Gut Check

The amino acid glutamine can help strengthen your gastrointestinal tract.

By Lisa James

January 2012


Can you imagine someone saying, “My heart’s been acting up a little lately—I’m taking some over-the-counter stuff for it”? People say such things about digestive woes all the time. These problems tend to be regarded casually, often under the assumption that a bout of indigestion or bowel trouble will resolve itself. And for occasional discomfort, that may the case.

But assuming that persistent digestive distress—heartburn, stomach upset, pain, gas and bloating, constipation and/or diarrhea—will simply go away is a bad idea. Such symptoms can indicate damage to the intestinal wall, which can have health consequences beyond the digestive tract.
Relieving symptoms without addressing intestinal dysfunction at the root is not enough. The best approach is to help heal the digestive system’s delicate lining—the place where trouble starts.

Studies suggest that the amino acid glutamine can play a significant role in such healing.

Disrupted Digestion

The membrane that lines the intestinal tract (known as the intestinal mucosa) serves as a traffic cop, letting nutrients into the bloodstream while keeping everything else out. That process can be disrupted, though, by conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease (among others). When that happens, noxious substances such as bacteria and partially digested proteins can enter the blood.

Known as leaky gut syndrome, this condition “not only creates inflammation in the gut but has the potential to create pockets of inflammation everywhere else in the body,” says Raphael Kellman, MD, a holistic practitioner in New York City and author of Gut Reactions (Broadway Books). He adds that leaky gut interferes with normal nutrient absorption, leading to nutritional shortfalls.

Glutamine Protection

Glutamine (also called L-glutamine), one of the protein building blocks known as amino acids, promotes digestive health in several ways. It is the preferred fuel source of the cells that line the small intestine, where most nutrient absorption takes place. It is used to synthesize glutathione, a key antioxidant, and to help clear ammonia, a toxin that can throw off the body’s acid-base balance. What’s more, glutamine has shown an ability to protect the stomach against ulceration and to prevent stomach contents from backing up into the esophagus, which helps ease heartburn.

A number of studies support glutamine’s digestion-supportive properties. It has been found to help protect preterm babies against leaky gut (Journal of Maternal-Fetal & Neonatal Medicine 10/11) as well as severely ill patients on feeding tubes. And glutamine’s ability to reduce ammonia levels has provided protection against stomach disorders associated with H. pylori, a microbe linked to ulcers, in animals (Journal of Pharmacological Sciences 1/10).

As important as glutamine is to intestinal health, it works best in combination with other nutrients. These include calcium, which helps buffer acidity, and antioxidants such as selenium and vitamins C and E, which fight free radicals. Beneficial microbes that normally inhabit the intestinal tract, known as probiotics, help turn dietary fat into fatty acids needed for a healthy mucosa. And whole-food concentrates have an alkalinizing effect that promotes proper digestion, which helps ease symptoms.

If your digestive system is always giving your grief, don’t shrug it off lightly. Glutamine can help you fix the problem at the source.

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