Resistant starch is a buzz word these days. Simply put, it is starch that is resistant to human digestion so it ends up in the colon where the bacteria can feed upon it. In this way, resistant starch directly supports the colonic microbiome and is thought to foster diversity.
Resistant Starch Poses a Dilemma
Eating an undigestible starch is clearly a contradiction to those of us on the SCD or GAPS diets, where the main premise of the diet is to only eat foods that starve out the bad bacteria. However, if you are not feeding the bad bacteria, you are not feeding the good bacteria either. This has been the complaint of those who are not in favor of these diets.
Many people have gotten great results from the SCD or GAPS diets. Some people get results but then unfortunately seem to experience symptoms again. Others are on the diet for much longer periods of time than recommended. Dr. Campbell-McBride (GAPS) advises to be on the diet up to two years and then to introduce foods back in (or sooner if symptoms allow).
In my experience, those who are on the diet for years, risk the health of their microbiome. Unless they can tolerate eating lots of probiotic foods and supplementing daily with probiotics, they are still starving all the bacteria – bad or good.
There comes a time when one has to move forward on the diet. It may come as a wake up call, after a flareup. If you are on either of these diets for a long period of time and still having symptoms, you may want to consider adding some safe starches, and/or resistant starch.
What are Safe Starches?
Safe starches is a term coined by Dr. Paul Jaminet in his book, written with his wife, Dr. Shou-Ching Jaminet, called The Perfect Health Diet. In this book, Drs. Jaminet outline a diet that resembles the Paleo diet but also allows for more carbohydrates like sweet potatoes, white potatoes, tapioca, root vegetables and white rice (white rice is not allowed on Paleo).
From a traditional standpoint, this diet makes a lot of sense as many traditional cultures have been eating root vegetables, potatoes and rice for thousands of years, along with clean animal fats and animal proteins.
Dr. Jaminet cured himself of a very persistent and chronic illness with this diet. If you are ready to come off SCD or GAPS, I highly recommend their book.
Butyrate Producing Bacteria Reside in the Colon
There are strains of bacteria in the colon that actually produce butyrate – a substance that feeds and nourishes the colonic cells. A deficiency of butyrate does not bode well for human health.
The best way to get buyrate is to have plenty of buyrate producing bacteria in the colon. The best way to nourish these bacteria is to have fiber and resistant starch present in the colon.
Butyrate Suppresses Inflammation in the Gut and Other Tissues
Butyrate has potent anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects. This research suggests that using oral butyrate supplements and butyrate enemas may be used to treat inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis successfully. Some investigators are also suggesting that inflammatory bowel disorders may be caused or exacerbated by a deficiency of butyrate.
Can this be part of the reason for the dramatic increase in inflammatory bowel disease and other autoimmune diseases in recent years? There is already evidence that the gut bacteria in patients with inflammatory bowel disease do not make butyrate, and that they have low levels of the fatty acid in their gut.
We know that many, if not most diseases originate in the gut and we know how important the proper balance of gut bacteria — the microbiome — is to health.
Butyrate Helps to Maintain the Intestinal Barrier
Leaky Gut is another term for intestinal permeability which is the basis for inflammation in the gut. This study and this study showed that buytrate helped preserve the integrity of the intestinal barrier in rats given colitis.
Furthermore, this study shows that butyrate also helped suppress inflammation in other tissues.
Additionally, this study published in the Journal of Medical Microbiology, suggests that butyrate producing bacteria may very well become a treatment for inflammatory bowel disease. The researchers acknowledge that,
…butyric acid is the preferred source of energy for colonocytes. It affects cellular proliferation, differentiation and apoptosis. Moreover, butyric acid has well documented anti-inflammatory effects… Secondly, it has been proposed that butyric acid reinforces the colonic defense barrier by increasing production of mucins and antimicrobial peptides. Thirdly, it has been shown that butyric acid decreases intestinal epithelial permeability by increasing the expression of tight junction proteins. Anti-inflammatory activities, combined with a strengthening of the mucosal barrier integrity, are ideal properties for therapeutic compounds against IBD-like syndromes. Indeed it has been shown that butyrate enemas can yield positive results in the treatment of active UC (Breuer et al., 1997).
The report further discusses the possible delivery systems that could be used to enable buyrate to reach the colon. This is a very promising line of inquiry.
Sources of Butyrate
There are two main sources of butyrate. The first is to eat fiber and resistant starch and the intestinal bacteria will metabolize it into butyric acid. Whole plant foods such as vegetables and fruit are good sources of fiber, as well as properly prepared whole grains, nuts and beans.
Many foods on the SCD, GAPS and Paleo diets are great sources of both soluble and insoluble fiber, such as yams and sweet potatoes, green leafy vegetables, carrots and other root vegetables, fruits with an edible peel (like apples and pears), berries, seeds, and nuts.
There is also a food source of butyric acid and that is butter. Butter is 3 – 4 % butyric acid. Eat your butter. It’s good for you! If you don’t tolerate butter, try ghee.
Find out how to make homemade ghee.
Clearly, butyrate is a critically important aspect of colonic health. If your gut bacteria are out of balance and/or you do not have the particular gut bacteria that make butyric acid from fiber, the health of your colon is in jeopardy. Furthermore, if you abstain from eating butter because of the misinformation from medical and health officials, your colon and your health are in jeopardy.
Sources of Resistant Starch
The best food sources of resistant starch are green plantains, cold white potatoes and potato starch. A new/old food that also contains a lot of resistant starch are tiger nuts (these are tiny tubers, not nuts).
You can get lots of information about resistant starch here. (Follow the links as well).
I have found a probiotic strain of buyrate producing bacteria that is available from Japan. So far, it is doing a good job.
Good Bacteria Need Fiber
Perhaps the most important takeaway here is that the pathogenic bacteria survive by feeding on the byproducts of inflammation (becoming a vicious cycle), yet the good bacteria survive on fermentation of fiber.
This suggests that you should eat fiber (and possibly resistant starch) to feed the good bacteria. I would imagine that it is possible, after months or a year or two on the SCD/GAPS, or low carb diets, to transition to a more fiber rich diet in order to nourish the good bacteria.
Jeff Leach of the American Gut project has been living in Tanzania for over a year and studying the Hadza. The Hadza are one of the few thriving and surviving hunter/gatherer tribes left on this earth. They have a lot of fiber in their diet and an amazingly diverse microbiome.
Current studies show that diversity is the key to a healthy microbiome.
I’d so love to see more research on this topic. I think it would make it a bit more clear to folks who feel ready to come off the SCD, low carb, Paleo or GAPS diets and start to eat some appropriate starches in order to nurture the good bacteria.
As with any new food, probiotic, or probiotic food, add in small amounts slowly over a period of time to be sure you can tolerate it and to avoid unnecessary side effects.
What do you think about these issues with fiber, resistant starch and feeding the microbiome? Does fiber help you or hurt you? Have you tried to add more fiber into your diet? Let’s continue the conversation in the comments!