Butyrate and cancer; Research review

Butyrate and cancer; Research review

A lowered presence of butyrate in the microbiome is linked to increased cancer risk; and increasing its presence through dietary soluble fibre and bacterial replenishment, and/or supplementation appears to have a positive effect in most cancers such as breast, lung, colorectal, prostate and more.


Increasing numbers of research studies show many benefits for butyrate.

Butyrate is a short chain fatty acid produced by gut bacteria from the fermentation of soluble fibre (oats, pulses/legumes, nuts, seeds, and vegetables) in the large intestine (colon). 

There are three main short chain fatty acids (acetate, propionate and butyrate) produced by a healthy microbiome and we have covered their many health-managing roles several times. We have even dubbed them ‘supermolecules’ because they are involved in so many important health functions.

General health benefits of Butyrate

For example, butyrate helps heal the gut wall; it is anti-inflammatory; it activates vitamin D; it crosses the blood brain barrier; it kills emergent colorectal cancer cells in the gut wall; it helps colonise commensal bacteria in the gut and is a controller of intestinal homeostasis and energy metabolism.

Obviously the membership of the microbiome is crucial. Research has shown that while possibly 60-90 different strains of bacteria may produce butyrate (see below), the presence of  Ruminococcus bromii was strongly linked with good levels of butyrate in the gut (1). Obviously factors such as drugs, stress, food poisoning and parasites or viruses can damage production. One study we covered showed how antibiotics ‘scar’ the microbiome, in effect, damaging bacterial membership and promoting cancer.

Butyrate and the gut wall

Butyrate is used by colonocytes in the gut wall for energy (2). Butyrate also accelerates blood flow to the colon wall and thus reduces colonic healing time (3). It can be used as a supplement to improve the intestinal mucosal barrier and improve immune function; all this can be used to help heal colitis and other problems of the wall such as diverticulitis (4). 

Butyrate and Colorectal cancer (CRC)

The innermost lining of the gut is the intestinal mucosa. It plays an important role in your immunity. And in colorectal cancer. Butyrate provides nutrition for this mucus membrane, promoting its size, health, strength  and barrier properties. In several studies, researchers found that butyrate inhibited CRC cell proliferation by directly targeting pyruvate kinase M2 and subsequently reprogramming the cancer cells’ metabolism (5). Importantly, researchers have shown that combining butyrate with the GPR109A receptor - a receptor that also reacts to B vitamin niacin - can suppress and even reduce tumours in the colon (6).

Butyrate and Breast cancer

As if all that wasn’t enough, sodium butyrate has been shown capable of causing apoptosis (cell death) in breast cancer cells (7). Researchers concluded that sodium butyrate-elicited apoptosis was driven by heightened levels of Reactive Oxygen Species. ROS increased caspase activity and reduced mitochondrial membrane performance. 

Chris Woollams, former Oxford University Biochemist and a founder of CANCERactive, who has been writing articles and books on the microbiome since 2005 commented, “We know in breast cancer from a recent study that women who fix their microbiomes after conventional treatment survive much longer than women who don’t. An unhealthy microbiome worsens cancer outcomes.”

Butyrate and Pancreatic cancer

Researchers from Italy using in vitro and in vivo studies (8) showed that butyrate addition reduced cancer proliferation and enhanced the drug Gemcitabine effectiveness mainly by inducing apoptosis. In mice, butyrate alone, or combined with Gemcitabine treatment, reduced stromatogenesis (the process by which cancer forces entry into tissues), preserved intestinal mucosa integrity and decreased inflammation causing pathogens. Furthermore, a serum analysis showed the addition of butyrate reduced markers of kidney and liver damage, while a second analysis showed butyrate appeared to reduce lipid metabolism, essential for metastasis.

Butyrate and Lung cancer

It has been known since 1990 that damage to the gut linked to damage to the lungs; this is now called the 'gut-lung' axis. Damage your microbiome and you are more likely to develop allergies, asthma, COPD and even lung cancer. 

A team of researchers from China set out to see whether this involved butyrate. They analysed the microbiome of 30 adults with NSCLC and 30 matched healthy individuals. When the NSCLC patients were compared with healthy adults, all were seen to have significantly lowered levels of butyrate-producing bacteria, including Faecalibacterium prausnitzii, Clostridium leptum, various Clostridia members, Ruminococcus family and Roseburia spp (9). 

Butyrate and Prostate cancer

The addition of sodium butyrate even regulates androgen receptor expression and cell cycle arrest in human prostate cancer cells (10). Sodium butyrate is actually a 'Histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitor'. And these are known to modify the expression of several genes, regulate cell division and cause apoptosis in several cancers.  This particular study examined whether this HDAC inhibitor affects cell death in human prostate cancer cells through the epigenetic regulation of androgen receptor (AR) expression. It did.

A second study (11) showed it weakened the cancer cell and could limit cell migration (spread).

Butyrate and cancer: a summary

Chris Woollams added, “Perhaps this little run through of some of the latest research has showed you why, when I help people with cancer in a Personal Prescription, my approach is to rebuild them, gut outwards. They built a body conducive to cancer - the volume and diversity of their microbiome will be depleted. Then they have conventional treatment which damages the microbiome further. And the research has been clear since the Human Microbiome Project in 2011 - patients cannot hope to get better until they fix their microbiome. One of the biggest ‘health aids' we use is ‘Microbiome Replenishment’, and butyrate has been a crucial part of that for over a decade. As many of my patients realise. I don’t treat cancer; I treat people.” 

Go to: Butyrate significantly improves your health

Thinking of supplementing with butyrate? Why not see what Our Natural Selection has to offer? Click Here



  1. In vitro Fermentation Reveals Changes in Butyrate Production Dependent on Resistant Starch Source and Microbiome Composition; June Teichmann, Darrell W Cockburn; Front Microbiol. 2021 Apr 29;12:640253.

  2. Uptake and metabolism of the short-chain fatty acid butyrate, a critical review of the literature.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22571479/

  3. Butyrate and the colonocyte. In Dietary Fibre in Health and Disease Velázquez, O. C., Lederer, H. M. & Rombeau, J. L. 123–134 (Springer, 1997)

  4. Relationship between intestinal microbiota and ulcerative colitis: Mechanisms and clinical application of probiotics and faecal microbiota transplantation. Shen, Z. H. et al;  World J. Gastroenterol. 24(1), 5–14 (2018).

  5.  Butyrate suppresses the proliferation of colorectal cancer cells via targeting pyruvate kinase M2 and metabolic reprogramming. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29739823/

  6. Characterization of butyrate-metabolism in colorectal cancer to guide clinical treatment; Qinghua Luo, Ping Zhou, Shuangqing Chang, Zhifang Huang & Xuebo Zeng; Scientific Reports volume 13, Article number: 5106 (2023) 

  7. Sodium butyrate promotes apoptosis in breast cancer cells through reactive oxygen species (ROS) formation and mitochondrial impairment; Vahid Salimi et al; Lipids Health Dis.  2017 Nov 2;16(1):208.  

  8. Butyrate, a postbiotic of intestinal bacteria, affects pancreatic cancer and gemcitabine response in in vitro and in vivo models; Concetta Panebianco et al; Biomed Pharmacother. 2022 Jul;151:113163. 

  9. The association between gut butyrate-producing bacteria and non-small-cell lung cancer; Quifeng Gui et al; J Clin Lab Anal. 2020 Aug;34(8):e23318.  

  10. Sodium butyrate regulates androgen receptor expression and cell cycle arrest in human prostate cancer cells; Jeonga Kim et al; Anticancer Res. 2007 Sep-Oct;27(5A):3285-92.

  11. Sodium phenylbutyrate antagonizes prostate cancer through the induction of apoptosis and attenuation of cell viability and migration; Yawen Xu et al; Onco Targets Ther.  2016 May 12;9:2825-33




  Approved by the Medical Board.  Click Here



2023 Research
CancerAcitve Logo
Subscribe (Free e-Newsletter)

Join Chris'

Join Chris' NewsletterSignup today for free and be the first to get notified on new updates.