If you’ve been diagnosed with leaky gut syndrome or are experiencing symptoms commonly linked to leaky gut, chances are you’ve run across plenty of websites touting the benefits of amino acids for gut health. And one amino acid in particular, L-glutamine, has been generating quite the buzz for its potential role in gut healing. If you’ve been wondering whether you should be taking L-glutamine, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’re going to sift through the evidence and uncover everything you need to know about L-glutamine for leaky gut syndrome.
Intestinal Permeability and Leaky Gut Syndrome
For years, leaky gut syndrome was a somewhat obscure health issue that was dismissed out of hand by mainstream health care practitioners as nothing but myth.
However, as more studies were performed and the evidence began to roll in, scientists discovered a connection between increased intestinal permeability and health problems.
What causes increased intestinal permeability?
The small intestine and colon, which make up the lower half of the digestive system, control the passage of substances into the bloodstream. They do this by way of a semipermeable intestinal lining that’s covered with cell barriers called epithelial tight junctions.
In a healthy digestive tract, the gut lining allows nutrients into the blood and keeps disruptors like microbes and undigested food particles out. But an intestinal barrier weakened due to genetic factors, poor diet, excessive alcohol or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) use, or even stress can let some of these substances through.
When that happens, the immune system perceives these foreign particles as threats and acts to overpower them. While the body can handle the short-term inflammation caused by the immune system’s actions, if microbes, toxins, and food particles continue to seep into the bloodstream, side effects like damage to the intestinal tract’s balance of good and bad bacteria and chronic inflammation can result.
And that can lead to digestive issues like gas, bloating, food sensitivities, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or even serious inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs) like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
However, the good news is that a damaged gut barrier can be repaired and the symptoms of leaky gut syndrome reduced or even eliminated.
And one of the hottest new trends in leaky gut treatment is L-glutamine.
But is it all just hype or does L-glutamine supplementation truly hold promise for the treatment of leaky gut syndrome?
L-Glutamine for Leaky Gut Syndrome
The human body requires 20 amino acids, 9 essential and 11 nonessential, to create the proteins it uses to build muscle tissue and perform the overwhelming majority of biological processes that keep us alive.
L-glutamine is considered a nonessential amino acid. It’s also the most plentiful amino acid in the body and is involved in a wide array of cellular processes. However, it’s L-glutamine’s role in digestive health that has put it at the forefront of potential treatments for leaky gut syndrome.
This is because L-glutamine helps generate energy in the digestive tract and also plays a crucial role in maintaining proper function of the tight junctions and thus helps preserve optimal intestinal permeability.
In fact, a review published in the journal Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care noted that glutamine has been found in several studies to not only prevent weakening of the intestinal barrier but also improve it after injury has already occurred.
However, it’s important to note that the role L-glutamine may play in treating leaky gut syndrome is still unclear, as some studies have found little to no benefits with L-glutamine supplementation, while some have demonstrated negative side effects.
Researchers have attributed the wide variety of study results to various factors, from the starting health of the patients to dosage of L-glutamine used to method of administration, but the reasons for the discrepancies remain unclear.
Yet some have speculated that, since the body normally produces more than enough L-glutamine on its own, an individual’s response to the amino acid may be dependent on whether an actual deficiency is present.
Therefore, before taking L-glutamine supplements for the treatment of leaky gut syndrome, it may be prudent to have blood levels of glutamine first tested to verify that a deficiency indeed exists and then tailor the dosage based on the results.
In addition, it’s important to remember that L-glutamine doesn’t work in isolation. In fact, a number of other amino acids strengthen the tight junctions and thus play a key role in maintaining the intestinal lining.
So let’s talk about those now.
Leaky Gut Syndrome: More Than Just L-Glutamine
In addition to L-glutamine, five additional amino acids are known to play a specific role in gut health. These are:
Like glutamine, arginine is a nonessential amino acid that can become conditionally essential during times of acute or chronic stress. Arginine is an important component of collagen and has been found in studies to contribute to gut health by helping to maintain tight junction integrity.
In an interesting study published in the Journal of Nutrition, researchers found that arginine can help strengthen the gut barrier during exercise-induced hyperthermia.
Like arginine, citrulline is known to protect the integrity of the intestinal barrier. In fact, citrulline is converted into arginine in the body. What’s more, as a supplement, it may be even more effective than arginine.
The liver is very efficient at clearing arginine from the blood. However, it’s not as efficient when it comes to citrulline. This means that, when taken in supplemental form, citrulline can actually raise blood levels of arginine even more than arginine supplements can.
Another nonessential amino acid, glycine is perhaps best known for its role in healthy sleep patterns. However, it’s also the main amino acid in collagen, and it plays a significant role in maintaining a healthy intestinal barrier.
Like glycine, proline is a nonessential amino acid that’s used in the production of collagen. Our bodies need collagen to maintain a healthy gut barrier. Collagen has also been found to strengthen tight junctions and reduce symptoms of leaky gut.
As the name suggests, hydroxyproline is another building block of protein that’s found in collagen. Like arginine, glycine, and proline, hydroxyproline also plays an important role in gut health.
Treating Leaky Gut Syndrome with Amino Acids
If you’re dealing with the symptoms of leaky gut syndrome, adding more amino acids to your diet may be one of the best ways to strengthen your tight junctions and repair your gut lining.
However, with a huge array of amino acid supplements to choose from, understanding what will work best for you can be confusing.
Yet when it comes to collagen amino acids, a relatively simple way to get more of these in your diet is by supplementing with hydrolyzed collagen.
Unlike bone broth, which contains collagen in its whole form, hydrolyzed collagen has been broken down into its constituent parts, which makes it easier to digest and absorb than other forms of collagen.
As for L-glutamine, although studies remain somewhat contradictory, there are certainly people out there who swear by L-glutamine for the treatment of their leaky gut symptoms.
As alluded to earlier, this could simply be a case of correcting a glutamine deficiency via supplementation. Still, the best way to assess whether such a deficiency is indeed present is, again, by having blood levels of glutamine tested. Not only is blood testing a relatively simple procedure, but it may also save you both time and money in your search for symptom relief.
In addition, amino acids work best when used in concert with one another, so be sure to avoid dietary supplements that contain just a single amino acid, including L-glutamine. Instead, look for one that contains all nine essential amino acids as well.