If your doctor has told you that you have a leaky gut, you’re likely considering a gut supporting diet. But supplements may also be helpful for leaky gut. One of my favorite gut support supplements is l-glutamine. In this post, I’ll cover all the amazing benefits of l-glutamine for the gut and how you can use it.
What Is Leaky Gut?
As food enters the intestines, it is broken down into individual nutrients that can pass through the tight junctions of the intestinal lining and into the bloodstream to be used in the rest of the body. The gut lining keeps large particles, bacteria, and toxins from passing through in the same way that nutrients do. These undesirable particles are swept out of the body with other waste.
However, with leaky gut (also known as intestinal hyperpermeability), the intestinal lining is not as robust and allows these particles and toxins through the intestinal wall and into the bloodstream. This can wreak havoc on the body.
A 2017 article in Frontiers in Immunology describes leaky gut syndrome as “a dangerous warning signal for autoimmune disease.” According to microbiologist Kiran Krishnan, about 80% of the body’s immune system and tissue resides in the digestive tract, which is why leaky gut syndrome and autoimmune diseases are often tied together.
Causes of Leaky Gut
Steve Wright, the creator of SCDLifestyle.com, sat down for a podcast episode with me to talk about leaky gut, heartburn, and digestion. During the podcast, he describes how his program helps individuals identify 19 specific triggers that may cause leaky gut.
These are the main factors that are believed to play a role in the development of leaky gut:
- Poor diet
- Environmental toxins
- Bacterial imbalances
It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact reasons leaky gut occurs and it’s likely a combination of these factors. Some triggers are out of our hands (genetics), but many are without our realm of control.
Symptoms of Leaky Gut
Leaky gut leads to more than just stomach pain. Symptoms of leaky gut are often quite different from person to person. Some people can even have leaky gut syndrome without experiencing symptoms. Other times it can be painful like Crohn’s disease. This is why it’s so difficult to diagnose (and possibly why mainstream medicine is having a hard time believing that leaky gut is real!).
These symptoms may indicate that an individual’s intestinal lining isn’t working correctly:
- Food Allergies/Sensitivities (especially gluten and dairy)
- Post-Nasal Drip
- Skin Conditions
- Constipation, Diarrhea, IBS, SIBO
- Mood Disorders
- Brain Fog
- Thyroid Disorders
Leaky gut often occurs alongside other chronic illnesses plaguing many people throughout the western world, including autoimmune diseases, cancer, respiratory infections, Parkinson’s disease, and more.
What Is L-Glutamine?
L-glutamine plays a vital role in a variety of processes. It especially helps in the case of leaky gut because it supports the body in restoring the intestinal lining.
This essential amino acid provides the body with support by:
- removing waste (such as ammonia)
- building proteins
- stabilizing blood glucose levels
- building nucleic acids for DNA
This supplement (in its powdered form) became a popular supplement for bodybuilders because it supports healthy muscles. A study from 2015 states that this nutrient helps athletes recover and experience less muscle soreness following strenuous physical activity.
Benefits of L-Glutamine on the Body
Besides helping with muscle recovery, l-glutamine has many other benefits. Even if leaky gut wasn’t something on my radar, I would use it for some of these other benefits.
Supports Healthy Brain Function
A healthy brain (just like the rest of the body) requires a variety of vitamins and nutrients to maintain a healthy mental state. Glutamine is one of those valuable amino acids for brain health.
Glutamine makes up a large portion of the central nervous system. A lack of glutamine in the body can interrupt natural brain cycles and lead to epilepsy, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorders, and other mood or nervous system disorders.
Supports a Healthy Digestive System and Bowel Movements
It is only natural that a condition known as “leaky gut” would cause problems in the digestive system and bowels.
Gut-related issues seem to be more common than we think. Dr. Ken Brown revealed in this podcast with me that today about 20% of the population experience IBS. One of the biggest concerns for digestive issues and bowel issues is inflammation.
Fortunately, l-glutamine can support the body in lowering the inflammatory response in IBS and other chronic illnesses, according to a 2017 review. The review found that stressors (including illness) deplete glutamine, so supplementing can help.
Additionally, this review explains that glutamine supports cellular health which is also important for gut health.
Supports Weight Loss
This nutrient has been used to promote weight loss and fat burning by many in the fitness industry. In one study, after just six weeks of receiving the supplements, patients with type 2 diabetes saw a dramatic reduction in some of their cardiovascular risk factors as well as body composition. Researchers believe that l-glutamine helps to reduce insulin levels and stabilizes blood glucose, supporting the body in burning more fat and building muscle.
Can L-Glutamine Support the Gut?
As mentioned above, l-glutamine supports healthy digestion and overall gut health. A French study describes glutamine as a vital nutrient for overall intestinal health (including leaky gut syndrome).
Supports Healthy Food Choices
Due to its ability to support healthy blood glucose levels, l-glutamine supports healthy eating habits, instead of feeding cravings for sugars and carbohydrates that cause inflammation throughout the body (making leaky gut worse). Additionally, a 2019 study shows that low glutamine levels in the brain were associated with heavy alcohol consumption and cravings, too.
Supports Intestinal Health
Stomach ulcers and ulcerative colitis often accompany leaky gut as these conditions directly affect the intestines.
L-glutamine has shown promising benefits in supporting the health of the intestines. A European review looked at the role glutamine played on intestinal health and determined that the amino acid has a “protective effect on intestinal tissues.”
What Are the Side Effects of L-Glutamine?
This supplement is considered generally safe for most people. If you have a medical condition or are unsure at all, always check with your doctor to discuss whether this supplement is safe for you. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, don’t use this supplement without talking with your doctor as it’s unclear whether it’s safe. Your doctor may recommend getting your share of this nutrient in food form instead of supplements.
Side effects are rare, though some people have an allergic reaction to this supplement. If you notice signs of an allergic reaction like swelling, hives, nausea, etc., get medical attention immediately.
How to Add L-Glutamine to Your Diet
L-glutamine is found naturally in a variety of protein sources. Include these foods in your diet to naturally reap the benefits of this nutrient:
- Grass-fed beef
- Bone broth
- Free-range chicken
- Broccoli rabe
- Wild-caught cod and salmon
- Cottage cheese
Eating a whole foods diet with at least three servings of these foods daily is a great place to start when increasing l-glutamine. Probiotics are also helpful for supporting healthy digestion so adding any of the above vegetables in fermented form is a great idea. Beet kvass is one tasty idea.
Taking l-glutamine as a supplement to complement a healthy diet can support your journey to a healthier gut, too. For some, acquiring enough l-glutamine through food may be easy. But, to get a consistent amount daily, supplementing may be a better route to take.
When I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, I knew I needed to be taking care of my gut health. I started this gut-healthy diet and made sure I was getting ample amounts of l-glutamine. This protocol made a huge difference in supporting my body’s natural health.
The Power of the Body
What I find really interesting about using these kinds of supplements to support health is that they are things easily found in food. That means that you don’t necessarily need to spend a lot of money. Instead, you can be more intentional about the food you eat and get many of the benefits of this supplement.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of leaky gut syndrome, l-glutamine is an essential nutrient to consider adding to your diet with your doctor’s approval.
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Scott Soerries, MD, Family Physician and Medical Director of SteadyMD. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.