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Butyrate for Treating Ulcerative Colitis

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Updated February 25, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Butyrate is a fatty acid that is synthesized in the intestine when certain carbohydrates are fermented during the digestive process. Butyrate has been studied for use in treating inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and ulcerative colitis in particular.

What Is Butyrate:

Some carbohydrates pass through the intestines without being fully digested. Instead, they are fermented by the bacteria in the colon, and give off various byproducts. Butyrate is one such byproduct which then goes on to be 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 ulcerative colitis. Butyrate enemas may be most effective in treating ulcerative colitis in the last sections of the colon (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. 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 distal ulcerative colitis.

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. 17 Jan 2010.

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. 17 Jan 2010.

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. 17 Jan 2010.

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. 17 Jan 2010.

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