Tributyrin: Just The Ingredient For Product Development

Butter, a source of tributyrin.
Image by Aline Ponce, c/o Pixabay.

Tributyrin (TB) could be a product developer’s answer to incorporating an extremely difficult compound called butyrate into a food product.

Tributyrin (TB) is a triglyceride based on glycerol which has three attached butyrate groups. As in all triglycerides, the attachment of the butyric acid group is via an ester bond. It is a compound  naturally found in butter and is used to make margarine.

The compound is also highly stable and taken as an absorbed prodrug for butyric acid. The lipid is enzymatically broken down by gastric and pancreatic lipases in the gastrointesinal tract (Egorin et al., 1999) to its constituent parts. Butyrate is the key compound here.

The Benefits Of Butyrate

Butyrate is a four-carbon short-chain fatty acid (SCFA). It is in its own right an important compound produced by bacterial fermentation in the digestive tract. This community of microorganisms  metabolise a range of carbohydrates. In turn, butyrate is highly beneficial on gastrointestinal health. It plays a central role in maintaining the integrity of the mucosal barrier of the gut. A lack of any SCFA produces endogenous starvation of enterocytes.  Here any SCFA exerts its benefits by reducing gut inflammation which if it occurs leads to ulcerative colitis and diarrhea in the lower intestines of the colon (Canani et al., 2011).

Tributyrin enhances the antiproliferative effects of dihydroxycholecalciferol in colon cancer cells and in the treatment of blood disorders (Gaschott et al., 2001).

Butyrate would be an ideal supplement but it has an extremely unpleasant flavour and aroma. It is also highly volatile. The cost is also prohibitive when it comes to incorporation into foods.

Administering butyrate is not straightforward. It must be administered by rectal enema into the distal colon (Scheppach et al., 1992).

Tributyrin is also a valuable feed for weaning livestock such as piglets because of the release of butyrate. It has been shown on administration to piglets that it improves their growth as well as their gut health (Sotira et al., 2020).

Toxicity Of Tributyrin

At low doses there is no issue with tributyrin but it is cytotoxic at the higher doses according to animal models (Wächtershäuser & Stein,  2000). 


Canani, R. B.Costanzo, M. DiLeone, L.Pedata, M.Meli, R., & Calignano, A. (2011). Potential beneficial effects of butyrate in intestinal and extraintestinal diseasesWorld Journal of Gastroenterology17(12), pp. 15191528 (Article).

Egorin, M. J.Yuan, Z.‐M.Sentz, D. L.Plaisance, K.Eiseman, J. L.Egorin, M. J., … Plaisance, K. (1999). Plasma pharmacokinetics of butyrate after intravenous administration of sodium butyrate or oral administration of tributyrin or sodium butyrate to mice and ratsCancer Chemother Pharmacol, 43(6) pp. 445-453. (Article)

Gaschott, T.Steinhilber, D.Milovic, V., & Stein, J. (2001). Tributyrin, a stable and rapidly absorbed prodrug of butyric acid, enhances antiproliferative effects of dihydroxycholecalciferol in human colon cancer cellsThe Journal of Nutrition131(6), pp. 18391843.

Scheppach, W.Sommer, H.Kirchner, T.Paganelli, G.‐M.Bartram, P.Christl, S., … Kasper, H. (1992). Effect of butyrate enemas on the colonic mucosa in distal ulcerative colitisGastroenterology103(1), pp.  5156 (Article)

Sotira, S., Dell’Anno, M., Caprarulo, V., Hejna, M., Pirrone, F., Callegari, M. L., Tucci, T. V., & Rossi, L. (2020). Effects of Tributyrin Supplementation on Growth Performance, Insulin, Blood Metabolites and Gut Microbiota in Weaned Piglets. Animals : an open access journal from MDPI10(4), pp.  726. (Article

Wächtershäuser, A., & Stein, J. (2000). Rationale for the luminal provision of butyrate in intestinal diseases. European journal of nutrition39(4), 164-171., J. (2000). Rationale for the luminal provision of butyrate in intestinal diseases. European Journal of Nutrition39(4), pp. 164-171.

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