The Durk Pearson & Sandy Shaw®
Life Extension NewsTM
Volume 18 No. 8 • December 2015

Protection Against Autoimmune Diseases In the Brain

Short Chain Fatty Acids (acetate, propionate, butyrate) Protection Against Autoimmunity (especially by propionate) in the Central Nervous System (in an animal model of multiple sclerosis)

Barley and oats are two excellent sources of beta glucans, a component of fiber, that has been shown to reduce cholesterol by lowering the reabsorption of bile acids, thus increasing the excretion of cholesterol (which is converted to bile acids) in the feces (Kim and White, 2010). Bile acids are described as “physiological detergents that play important roles in facilitating the absorption of dietary lipids and fat-soluble vitamins and biliary excretion and disposal of endogenous metabolites and xenobiotics.” “In the liver, bile acids inhibit both triglyceride synthesis and gluconeogenesis.” “...bile acids activate a G protein coupled receptor TGR5, which stimulates energy expenditure in brown adipocytes. TGR5 agonists have been shown to improve obesity and insulin resistance.” (last three quotes from Li, 2010). [More on the effect of bile acids on obesity in the article just following this one.]

Interestingly, the fermentation of beta glucans takes place in the large intestine (in contrast to many other more readily digested fibers that are usually fermented in the small intestine) as a result of the action of colonic microflora (Kim and White, 2010). Here, the fermentation of beta glucans results in the formation of short chain fatty acids—acetate, propionate, and butyrate—which are now known to provide protection to the gastrointestinal (GI) tract by inhibiting the growth of pathogenic bacteria, reducing cholesterol, as well as helping in the absorption of essential minerals including calcium and magnesium (Kim and White, 2010).

A very new paper (Haghikia, 2015) now reports that long chain fatty acids enhanced the formation of T helper 1 (Th1) and/or Th17 cells that are involved in autoimmune diseases (Haghikia, 2015). Short chain fatty acids, particularly propionate, were shown in the Haghikia et al paper to ameliorate experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), a mouse model of multiple sclerosis. The mechanism involved the ability of the short chain fatty acids to beneficially influence the creation of T regulatory (Treg) cells that restrain excessive immune system activity as seen in autoimmune diseases. As the authors note, the Treg cell effector cell balance “is disturbed in MS [multiple sclerosis] patients.” They also point out the exceptional effect of propionate, “[o]f particular interest is the ability of PA [propionic acid] to beneficially influence the generation of Treg cells. Our study posits PA as a potent compound with the capacity to restrain CNS [central nervous system] autoimmunity via restoration of the altered Treg cell effector T cell balance, which is disturbed in MS patients.” Moreover, the researchers note “growing evidence for the lasting dietary effect [of propionic acid] on microbiome composition” and indicate their opinion that “a rapid translation of PA therapy from clinical studies to clinical trials in MS patients seems reasonable.”

We agree that clinical trials with propionate seem reasonable, but as propionate is an unpatentable compound, widely available and inexpensive, it is unlikely to interest pharmaceutical companies in investing millions for research and with economic conditions as bad as they are, government money is unlikely to be forthcoming for this research either.

How to Get More Propionate from Your Diet

One way to get increased amounts of propionate (which cannot be taken orally as a supplement because it will not survive passage through the liver) is to ingest digestive resistant fiber. Our hydrogen power formulation is a fructo-oligosaccharide or long chain inulin and the published literature indicates it as an extremely good source of fiber that is fermented to short chain fatty acids, with especially large amounts of propionate as compared to other fibers (Kim and White, 2010). Of course, the hydrogen power formulation is specifically intended to be used as a fuel by hydrogen producing gut microbes in the lower digestive tract, where the hydrogen diffuses throughout the body, passes through the blood-brain barrier and into mitochondria, and provides protection against hydroxyl radicals, the most dangerous biological radical, and peroxynitrite (Ichihara, 2015). Our barley nuggets, flour, and flakes are from a special barley strain that is very high in beta glucans. Our resistant starch is also a good precursor to propionate.)

Interestingly, there may be autoimmune components to Alzheimer’s disease (AD) (as indicated by a literature search we did on October 20, 2015; also see Bartzokis, 2011) and, thus, there is the possibility that a fiber that is fermented to propionate and other short chain fatty acids might also help prevent or mitigate the autoimmune involvement in AD. We have not seen a paper specifically testing this hypothesis.


  • Kim and White. In vitro bile-acid binding and fermentation of high, medium, and low molecular weight beta-glucan. J Agric Food Chem. 58:628-34 (2010).
  • Haghikia, JIorg, Duscha, et al. Dietary fatty acids directly impact central nervous system autoimmunity via the small intestine. Immunity. 43:817-29 (2015).
  • Li, Chanda, et al. Glucose stimulates cholesterol 7 alpha-hydroxylase gene transcription in human hepatocytes. J Lipid Res. 51:832-42 (2010).
  • Ichihara, Sobue, Mikako Ito, et al. Beneficial biological effects and the underlying mechanisms of molecular hydrogen—comprehensive review of 321 original articles. Med Gas Res. 5:12 (2015), 21 pp.
  • Bartzokis. Alzheimer’s disease as homeostatic responses to age-related myelin breakdown. Neurobiol Aging. 32(8):1341-71 (2011).

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