Written by Dr. Michael Murray
Even though you may not have heard of it, the amino acid glutamine is critical to maintaining a healthy body and gut. Not only is glutamine the most common amino acid in the body, it is the preferred fuel of rapidly dividing cells in the intestine and immune system. This leads to it taking a vital role in pancreatic health as well as healing a “leaky gut.”
What Is a Leaky Gut?
In a healthy gut, the lining of the small intestine is nearly impermeable. Only fully digested food can pass through the lining into the bloodstream and lymph vessels. With a leaky gut, however, large quantities of undigested and partially digested food particles, as well as fragments from microorganisms, pass through the lining of the intestine, polluting the blood and lymph around the intestinal tract.
Once the debris has permeated the intestinal wall, it is then transported to either the intestinal lymph nodes or to the liver where it has to be digested, processed and removed. This alone isn’t so bad, but some of this material inevitably escapes capture by the liver and lymph nodes and ends up entering the blood stream. Obviously, this sort of foreign matter in the blood stream puts a great deal of stress on the immune system, the liver and virtually every other organ and system in the body.
Leaky Gut Symptoms
A leaky gut can lead to a wide range of problems, including:
- Hyperactivity (in some children)
- Mood swings
- Muscle or joint pain
- Poor concentration
- Memory difficulties
- Sleep disturbances
- Food hypersensitivities
- Environmental intolerances
Leaky gut has also been known to appear alongside critical illness, trauma, serious burns and major surgery. In addition, it has been shown to be associated with some chronic illnesses, such as alcoholism, Crohn's disease, a food allergy, eczema and arthritis. In all of these cases, a more severe leaky gut leads to a worsened prognosis.
What Causes a Leaky Gut?
There isn’t just one cause of a leaky gut. There are numerous causes of leaky gut syndrome, but fortunately, some of them are easy to fix with a change in diet.
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Severe emotional stress or trauma
- Drug use (especially antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs)
- Alcohol abuse
- Gastrointestinal parasites
- Intestinal bacterial infections or overgrowth
- Ingestion of junk foods (especially deep-fried foods or those made with hydrogenated vegetable oils)
- Excessive consumption of starchy or sugary foods
- Food allergies
Having a diet lacking in the nutrients required for gastrointestinal health, like glutamine, will perpetuate this problem and make it very difficult for the gut to heal. When you lack the needed nutrients for your gut lining to self-heal, just one major junk food binge or a single course of antibiotics can launch an issue.
Glutamine Helps Prevent and Repair a Leaky Gut
Glutamine is uniquely positioned to fight a leaky gut. It is the preferred fuel of the rapidly dividing cells of the intestinal lining, helping them divide, absorb and transport nutrients. During times that the lining is stressed, injured, or needs to recover, there is an increased demand for glutamine. The cells need additional energy, and glutamine is the best source. Without it, the intestinal lining becomes even more compromised. At this point, supplementation is required, usually at a dosage of 1.5 to 5 grams.
Glutamine helps fight the leaking gut by increasing energy production within the cells of the intestinal lining and strengthening the tight bonds between them. Chemotherapy patients are one group of people who can benefit from glutamine supplementation, as it can help prevent some of the intestinal damage caused by radiation. It can also help patients recover from the damage caused to the intestinal lining by an abdominal surgery.
If you are looking for additional support for intestinal health, I recommend GI Recovery Drink from Enzymedica. It not only provides glutamine, but also a prebiotic mixture that includes organic sources of beneficial fibers (tapioca and acacia), fermented superfoods, and galacto-oligosaccaharides. These prebiotics flood the microbiome with the nourishment that beneficial bacteria need to flourish and help benefit our bodies’ energy production, metabolism, appetite control, and brain health.