Last updated on 9/18/19.
Your gut is the foundation of your entire health. I can’t stress this fact enough. Many modern health problems such as autoimmune diseases, depression, anxiety, cancer, and even heart disease have been linked to a compromised gut. It’s a common misconception that you have to be having gut symptoms—like bloating, constipation, gas, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), or food intolerances—to have gut problems. That is not the case. In fact, around 22 percent of people with underlying digestive issues do not have obvious digestive system symptoms. (1)
Damage to your digestive tract allows undigested food particles and other toxins to enter your bloodstream. This leads to a cascade of chronic inflammation which is no bueno for your health. SIBO, candida overgrowth, Crohn’s disease, and other microbiome imbalances can also wreak havoc on your gut and contribute to ongoing health problems. This post addresses how taking L-glutamine can benefit your gut health. Your levels of this free amino acid can be increased through the consumption of certain foods as well as supplementation.
Healing Your Body Starts with Healing Your Gut
The good news is that by working on your gut health you can begin to heal even the longest-standing health problems. The surface area of your gut is lined with a type of cell known as enterocytes. (2) Because of their frequent regeneration every 2-3 weeks, your gut gets a whole new lining that often! Due to this quick turnaround, those without chronic gut problems can heal their gut in as little as 2 to 12 weeks. (3) But if you have immune function-inflammation issues or a fully damaged gut, it can take between 12 to 24 months to completely heal and notice sustainable changes.
How L-glutamine Promotes Gut Health
There are many things that you can do to begin healing. One simple way is by trying L-glutamine supplementation.
L-glutamine is considered a conditionally essential amino acid because your body uses so much during times of intense physical stress. Essential amino acids must be obtained from diet whereas nonessential amino acids—an example being D-glutamine—are synthesized by your cells. L-glutamine is essential for maintaining the health and growth of enterocytes in your gut since it is the preferred fuel source of these cells. So if you want to win the battle against leaky gut syndrome, L-glutamine should be a go-to resource in your toolbox.
There are many studies that support L-glutamine’s ability to improve gut permeability through dietary supplements. (4) One study, in particular, looked at a group of 107 children and how they responded to L-glutamine. Half of the children took L-glutamine and the other half took a placebo. In just 120 days the children who received the L-glutamine supplement had improved intestinal barrier function. (5) It’s also evidenced that increased glutamine levels can protect against gut permeability. In a study of 20 patients with intestinal permeability and in need of parenteral nutrition (total intravenous feeding), those whose food was enriched with l-glutamine saw no deterioration in gut permeability or mucosal structure whereas the other group did. (6)
Research has even shown that L-glutamine can reduce inflammatory bowel disease symptoms including in people with ulcerative colitis! After four weeks, patients receiving an L-glutamine supplement saw a reduction in symptoms as well as an increase in Bifidobacterium. Surprisingly enough, once patients stopped the use of glutamine their symptoms returned. (7) That just goes to the show the powerful connection between L-glutamine and your gut.
Additional Benefits of L-glutamine
You’ve probably seen these in vitamin and health food stores often advertised toward athletes as a great way to repair muscle tissue, decrease soreness, build muscle mass, and improve exercise performance. (8) It is one of the most abundant amino acids in your blood and therefore one of the building blocks of protein synthesis. In one study, twenty-nine college track and field athletes were supplemented with either creatine or creatine and glutamine for 8 weeks and their performance and lean body mass showed a greater increase compared to the placebo group. (9)
L-glutamine is also known to have immune system benefits. A meta-analysis of several studies on the effect of glutamine supplementation on critically ill and post-surgery patients concluded that glutamine appeared to reduce hospital-acquired infections and shorten the length of hospital stays. There was also some evidence that in-patient mortality was reduced within this group of patients. (10)
L-glutamine can also protect against or relieve mucositis (swelling of the mouth) in cancer patients who have undergone chemotherapy.
Supplementation can boost glutamine in those where the body’s glutamine is too quickly used up (leading to muscle/weight loss), such as in the case with AIDS/HIV sufferers.
As with all of the potential benefits mentioned, statements regarding supplementation have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and you should consult your practitioner or functional medicine specialist to determine if supplementation is right for you.
How to Begin Taking L-glutamine
There are many food medicines that contain L-glutamine such as grass-fed beef, bone broth, and grass-fed dairy. For those who want a plant-based option, red cabbage is an abundant source. Eating cabbage in the form of sauerkraut will increase its gut-healing abilities since the fermentation provides your gut with probiotics that also help make L-glutamine more bioavailable.
Now, all of this information is great, but how do you know if it appropriate for your health case? Ultimately it depends on the status of your gut. If you know you are dealing with chronic health problems, adding in L-glutamine can give your healing an extra boost. But if you just need to hit the reset on your gut, adding in bone broth and sauerkraut may be all you need.
There are 4 tests to determine if you have leaky gut. You may want to consider these and take measures to improve your gut health by evaluating your current diet.
Dosage and Side Effects
If you want a more clinical way to determine if you should add this supplement into your routine you can seek out a practitioner who can run and interpret microbiome labs. And if you do decide to start supplementing, anywhere between 2 and 5 grams per day is typically a good dose for most people.
You may also want to look for an l-glutamine powder rather than capsules since it can be easier for your gut to digest. Keep an eye out for side effects that could indicate an allergic reaction such as joint pain, nausea, vomiting, and hives. Consult a healthcare professional immediately if you notice any of these reactions.
If you want to learn more about your own health case please check out our free health evaluation. We offer in-person as well as phone and webcam consultations for people across the country and around the world.
- Lähdeaho, Marja-Leena, Markku Mäki, Kaija Laurila, Heini Huhtala, and Katri Kaukinen. “Small- bowel mucosal changes and antibody responses after low- and moderate-dose gluten challenge in celiac disease.” BMC Gastroenterology 11, no. 129 (2011). doi: 10.1186/1471-230X-11-129.
- Godlewski, Michal M. “The Death Pathways in the Neonatal Gut.” Current Pediatric Reviews 7, no. 4 (2011): 337-345 doi: 10.2174/157339611796892256.
- Blikslager, Anthony T., Adam J. Moeser, Jody L. Gookin, Samuel L. Jones, and Jack Odle. “Restoration of Barrier Function in Injured Intestinal Mucosa.” Physiol Rev 87, (2007): 545-564. doi: 10.1152/physrev.00012.2006.
- Li, J, B Langkamp-Henken, K Suzuki, and LH Stahlgren. “Glutamine prevents parenteral nutrition-induced increases in intestinal permeability.” JPEN J Parenter Enteral Nutr 18, no. 4 (1994): 303-7. doi: 10.1177/014860719401800404.
- Lima, NL, AM Soares, RM Mota, HS Monteiro, RL Guerrant, and AA Lima. “Wasting and intestinal barrier function in children taking alanyl-glutamine-supplemented enteral formula.” J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr 44, no. 3 (2007): 365-74. doi: 10.1097/MPG.0b013e31802eecdd.
- van der Hulst, R.R.W.J., M.F. von Meyenfeldt, N.E.P. Deutz, P.B. Soeters, R.J.M. Brummer, B.K. von Kreel, and J.W. Arends. “Glutamine and the preservation of gut integrity.” The Lancet 341, no. 8857 (1993): P1363-1365. doi: 10.1016/0140-6736(93)90939-E.
- Kanauchi, O, T Iwanaga T, and K Mitsuyama. “Germinated barley foodstuff feeding. A novel neutraceutical therapeutic strategy for ulcerative colitis.” Digestion 63, no. Suppl 1 (2001): 60-7. doi: 10.1159/000051913.
- Legault, Z, N Bagnall, and DS Kimmerly. “The Influence of Oral L-Glutamine Supplementation on Muscle Strength Recovery and Soreness Following Unilateral Knee Extension Eccentric Exercise.” Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 25, no. 5 (2015): 417-26. doi: 10.1123/ijsnem.2014-0209.
- Lehmkuhl, M, M Malone, B Justice, G Trone, E Pistilli, D Vinci, EE Haff, et al. “The effects of 8 weeks of creatine monohydrate and glutamine supplementation on body composition and performance measures.” J Strength Cond Res. 17, no. 3 (2003): 425-38. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12930166.
- McRae, MP. Therapeutic benefits of glutamine: An umbrella review of meta-analyses. Biomed Rep. 6, no. 5 (2017): 576-584. doi: 10.3892/br.2017.885.
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