10 reasons why a healthy gut absolutely needs grass-fed beef


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The benefits of grass-fed over conventional beef are touted everywhere.  Most of the health benefits of grass-fed beef center around:

  • Increased Omega-3 fatty acid content
  • Increased conjugated linoleic acid content(CLA)
  • Increased antioxidant content
  • Increased vitamin K2 content

What seems to be missing from this conversation is the benefits of grass-fed beef in gut health.  Of course, there are no studies looking at this topic.  We can, however, take a look at how these nutrients impact the gut and benefit digestive health.  In this blog we’ll take a look at 10 reasons why grass-fed beef is great for your gut health

1)The omega-3 fatty acids(FAs) in grass-fed beef produce an anti-inflammatory effect in the gut

The anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3 fatty acids are well known.  In the gut, signaling molecules called cytokines activate nuclear factor kappa beta which increases inflammation.  When omega-3 FAs bind to peroxisome proliferator activated receptor(PPAR) gamma(1), this signal gets blocked.  This effect reduces inflammation.

2)Omega 3 fatty acids may promote tolerance to commensal bacteria

In order for commensal bacteria to survive in the GI tract, they need to avoid attention from the immune system.  Evidence from 2015 shows that omega-3 fatty acids promote the release of a protein that protects commensal bacteria(2).  Two pathogenic strains were also tested and omega-3 FAs did not protect them.  This indicates that Omega-3 FAs may specifically promote the growth of commensal bacteria.  Other studies have confirmed this effect(3, 4).

3)The CLA in grass-fed beef reduces inflammation

CLA functions directly to inhibit inflammation in the same way as omega-3 FAs(1).  Additionally, CLA has other diverse ways to regulate inflammation, which are discussed next.

4)The CLA in grass-fed beef promotes the growth of commensal bacteria

In mouse studies, CLA increased levels of Bacteroidetes and Akkermansia muciniphila(5). Akkermansia muciniphila are associated with lower levels of inflammation.  People with inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, and Type 2 diabetes have lower levels of Akkermansia muciniphila than healthy controls.

It’s also interesting to point out that there is commonality between the effects of CLA and omega-3 FAs so there may be some synergy between having the 2 together.

5)The commensal bacteria promoted by grass-fed beef also make CLA

Commensal bacteria, specifically bifidobacterial strains, produce CLA from other fatty acids in the gut(5, 6).  This CLA acts in the gut to reduce inflammation(7).

6)Grass-fed beef increases plasma omega-3 content at low intake levels

While omega-3 fatty acids can provide a myriad of benefits, they do have some drawbacks.  High levels of omega-3 FAs in the gut may suppress immunity and reduce some beneficial bacteria species(8).  Another drawback is that fish, the primary source for omega-3 FAs, is high in mercury.

Grass-fed beef provides a source of Omega-3 FAs that’s lower in mercury.  It’s also able to increase blood levels at a much lower intake than fish(9).

7)The DHA and vitamin A in grass-fed beef enhance detoxification in the gut

The omega-3 FA DHA and vitamin A are both ligands for the retinoid X receptor(RXR).  RXR functions with detoxification receptors to make them function more effectively.  When a toxin binds to one of the receptors it activates, that receptor chaperones the toxin to the nucleus where it binds to RXR.  If DHA or vitamin A are also bound to RXR, it produces a stronger detoxification effect(10).  Note: This topic will receive a ton of attention on this blog, it’s very important to gut health.

8)Vitamin K2 in grass-fed beef enhances detoxification

Vitamin K2 induces expression of the pregnane x receptor(PXR).  PXR is a cellular receptor responsible for the detoxification of xenobiotic substances.  It functions by binding toxins as mentioned above(11).

9)Vitamin K2 also helps seal a “leaky gut” 

When a fat soluble molecule binds to PXR, the goal is to turn that molecule water soluble so that it gets ejected out of the cell and back in to the gut.  As part of this process, the cell increases tight junction protein expression.  This process ensures that what’s spit back in to the gut stays there.

10)Grass-fed beef contains a compliment of fat soluble and water soluble antioxidants(12)

Free radicals steal an electron from healthy cellular components, damaging them.  Antioxidants repair oxidative damage to cells caused by free radicals.  Most know that antioxidants donate an electron to free radicals and damaged cell components.  Few know that not all antioxidants are the same.

Water-soluble antioxidants(Glutathione, polyphenols) repair damage to cellular proteins but aren’t effective at repairing lipids.  Fat-soluble antioxidants(Vitamins A & E, alpha lipoic acid) repair damage to lipids but aren’t effective at repairing proteins.  Grass-fed beef contains more antioxidants and higher levels of the fat soluble variety.  This is important because cellular membranes are made up of lipids and they form the intestinal barrier.


As you can see, there are many beneficial effects from the nutrients in grass-fed beef.  In terms of bang for your buck, it’s hard to find a better food source than grass-fed beef.  In fact, the only one that comes to mind is liver…from a grass-fed cow.

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