brain cells. So, that's one of the reasons we're talking about this. And it's also, if you've ever heard that ketones or ketogenic dieting is great for dementia and brain health and brain fog and all that stuff. This is why. Because ketogenesis, we're going to segue to the next butyrate. Ketogenic dieting actually generates butyric acid, but not the butyric acid in your bowels. It actually generates butyric acid from the liver. And it goes all over, system-wide. So, butyrate in the bowels is the main source that you're going to make on a daily basis, unless you're doing ketogenic. And so, make sure you're eating enough fiber for your brain. So, if you have brain fog, dementia, memory loss, whatever it may be, nine cups of vegetables and/or butyrate, and/or trade sums. Let's say you eat six cups of vegetables, then maybe add more butyrate or something like that.

Aubree Steen, FNTP (09:30):
Yeah. But yeah, the cool thing is that these butyrate, they're different types of butyrate, different types of butyric acid. And they've proven, there needs to be a little bit more science on it, there's a 10-page thing that we just kind of went through, but the synergistic effect of these two different butyrates are actually the most valuable kind of combo you can do for your brain health. So, ideally, a ketogenic diet with nine cups of low-glycemic veggies is kind of a one-two hit for the brain.

Philip Oubre (09:58):
Supercharged.

Aubree Steen, FNTP (09:59):
Yeah, supercharged, for sure.

Philip Oubre (10:00):
And you don't necessarily have to do ketogenic. And there's things that we're going to get Aubree to talk about ketogenic, but just fasting in general you've probably heard is good for brain health and dementia. So, any type of fasting where your body runs out of calories that you're intaking is going to generate ketones.

Aubree Steen, FNTP (10:14):
Yeah, because it's naturally produced after what, 16 to 18 hours of-

Philip Oubre (10:18):
No, I think it's eight hours of fasting will start to generate ketones. You may not be able to prick your finger and see the ketones. You might be able to see it in the urine, but your body can't survive that long without sugar coming in. So, I think they start getting generated around six to eight hours and it just builds and builds and builds as you go longer. So, that's one of the reasons for the... I'm sorry.

Aubree Steen, FNTP (10:37):
No, no, no.

Philip Oubre (10:37):
Intermittent fasting that they usually say pushing it to 16 hours is where most of the benefit you get. Don't do any necessary, well, I'm not saying don't do shorter than 16 hours, but the goal is to work up to that 16 hours of fasting. And then you can do a longer fast, 24 hour fast, 72 hour fast, which sounds really crazy, but it's really powerful. Right?

Aubree Steen, FNTP (10:57):
Sometimes easy, once you start titrating up, your body just becomes used to it.

Philip Oubre (11:00):
Yep. So, there's this system-wide butyric acid when you go ketogenic or do fasting. And so, this doesn't mean you can just fast once and say I'm done. Obviously, it's the level and the amount. You don't just eat one cup of broccoli and be like, "There, I made my butyrate for the day, I'm done." So, you don't just skip a meal and say, I made my butyric acid. So, it depends on what your goal is. So, if you do have dementia or brain fog or something, ADD, whatever it may be that you're trying to treat, then you need to take things more aggressive and do it more often. So, doing that 16 hour intermittent fasting every day or three times a week, and just listening to your brain health and see what's happening.

Philip Oubre (11:36):
Now, remember, by the time you develop some dysfunction, it takes a little bit more effort than it would be to restore it than it would be to maintain it. So, you might need to do a 24 hour fast, 72 hour fast. And my usual rule on that is however many days you fast is how many weeks you should take a break in between. So, if you're going to do a 24 hour fast, that's one day, you can do that once a week. If you're going to do a 48 hour fast, you want to wait two weeks before you do that again. Then a 72 hour fast, three weeks. I don't know many people that want to go beyond that, but that's the usual recommendations we go.

Philip Oubre (12:07):
So, that's one of the ways you can get the liver to make your butyrate, but there's some huge pitfalls in the ketogenic diet that people always fall trap to. They hear ketogenic and they think meat and cheese.

Aubree Steen, FNTP (12:19):
Right, the think meat and cheese, that's all you do. That's all you eat.

Philip Oubre (12:22):
And it is delicious, but Aubree, help them out. What is the ketogenic we want them to do?

Aubree Steen, FNTP (12:26):
So, ideally, and they've proven this, that you can have up to two pounds of leafy greens and vegetables and not get knocked off ketosis. The whole point-

Philip Oubre (12:33):
How much is one of those containers of spinach? Isn't that three pounds of spinach or something? One pound?

Aubree Steen, FNTP (12:40):
Maybe a pound?

Philip Oubre (12:41):
Oh, I don't know, that sounds depressing. Anyway, so, two pounds of vegetables is a lot.

Aubree Steen, FNTP (12:46):
Yeah. And the whole point about it is the insulin release. Are you knocking yourself out? Are you having too much sugar in your bloodstream increasing that insulin? You can actually knock yourself out of ketosis state with too much protein, because roughly 60% of protein gets turned into sugar. So, the whole point about having low-glycemic veggies is that you're not increasing that insulin. You're not increasing the sugar in your bloodstream. So, your body's maintaining kind of that burning state.

Philip Oubre (13:11):
And in addition, now you're making two different forms of butyrate, right? You've got your vegetables and fiber making butyrate in your bowels, and then you're not fasting, but you're low sugar, so you're generating butyric acid from your liver as an energy source systemically.

Aubree Steen, FNTP (13:24):
Exactly. And we'll talk about this in a little bit, but the keto diet isn't good for most people. There's a select kind of person to people it's great for, but there's different things that you can do, like cyclical keto or a moderate to low carbohydrate, cycling things like that. And we'll talk about that in another video, too.

Philip Oubre (13:39):
Okay. So, with cyclic keto, one of the things I just want, what cyclic keto means is it means you do five days, the most common is you do five days on keto and then two days off keto. Now, that's not necessarily a cheat day where you go and eat pizza and donuts. It's just a day where you allow more carbs and you allow your body to come out of ketosis, and then right back in it in five days. So, you still want to be pretty balanced macros on that regard.

Aubree Steen, FNTP (14:02):
Yeah. Like sweet potatoes.

Philip Oubre (14:05):
You can supplement with butyrate. Any time you see exogenous ketones or ketone drinks, where there's tons of products now for ketogenic dieters, those are basically beta hydroxybutyrate. Those are butyric acid. They don't taste that great. That's why they're often kind of sweetened and things with Stevia and whatnot, but that's another way you can supplement butyric acid. But remember, that butyric acid is more for system-wide and it does help the brain, not going to help the gut, necessarily.

Aubree Steen, FNTP (14:31):
But don't necessarily be eating, don't take exogenous ketones trying to get into a ketogenic diet if you're not doing the diet appropriately, or if you're eating too much sugar and you're like, "These ketones aren't working." I'm like, "Well, yeah, they're basically a little useless right now." They may help with your brain function energy a little bit. But usually, it's when you're transitioning in and out of cyclical keto or something like that, where you're adding it in for better energy, easing that process of kind of burning through those carbohydrates, giving your brain a little bit more boost.

Philip Oubre (14:58):
Yeah. The majority of the butyric acid you make or butyrate you make is from the ketogenic diet or fasting. The amount you would drink and the expense of it would not be the same.

Aubree Steen, FNTP (15:07):
Yeah. It helps.

Philip Oubre (15:09):
So, that wraps up our nerdy podcast video about how butyrate in your bowels and butyrate in your body can actually stimulate brain health and improve brain focus. So, stay tuned for our next video, subscribe to our channel, like our videos. And we'll see you next time.


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