If you’ve been paying attention to the news lately you’ve probably heard about something called “leaky gut.” There is a new popularity surrounding this condition due to its connection to a wide variety of other physical ailments such as crohn’s disease, IBS, bloating, acne, arthritis, and even migraines.
Because of this broad connection, it’s important that you understand what leaky gut is and how supplementing with a simple amino acid (glutamine) could be the first step toward making you feel better.
What is “leaky gut?”
The digestive tract in humans is a complex system that breaks down food in order to separate nutrients the body can use from any material that needs to be excreted.
In addition to this major function, the walls of the intestinal tract also act as a protective barrier for the bloodstream and the organs. Though the intestine seems solid it is actually permeable and is comprised of tiny spaces called tight junctions (specialized spaces left open between two cell membranes). While these spaces block harmful substances from entering the bloodstream they are also what allows nutrients and water to be absorbed into the body.
The tight junctions are not ridged openings. For example, research has shown that these junctions might loosen after a meal to allow greater nutrient absorption. These movable spaces can also be affected by other forces such as stress, bowel irritation, and non-nutrient rich food consumption (fast food). These forces can cause an over loosening which can increase the potential for harmful material to escape the intestine.
The escaping of this material from the intestine into the body is what is referred to as “leaky gut” or intestinal hyper-permeability.
When these spaces expand, harmful substances freely enter the bloodstream and can cause an aggressive immune system response. This response can include widespread inflammation, allergic reactions, migraines, digestive issues, skin irritations such as eczema and acne, bloating, chronic fatigue, rheumatoid arthritis, hormone imbalances, autism, fibromyalgia and more.
Treating leaky gut with Glutamine
Because leaky gut exhibits through a wide variety of ailments, and symptom diagnosis is often difficult it is hard to point to this condition as a root cause. There is also a portion of the medical community that doesn’t acknowledge “leaky gut” as a formal diagnosis but chances are they still agree that intestinal hyperpermeability exists in certain chronic diseases and should therefore be treated.
The use of glutamine is one of these treatments.
To understand the role glutamine plays in treating leaky gut you first have to understand a little bit about proteins and amino acids. The body needs proteins to maintain healthy tissue growth and these proteins are made up of 20 amino acids, each serving a different function in the body. Glutamine is one of these amino acids and studies have shown that it is most beneficial in strengthening and rebuilding the intestinal lining.
What Glutamine supplements can do
According to a study published by the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, “In gut physiology, glutamine promotes enterocyte proliferation, regulates tight junction proteins, suppresses pro-inflammatory signaling pathways, and protects cells against apoptosis and cellular stresses during normal and pathologic conditions.”
The authors also note that:
“As glutamine stores are depleted during severe metabolic stress including trauma, sepsis, and inflammatory bowel diseases, glutamine supplementation has been examined in patients to improve their clinical outcomes.”
Naturally occurring glutamine in the body works to protect the intestine so it makes perfect sense that a supplement would also increase intestinal stability. When your intestinal lining is strong it can greatly decrease inflammation in the body. This decrease can in turn give your immune system a chance to recover.
What Glutamine supplement should you choose
If you are hoping to supplement your glutamine by diet alone you should know that this method would not be simple. When you eat foods containing glutamine it has to compete with all of the other amino acids those foods contain, so the amount you actually absorb is rarely enough to strengthen your intestinal wall. Luckily, for those needing real intestinal support, pure glutamine supplements exist.
When choosing a supplement I highly recommend talking to your doctor to determine which one would best for you. Once you decide on the supplement you have options regarding dosage.
For general application you can review the L-Glutamine Maintenance Protocol developed by the Food and Drug Administration. For my patients I recommend the following maintenance protocol for its simplicity and effectiveness: take 10 to 15 grams of 100% L-Glutamine powder with 8 ounces of water every morning and evening for a period of two weeks.