At CustomCare Nutrition, we are glad that gut health has had increased public interest over the years. It is much easier today to find natural ways to heal your gut than it was 20 years ago. Perhaps this has come in the nick of time, too, when over 70% of Americans have a digestive disorder, and another 62 million Americans join the club each year. While there are several different types of gut disorders, each of them have at least one thing in common: inflammation and/or dysbiosis. The supplement, glutamine, is a common gut healing agent used as a treatment for a myriad of digestive disorders. Like most nutrients in the body, glutamine has additional far-reaching benefits.
The Conditionally Essential Amino Acid
Glutamine is an amino acid, properly called L-glutamine, and is involved in more metabolic processes than any other amino acid. Glutamine is considered “conditionally essential” for humans. Of the 21 amino acids, nine of them are considered essential and must be obtained through our diet (because we cannot synthesize them ourselves). Six other amino acids are considered non-essential since we can produce them in our own body. The six remaining amino acids are kind of in between and include glutamine. These are the conditionally essential amino acids, meaning that they are produced by our bodies but under certain circumstances our bodies cannot keep up with demand. When this happens, these six amino acids become essential and must be obtained through our diet.
Why The High Demand?
What causes the higher demand of conditionally essential amino acids? Disease, muscle loss (including age-related), physical trauma, mental stress, infections, or any catabolic distress (breaking down the components of metabolism faster than they can be built up). Catabolic distress can occur when a person is malnourished, sleep deprived, or when they perform high-intensity exercise. When discussing glutamine in particular, there are associations between a leaky gut (intestinal permeability), a weakened immune system, and low glutamine levels. When any number of these factors are present, the body requires greater amounts of glutamine to repair health and function. This higher demand for glutamine exceeds our ability to produce sufficient amounts, making them conditionally essential for those people.
It must be said that many of these factors are integrally related to one another. For example, chronic stress is known to contribute to leaky gut as well as impact our immune system. These, in turn, can further lead to infection, disease, and a catabolic state. This downward cascading effect emphasizes how easily a glutamine deficit can occur.
Glutamine and The Gut
Glutamine serves as the main energy source for our cells that line our intestine (called enterocytes). As glutamine nourishes these cells, they are able to repair and rebuild the intestinal lining and seal tight junctions. Having properly functioning tight junctions provides a defense against harmful bacteria and other pathogenic compounds. This makes glutamine very helpful for those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), SIBO, candida overgrowth, and leaky gut. This vital amino acid also helps the conditions associated with leaky gut such as, eczema, joint pain, or autoimmune disease.
In addition to healing the gut lining, glutamine also reduces intestinal inflammation by calming down the immune response that produces inflammatory cytokines. This makes glutamine great for diverticulitis and inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Reducing gut inflammation also helps the recovery from food sensitivities.
Lastly, glutamine can help in healing stomach ulcers by protecting against ongoing damage, as well as treat diarrhea by balancing mucus production.
Other Glutamine Benefits
We want to make a quick shout out to the other benefits of glutamine since it is involved in so many metabolic processes. This amino acid helps with cognitive health, muscle recovery, and diabetes control.
Glutamine is a precursor to the production of glutamate, a neurotransmitter in our brain. Glutamate plays an important role in memory and learning by sending chemical signals to nerve cells. It also ensures proper activity from our synapses. An imbalance of glutamate levels or any disruption of the glutamine/glutamate cycle can lead to the dysfunction and death of nerve cells. When this happens, neurological and psychiatric disorders can result, including bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, seizures, anxiety, depression, and even ALS.
Glutamine supplements have become popular among athletes looking to improve recovery or increase endurance. Glutamine is abundant in muscle tissue but its levels can drop dramatically after intense exercise. In this state, the body begins breaking down muscle for energy. Supplementing with glutamine prevents this breakdown. Not only that, but glutamine also repairs muscle after workouts as well as speeds recovery time for burns and wounds. Lastly, glutamine may be able to prevent muscle atrophy.
Glutamine plays a role in diabetes care. It helps decrease blood glucose, specifically fasting blood glucose, as well as lower hemoglobin A1C and reduce waist circumference. Glutamine may help curb sugar and carb cravings as well.
When a person needs more glutamine than their body can produce, they need to look to food and supplements. Glutamine is an amino acid and therefore makes up protein. Top protein foods for glutamine are:
- Grass-fed beef
- Wild-caught fish (specifically salmon and cod)
- Bone broth
- Cottage cheese
- Chinese cabbage
- Broccoli rabe
For most people it is difficult to get enough glutamine from food alone, as it is usually not enough to promote healing. Those with digestive disorders, a weakened immune system, or who are athletes, require higher daily levels than can be achieved through food alone. Not only that, but the various types of amino acids present in protein-rich foods actually compete with each other for absorption. This means not all of the glutamine present in a food will actually be used by the body.
Supplementing your diet with glutamine is a great way to heal the body and realize its full benefits. Glutamine supplements are available as capsules or a powder. In fact, whey protein powder naturally contains high amounts of glutamine. It is best to speak to our team at CustomCare Nutrition to decide whether to take glutamine and at what dosage. Dosage depends on the severity of your health condition and are usually large, ranging from 2-5 grams per day on the low end, to 20-30 grams per day on the upper end. Glutamine powder contains more glutamine per serving than a capsule, making it easier to reach the higher dosages.
Glutamine is a powerful amino acid, prevalent throughout the body, and involved in more metabolic processes than any other amino acid. It serves several functions throughout the body and is well known to heal the gut lining and decrease intestinal inflammation. Glutamine is therefore an effective agent in the treatment of several digestive disorders. Aside from gut health, glutamine plays a role in cognitive health, muscle recovery, and diabetes control. Those with certain health conditions, stress, infections, or poor nutrition, all increase our body’s demand for glutamine in order to heal. When we cannot produce enough to meet our needs, we are able to get glutamine from protein-rich foods as well as supplements. If you are struggling with digestive issues, talk to our team at CustomCare Nutrition and see whether glutamine can help you towards healing.