Could butyrate be the secret to the French’s robust health? Read on to find out!
When it comes to health, it seems the French hold a secret that Americans don’t know.
While we have the highest rates of heart disease in the world, the French have one of the lowest. And it’s not just heart disease. Our European friends also weigh in with lower rates of obesity and diabetes.
And to add insult to injury…
The French are heavy consumers of all those calorie-laden things that are supposed to bad for us – red wine, butter, cream, meat and cheese. In fact, they’re the largest consumers of cheese in the world, at an impressive annual average of 58 pounds per person.1
So impressive are the health outcomes of the French, with high levels of fat and alcohol in their diet, that it has become known as the ‘French Paradox.’
It just doesn’t seem fair!
And while this may be a common feeling, we can learn a lot from the French diet. Until recently, the benefits were attributed to red wine. But research suggests that their staple of fatty foods may be even more important to their healthy longevity.
An interesting new study from researchers at the American Chemical Society examined the effects of three different fat-based diets on 15 healthy men. The diets were similar in fat content with one high in milk, one high in cheese and the other a control. When the researchers examined the urine and fecal matter from the subjects, they found that the diet high in cheese produced higher levels of a substance called butyrate.2
Butyrate has been getting a lot of attention over the past few years with regard to its positive effects on cholesterol, heart disease, insulin resistance, cancer and obesity.
So let’s take a closer look and answer the question…
Can We Really Go Crazy on Butter and Cheese and be as Healthy as the French?
Inside your gut are trillions of microbes. These microbes actually outnumber your human cells by 10 to one. There are many different species and strains. And they all live together as one ecosystem, called the microbiome.
And just as your human cells need food, so too do your microbial ones.
When they don’t get the right nourishment, they also perform poorly and contribute to health issues. Many scientists believe that our health issues are in fact, mostly driven by the gut. This was a view shared by Hippocrates, when he stated…
“All disease begins in the gut.”
These bugs also have their own ‘waste’ that they excrete inside us. And this is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, the waste from certain types of bacteria may help to explain the French paradox and why butter and cheese play an important role in the health benefits conferred by this diet.
Butyrate: Anti-Inflammatory ‘Bug Waste’
The waste product we’re talking about is butyrate. It is a short chain fatty acid (SCFA) produced by the bacteria in our gut.
Butyrate is known as ‘colon food’.
In fact, research shows that butyrate could be a major player in colorectal cancer. In vivo studies show that it reduces the multiplication of cancerous cells, encourages cell death and changes the nature of these cells.3
Butyrate is an anti-inflammatory fat. And in our modern processed diets, we are simply not producing enough.
Chronic Disease is Chronic Inflammation
A recent review published in the British Journal of Nutrition explains how chronic inflammation is a major contributor to chronic disease. The review states:
“The importance of chronic low-grade inflammation in the pathology of numerous age-related chronic conditions is now clear. An unresolved inflammatory response is likely to be involved from the early stages of disease development.”4
To reduce the risk of chronic disease, researchers and health professionals look to the management of inflammation as an important tool. Supplements can certainly be useful to lower inflammation. But if you look at the research on butyrate and the high butter and cheese French diet, it seems more beneficial to consider our microbial food instead.
A study conducted by researchers from Utah and Louisiana State Universities found that treating diet-obese mice with sodium butyrate, prevented the development of inflammatory conditions and insulin resistance and reduced levels of obesity.5
So How Do We Make Butyrate (and Where’s the Cheese)?
Butyrate is the by-product generated from our microbes digesting the fiber found in plant-based foods (especially those with resistant starch). If we consider the French diet again, you find that they frequently consume local, farm fresh produce.
And if you’re a lover of cheese and butter, you’ll also be glad to know that butyrate is also found in healthy, pastured dairy products in the form of butyric acid. You’ll recognize it by its distinct buttery/cheesy aroma.
To stimulate butyrate production, enjoy healthy, grass fed meats and poultry and load your plate with fibrous organic vegetables. And be sure to include good anti-inflammatory fats like avocado, coconut oil and olive oil. Include naturally fermented products like kefir and kimchi to keep the gut populated with good bugs.
And by all means … eat grass-fed butter and cheese! You’ll please your taste buds, while helping to reduce inflammation and improve your health, to boot.