Butyric acid: what it is, properties, use, harmfulness

Everything you need to know about butyric acid. See if it helps with intestinal disorders.

Emilia Moskal - AuthorAuthorEmilia Moskal
Emilia Moskal - Author
AuthorEmilia Moskal
Natu.Care Editor

Emilia Moskal specialises in medical and psychological texts, including content for medical entities. She is a fan of simple language and reader-friendly communication. At Natu.Care, she writes educational articles.

Learn more about our editorial process

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Catherine Grajper - Reviewed byReviewed byCatherine Grajper
Verified by an expert
Catherine Grajper - Reviewed by
Reviewed by
Catherine Grajper
master of pharmacy

Katarzyna Grajper is a graduate in pharmacy from the Medical University of Gdansk. She works as a Master of Pharmacy in a pharmacy on a daily basis. She tries to constantly expand her knowledge with current guidelines so that the patient can receive competent advice in accordance with EBM (Evidence Based Medicine).

Learn more about our editorial process

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Bartholomew Turczynski - Edited byEdited byBartholomew Turczynski
Bartholomew Turczynski - Edited by
Edited byBartholomew Turczynski
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Bartłomiej Turczyński is the editor-in-chief of Natu.Care. He is responsible for the quality of the content created on Natu.Care, among others, and ensures that all articles are based on sound scientific research and consulted with industry specialists.

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Ludwig Jelonek - Fact-checkingFact-checkingLudwig Jelonek
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Butyric acid: what it is, properties, use, harmfulness
29 April, 2024
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Used in food, cosmetics and even agriculture. Butyric acid is not only versatile, but also has a range of health benefits.

Also known as butanoic acid, it is a fascinating ingredient that can be just as versatile in your body. It is believed to counteract inflammation or regulate insulin metabolism, for example. What's more, your body produces it on its own, helped by probiotic bacteria.

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From this article you will learn:

  • What is butyric acid and how it differs from sodium butyrate.
  • How it works.
  • How butyric acid works and how it is synthesised in the body.
  • .
  • What ailments can butyric acid help with.
  • .
  • How to ensure the right concentration of butyric acid in the body.
  • .
  • Whether butyric acid can cause harm.
  • .

See also:

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What is butyric acid?

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Butyric acid, also known as butanoic acid, is a short chain fatty acid ( short chain fatty acids - SCFA) that plays a key role in gut health. It is produced by the bacteria that live in your digestive system.

Wondering how it works? When you eat fibre that is indigestible to your body, it passes into the large intestine. There, probiotic bacteria residing in the colon convert this fibre into butyric acid. This is a perfect example of symbiosis, where both parties benefit - the bacteria have nourishment and you get an essential substance for your healthand.

Butyric acid is extremely important for your gut. It acts as a kind of fuel for the epithelial cells lining the colon, helping them to maintain a healthy intestinal barrier. This is important because this barrier prevents harmful substances from entering your bodyand.

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As early as the 1980s, studies were conducted that conclusively established butyric acid as a major source of energy for colonocytes, offering hope for its use in the prevention and treatment of gastrointestinal diseases.
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Catherine Grajper.

Katarzyna Grajpermagister of pharmacy

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What's more, butyric acid has anti-inflammatory properties, which may help to relieve inflammation in the gut. Some studies also suggest that it may help regulate blood sugar levels and improve metabolism. However, these are preliminary and inconclusive conclusions, so should be approached with cautionand.

So it is worth paying attention to your diet and making sure you are providing your body with enough fibre. By doing so, the probiotic bacteria will be able to produce butyric acid, which will contribute to your gut health.

Butyric acid versus sodium butyrate

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Sodium butyrate is the sodium salt of butyric acid, or a derivative of it. The molecules of butyric acid and butyrate are chemically differentand. However, the properties of the two substances are so similar that their names are often used interchangeably.

In practice, the sodium atom in butyrate makes this butyric acid derivative more stable. It is for this reason that you will most often encounter sodium butyrate in dietary supplements.

Sodium butyrate is the most common name.

Properties of butyric acid

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Butyric acid is a key ingredient for the proper functioning of the epithelial cells of the colon, called colonocytes. It provides up to 70% of the energy these cells need to functionand

This, however, is not the only function that butyric acid has in our bodies. It is currently the subject of scientific research to understand its potential effects on the immune system and its ability to reduce inflammation. In addition, its properties affecting insulin regulationand are also being studied.

Although the exact mechanism of action of butyric acid at the biochemical level is not yet fully understood, there is some evidence to suggest that it may affect various aspects of bodily function. This may includeand:

  • impact on the immune response, 
  • .
  • cell differentiation,
  • .
  • natural process of elimination of defective and damaged cells,
  • .

Butyric acid may also help to strengthen the protective barrier in the intestines by participating in the production of the mucus that lining themand.

Applications of butyric acid

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Butyric acid is a well-known ally in the fight against various digestive problems. First and foremost, this metabolite plays a key role in protecting and regenerating the end sections of the digestive systemand.

It is also an effective solution if you are struggling with problems such as bloating or constipation. Butyric acid aids intestinal peristalsis, which in practice means that it facilitates the bowel movement process. 

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The usefulness of butyric acid in infectious diarrhoea has also been clinically confirmed. This is related, among other things, to the mechanism of regulation of water and electrolyte absorption in the cell membrane of colonocytes.
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Catherine Grajper.

Katarzyna Grajpermagister of pharmacy

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What's more, butyric acid helps to control gas accumulation in the intestines. As a result, you are able to reduce the unpleasant bloating that can cause discomfortand.

It is also worth adding that some studies suggest additional benefits for your body. Some scientific work has shown that butyric acid may contribute to maintaining a healthy body weight, by regulating metabolic processes related to insulin and lipid production 

Do not, however, consider butyric acid (or its derivative, sodium butyrate) as a weight-loss agent. There is still a dispute among scientists about how butyric acid affects our metabolism. 

Most studies are in vitro experiments or those involving animals. There are also researchers who point in their work to links between high concentrations of butyrate or butyric acid and metabolic disorders and cardiovascular disease - as you can see, in this case, what's too much is unhealthyand.

Butyric acid for the gut

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Butyric acid has many important functions in your intestines. Not only is it a source of energy for the cells of the colon, but it also supports their regeneration. In addition, it supports the production of mucus, which is an important part of the protective intestinal barrierand.

Thanks to this, butyric acid helps to protect your body from harmful substances and pathogens that could enter the bloodstream through this route.

Animal studies suggest that butyric acid may provide relief from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms, such as abdominal pain or irregular bowel movementsand

A 2022 study review indicates that butyric acid derivatives may be helpful in the treatment of colorectal cancer. The results suggest that the ingredient may induce cancer cell death, improve the efficacy of radiotherapy and protect mucosa from degradation that can occur during chemotherapyand.

Butyric acid provides energy to healthy cells and at the same time may inhibit the growth of cancerous ones, a phenomenon known as the Warburg effect. Therefore, there is a hypothesis that certain strains probiotics may exhibit anti-cancer effectsand.

Butyric acid is also used by intestinal cells to produce energy, which increases oxygen consumption by the epithelium. As a result, the presence of butyric acid-producing bacteria helps to maintain an anaerobic environment in the intestines, which further protects against the colonisation of aerobic pathogens such as Salmonella or bacteria E. coli.

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What is butyric acid found in?

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Butyric acid is not only found in your intestines. Some foods - especially milk and milk products (dairy products), for example butter, cream, yoghurt or hard yellow cheeses - also contain small amounts of it. Support for butyric acid synthesis can also be provided by products rich in probiotics and prebiotics.

By increasing the amount of probiotics in your gut, you increase the amount producers of butyric acid. And by eating prebiotic foods, you provide them with the necessary materials for this production.

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Products rich in probiotics

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Products rich in prebiotics (GOS and FOS fibre)*

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  • yoghurt,
  • .
  • kefir,
  • .
  • buttermilk,
  • .
  • sugared milk,
  • sugared milk,
  • flax,
  • flax,
  • buttermilk,
  • sugared milk,
  • flax.
  • miso,
  • .
  • tempeh,
  • .
  • sauerkraut,
  • .
  • pickled cucumbers,
  • .
  • cold boiled potatoes,
  • .
  • artichokes,
  • .
  • asparagus,
  • .
  • broccoli,
  • .
  • carrots,
  • .
  • garlic,
  • .
  • soy,
  • .
  • legumes,
  • .
  • peas,
  • .
  • apple,
  • .
  • currants,
  • .
  • morels,
  • .
  • bananas,
  • .
  • kiwi,
  • .
  • raspberries,
  • .
  • oranges,
  • .

* GOS and FOS fibre are oligosaccharides, or complex carbohydrates (fructooligosaccharides and galactooligosaccharides), which do not digest in the stomach but are only fermented in the large intestine - providing food for probiotic bacteria and contributing to butyric acid production.

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Best results will be achieved by using different fibre fractions from three different groups including cereals, vegetables and fruit. Also ensure adequate hydration.
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Catherine Grajper.

Katarzyna Grajpermagister of pharmacy

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Butyric acid sweetness

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Butyric acid is considered safe, but there are situations in which its use must be abandoned.

Do not take butyric acid or its derivatives (butyrate) ifand:

    .
  • you are allergic to butyric acid or any other ingredient in the supplement,
  • .
  • you have kidney problems, as butyric acid is removed from the body specifically by the kidneys,
  • .
  • you suffer from heart disease, as butyric acid can affect sodium levels in the body, which can be dangerous,
  • .
  • you should limit fibre in your diet because of certain digestive ailments,
  • .
  • you are pregnant or breastfeeding - the safety of using butyric acid during these periods is not well studied,
  • .
  • you are taking any medication - in which case consult your doctor before starting supplementation, as butyric acid may interact with some substances.

Despite its benefits, butyric acid can cause some side effects, although this is rather rare. The most common are gastrointestinal problems such as increased bowel function, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhoea, and changes in appetiteand

.

Often these symptoms disappear after a few days, but if they are bothersome or worsen, you should stop supplementation and consult your doctor.

The effects of allergic reactions are a different matter. Their symptoms areand:

  • rash, 
  • .
  • catarrh, 
  • .
  • swelling,
  • .
  • difficulty breathing, 
  • .

If this occurs, discontinue use of the butyric acid preparation immediately and contact your doctor.

See also:

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Summary

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  • Butyric acid is a metabolite of the fermentation of fibre by probiotic bacteria that inhabit the large intestine.
  • Butyric acid is the main source of energy for colon epithelial cells. It also has protective and regenerative functions.
  • Butyric acid can promote intestinal peristalsis and support the production of mucus, which is part of the natural intestinal barrier.
  • The effects of butyric acid and its derivative, butyrate, in the context of influencing insulin and lipid metabolism and combating inflammation in the body are currently being investigated.
  • Butyrate is an important component of the intestinal barrier.
  • The appropriate concentration of butyric acid in the body is best ensured by consuming foods rich in GOS and FOS fibre, as well as probiotics.
  • Butyric acid can also be taken in dietary supplements. It is most commonly found in these in the form of sodium butyrate.
  • Butyrate supplements are also a good way to take it.
  • Supplements with butyrate or butyric acid should be avoided by people with heart disease and ailments that require restricted fibre intake.

FAQ

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. How to make butyric acid at home.

Note: butyric acid is a really smelly thing. Think twice about whether you want to make it at home (if you live in a block of flats, think about your neighbours too). Another important thing: Do not eat butyric acid obtained this way! 

To make butyric acid, all you need to do is leave the butter out of the fridge - until it goes rancid. But to be able to isolate it, you can use this recipe:

  1. Melt 500ml of butter in a pot over a low heat; 
  2. .
  3. Add 500 ml distilled water, stir to combine. 
  4. .
  5. Pour the mixture into a jar and add 2 tablespoons of natural yogurt as a starter. 
  6. .
  7. Cover the jar and keep in a warm place for 2-3 days. 
  8. .
  9. After this time, strain the liquid through a thick sieve, separating the solids. 
  10. .
  11. Heat the remaining liquid to 100°C until the water evaporates. 
  12. .
  13. The residue that remains is butyric acid.
  14. .
. Where does butyric acid occur?.

Butyric acid occurs naturally in many products, especially butter. You will also find it in other dairy products such as cheese, cream and yoghurt. Furthermore, it is also contained in ghee, a type of clarified butter. 

Butyric acid is also produced in the human body - in the gut, as a result of the fermentation of fibre by bacteria. For this reason, eat fibre-rich foods such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole-grain cereal products. This is important because butyric acid has many health benefits. It has anti-inflammatory effects and supports gut health.

. What are the side effects of taking butyric acid?.

Taking butyric acid can lead to several side effects. The most common are abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhoea and nausea. For these symptoms, reduce the dose of butyric acid or divide it into several smaller portions throughout the day. This may help to minimise discomfort. Sometimes an allergic reaction may also occur.

. What is the smell of butyric acid?.

Butyric acid has an intense, unpleasant odour that is often compared to the smell of... vomit. This is due to the specific chemical structure of this acid, which contains four carbon atoms in its chain. However, in small quantities, it can contribute to the characteristic taste of some foods (especially cheese).

. What is the formula of butyric acid?.

The chemical formula of butyric acid is C4H8O2. It is a carboxylic acid that consists of four carbon atoms (C), eight hydrogen atoms (H) and two oxygen atoms (O). Carbon (C) comes first, followed by hydrogen (H) and finally oxygen (O). 

This order is important because it indicates the structure of the molecule. Other chemical formulas of butyric acid that you may encounter are C3H7COOH and CH3(CH2)2COOH.

. How much does butyric acid cost?.

Dietary supplements containing butyric acid, or more commonly its derivative - sodium butyrate - cost from around £30 to £150. Differences in price may be due to the quality of the raw material itself, the size of the packaging and the additional active ingredients used in the formulation.

. Is butyric acid in medicinal form?.

Butyric acid (also in the form of sodium butyrate) is only available in Poland as a dietary supplement. You can find it in health food shops or pharmacies. Only buy products from trusted manufacturers to ensure the best quality and safety. 

Butyric acid is important for intestinal health, as it is the main source of energy for intestinal epithelial cells. An example of a product containing butyric acid in the form of sodium butyrate is Panaseus Formula for the Gut.

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Resources

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. See all.

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Banasiewicz, T., Domagalska, D., Borycka-Kiciak, K., & Rydzewska, G. (2020). Determination of butyric acid dosage based on clinical and experimental studies - a literature review. Gastroenterology Review/Review of Gastroenterology15(2), 119-125. https://doi.org/10.5114/pg.2020.95556

Birt, D. F., Boylston, T., Hendrich, S., Jane, J.-L., Hollis, J., Li, L., McClelland, J., Moore, S., Phillips, G. J., Rowling, M., Schalinske, K., Scott, M. P., & Whitley, E. M. (2013). Resistant Starch: Promise for Improving Human Health. Advances in Nutrition4(6), 587-601. https://doi.org/10.3945/an.113.004325

Borycka-Kiciak, K., Banasiewicz, T., & Rydzewska, G. (2017). Butyric acid - a well-known molecule revisited. Gastroenterology Review/Review of Gastroenterology12(2), 83-89. https://doi.org/10.5114/pg.2017.68342

Butyric Acid-An overview | ScienceDirect Topics. (n.d.). Retrieved November 10, 2023, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/butyric-acid

Candido, E. P. M., Reeves, R., & Davie, J. R. (1978). Sodium butyrate inhibits histone deacetylation in cultured cells. Cell14(1), 105-113. https://doi.org/10.1016/0092-8674(78)90305-7

De la Cuesta-Zuluaga, J., Mueller, N. T., Álvarez-Quintero, R., Velásquez-Mejía, E. P., Sierra, J. A., Corrales-Agudelo, V., Carmona, J. A., Abad, J. M., & Escobar, J. S. (2019). Higher Fecal Short-Chain Fatty Acid Levels Are Associated with Gut Microbiome Dysbiosis, Obesity, Hypertension and Cardiometabolic Disease Risk Factors. Nutrients11(1), Article 1. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11010051

Effects of oral butyrate supplementation on inflammatory potential of circulating peripheral blood mononuclear cells in healthy and obese males | Scientific Reports. (n.d.). Retrieved November 3, 2023, from https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-37246-7

Frontiers | Protective role of butyrate in obesity and diabetes: New insights. (n.d.). Retrieved November 5, 2023, from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnut.2022.1067647/full

Kaźmierczak-Siedlecka, K., Marano, L., Merola, E., Roviello, F., & Połom, K. (2022). Sodium butyrate in both prevention and supportive treatment of colorectal cancer. Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology12. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fcimb.2022.1023806

Lewandowski, K., Kaniewska, M., Karlowicz, K., Rosolowski, M., & Rydzewska, G. (2022). The effectiveness of microencapsulated sodium butyrate at reducing symptoms in patients with irritable bowel syndrome. Gastroenterology Review/Review of Gastroenterology17(1), 28-34. https://doi.org/10.5114/pg.2021.112681

Liu, H., Wang, J., He, T., Becker, S., Zhang, G., Li, D., & Ma, X. (2018). Butyrate: A Double-Edged Sword for Health? Advances in Nutrition9(1), 21-29. https://doi.org/10.1093/advances/nmx009

Sodium butyrate in the treatment of functional and inflammatory bowel disease | Practical Gastroenterology-Practitioner's Journal. (n.d.). Retrieved November 3, 2023, from https://gastroenterologia-praktyczna.pl/a4708/Maslan-sodu-w-leczeniu-chorob-czynnosciowych-i-zapalnych-jelit.html/

Miller, A. A., Kurschel, E., Osieka, R., & Schmidt, C. G. (1987). Clinical pharmacology of sodium butyrate in patients with acute leukemia. European Journal of Cancer and Clinical Oncology23(9), 1283-1287. https://doi.org/10.1016/0277-5379(87)90109-X

Pietrzak, A., Banasiuk, M., Szczepanik, M., Borys-Iwanicka, A., Pytrus, T., Walkowiak, J., & Banaszkiewicz, A. (2022). Sodium Butyrate Effectiveness in Children and Adolescents with Newly Diagnosed Inflammatory Bowel Diseases-Randomized Placebo-Controlled Multicenter Trial. Nutrients14(16), Article 16. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu14163283

Säemann, M. D., Böhmig, G. A., Österreicher, C. H., Burtscher, H., Parolini, O., Diakos, C., Stöckl, J., Hörl, W. H., & Zlabinger, G. J. (2000). Anti-inflammatory effects of sodium butyrate on human monocytes: Potent inhibition of IL-12 and up-regulation of IL-10 production. The FASEB Journal14(15), 2380-2382. https://doi.org/10.1096/fj.00-0359fje

Segain, J.-P., Blétière, D. R. de la, Bourreille, A., Leray, V., Gervois, N., Rosales, C., Ferrier, L., Bonnet, C., Blottière, H. M., & Galmiche, J.-P. (2000). Butyrate inhibits inflammatory responses through NFκB inhibition: Implications for Crohn's disease. Gut47(3), 397-403. https://doi.org/10.1136/gut.47.3.397

Sodium butyrate. (n.d.). American Chemical Society. Retrieved November 3, 2023, from https://www.acs.org/molecule-of-the-week/archive/s/sodium-butyrate.html

Spina, L., Cavallaro, F., Fardowza, N. I., Lagoussis, P., Bona, D., Ciscato, C., Rigante, A., & Vecchi, M. (2007). Butyric acid: Pharmacological aspects and routes of administration. Digestive and Liver Disease Supplements1(1), 7-11. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1594-5804(08)60004-2

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Summer, A., Formaggioni, P., Franceschi, P., Di Frangia, F., Righi, F., & Malacarne, M. (2017). Cheese as Functional Food: The Example of Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano. Food Technology and Biotechnology55(3), 277-289. https://doi.org/10.17113/ftb.55.03.17.5233

Xu, Y.-H., Gao, C.-L., Guo, H.-L., Zhang, W.-Q., Huang, W., Tang, S.-S., Gan, W.-J., Xu, Y., Zhou, H., & Zhu, Q. (2018). Sodium butyrate supplementation ameliorates diabetic inflammation in db/db mice. Journal of Endocrinology238(3), 231-244. https://doi.org/10.1530/JOE-18-0137

Zou, X., Ji, J., Qu, H., Wang, J., Shu, D. M., Wang, Y., Liu, T. F., Li, Y., & Luo, C. L. (2019). Effects of sodium butyrate on intestinal health and gut microbiota composition during intestinal inflammation progression in broilers. Poultry Science98(10), 4449-4456. https://doi.org/10.3382/ps/pez279

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Editorials

Meet the team
Emilia Moskal - Author

Natu.Care Editor

Emilia Moskal specialises in medical and psychological texts, including content for medical entities. She is a fan of simple language and reader-friendly communication. At Natu.Care, she writes educational articles.

Catherine Grajper - Reviewed by

master of pharmacy

Catherine Grajper
Verified by an expert

Katarzyna Grajper is a graduate in pharmacy from the Medical University of Gdansk. She works as a Master of Pharmacy in a pharmacy on a daily basis. She tries to constantly expand her knowledge with current guidelines so that the patient can receive competent advice in accordance with EBM (Evidence Based Medicine).

Bartholomew Turczynski - Edited by

Editor-in-Chief

Bartłomiej Turczyński is the editor-in-chief of Natu.Care. He is responsible for the quality of the content created on Natu.Care, among others, and ensures that all articles are based on sound scientific research and consulted with industry specialists.

Ludwig Jelonek - Fact-checking

Natu.Care Editor

Ludwik Jelonek is the author of more than 2,500 texts published on leading portals. His content has found its way into services such as Ostrovit and Kobieta Onet. At Natu.Care, Ludwik educates people in the most important area of life - health.

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