Gut health is slowly but surely taking center stage in the quest to identify the root causes of inflammatory diseases.
Science continues to connect myriad chronic health conditions to inflammation spurred by irregularities in the digestive tract. These conditions include a variety of chronic gastrointestinal issues, including irritable bowel syndrome, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), dysbiosis (imbalance in gut bacteria), and leaky gut.
Leaky gut is increasingly being linked to serious health issues, such as Chronic Fatigue, Alzheimer’s, Autism and autoimmune diseases such as Lupus, Crohn’s, Celiac and Rheumatoid Arthritis, to name a few. Because of the role leaky gut plays in these health conditions, patients turn to functional medicine practitioners for remedies that help normalize gut health. One remedy for repairing leaky gut is L-Glutamine supplementation.
What Does Glutamine Do?
Glutamine is the most abundant naturally occurring amino acid in the body. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. This nonessential amino acid is stored as glutamate in the muscle, from where the body derives what it needs for normal, healthy functioning.
However, when a physiological stressor is present, demand for glutamine increases. The body burns through stored glutamine in response to an inflammatory response in an attempt to keep up with the cell turnover and production.
When the cells lining the gut wall, called enterocytes, become overtaxed or dysfunctional, supplementing with L-Glutamine can provide extra fuel that helps enhance healing of the gut’s barrier wall.
What is Leaky Gut Syndrome?
Leaky gut syndrome, also referred to as increased intestinal permeability, is a condition in the intestines that occurs when the cells that line the intestinal wall become abnormally permeable, allowing undigested food particles and proteins to permeate, or leak into, the bloodstream. The immune response to the foreign invaders becomes overwhelmed, resulting in an array of symptoms.
Symptoms of leaky gut can include:
Food allergies or sensitivities
Bloating, gas, belching, and indigestion
Diarrhea or constipation
Allergies or asthma
Compromised immune system
Skin rashes, eczema, or rosacea
Mood disorders or mood swings
Weight gain or loss
Cognitive issues, such as brain fog, mental confusion, memory loss, and difficulty concentrating
Causes of leaky gut syndrome can include genetics, a Western diet that’s high in lectins, gluten, and carbohydrates, excessive daily stress, certain microbes, and environmental toxins.
How Glutamine Helps Restore the Gut Lining
Glutamine works as a healing agent to the gut by providing fuel to enterocytes, the absorptive cells that line the intestinal wall. Enterocytes have a high turnover rate, constantly replenishing themselves. When there’s an upset in the production or action of these cells, a leaky gut can result. Although glutamine is naturally stored in the muscle, a chronic inflammatory disease can tax these supplies, which is where L-glutamine supplementation comes in. Glutamine helps feed the enterocytes so they can perform their proper function to protect the walls of the gastrointestinal tract.
Glutamine has excellent absorption in the gut—about 90%, which is outstanding for supplement absorption. The average recommended daily glutamine dose is 10 to 20 grams; it is very well tolerated with no reported side effects. This makes glutamine a safe and efficacious tool in healing the leaky gut.
Glutamine is Best When Used in Conjuction with the 5 Rs Protocol
Glutamine supplementation can be helpful in restoring gut health to some degree on its own, but for optimal gut health restoration it’s best used in conjunction with the 5 Rs. The 5 Rs process removes the pathogens, repairs the lining, and resets the gut back to a healthy state:
Remove: This involves removing the offending bug, allergen, or sensitivity triggering the leaky gut, such as Candida overgrowth, Clostridium overgrowth, parasites, virus, or dysbiotic imbalance.
Replace: Once the triggers are removed, factors that optimize digestive processes are introduced, such as fiber, vitamins, nutrients, enzymes, minerals, and amino acids like glutamine.
Repopulate: This involves reintroducing good bacteria using probiotics, fiber-rich foods, homemade fermented foods, and supplements.
Repair: Repairing the gut lining is essential for proper absorption of nutrients, and L-glutamine plays a core role in this step, in addition to a diet rich in foods that provide zinc, and vitamins A, C, and D. Herbs such as gamma oryzanol, aloe vera, and slippery elm also enhance gut healing.
Rebalance: Lifestyle adjustments that help reduce stress are fundamental in rebalancing hormones and gut health include practicing yoga, deep breathing exercises, meditation, and mindfulness, as well as establishing a healthy sleep schedule.
Identifying the source of inflammation that’s causing excessive demand for enterocyte production is the first step in providing a comprehensive approach towards healing the gut. Glutamine supplementation can play a pivotal role in the repair and restoration process of healing a leaky gut.
Armen Nikogosian, MD practices functional and integrative medicine in Henderson, Nevada. He is Board Certified in Internal Medicine and a member of the Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM) and the Medical Academy of Pediatric Special Needs (MAPS). His practice focuses on treatment of complex medical conditions with a special emphasis on Autism Spectrum Disorder in children and autoimmune conditions in adults.