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Many articles recommend using glutamine (also labeled L-glutamine) as a supplement to help heal leaky gut. It provides energy to the small intestines and when converted to glutamate can accelerate healing. Tangentially, it is also recommended by some to abate sugar cravings, or among body builders and athletes for performance and recovery. Certainly many doctors prescribe glutamine for their patients with leaky gut.
Glutamine concentrations decrease during periods of disease or stress, thus one motivation for supplementation. And the body’s ability to expel glutamine means that many doctors see glutamine as benign, with no side effects even at high doses. Its depletion causes compromises in gut function…so why not supplement?
As mentioned, glutamine is a precursor to glutamate or glutamic acid. When this conversion occurs, the properties and effects of glutamate can be attributed to glutamine. Glutamate is one of two excitatory neurotransmitters in the brain that can cause anxiety. Excesses in brain tissue (remember the gut-brain correlation) can also cause cell damage. So while glutamine in excess seems benign, once it converts to glutamate, that status is called into question.
Glutamate is heralded for abating alcohol and sugar cravings, healing wounds, and increasing energy, but it is also an amino acid that can cause extreme damage when in excess.
Paul Jaminet Ph.D., author of Perfect Health Diet, adds an insight regarding glutathione, of which glutamine is also a precursor:
Glutamine, a supplement frequently recommended for gut ailments, can also enhance glutathione production. However, I would generally avoid this, because it can promote proliferation of pathogenic bacteria.
In addition to promoting pathogen overgrowth, several studies are emerging with additional concerns or supporting, cautionary data: One study on oral hygiene and disease (1) shows that glutathione produces bacterial growth, proving it can become food for invasive pathogens. Another study (2) shows the virulence of cancer cells when exposed to glutamine. A third study (3) shows increased mortality among patients given glutamine. Glutathione has also been linked to the thinning of gut lining when used long term.
There are many more articles and testimonies available about the honorific effects of glutamine and glutathione than the converse. What we’re discussing here is not a black and white issue. (Often in life we must understand the subtleties.) The complexities of amino acids, their roles in the human body, and also the complexities of antioxidants and pathogens is still beyond the full scope of our understanding. The benefits of glutamine and glutathione supplements have been studied far more than their pejorative potential. Because noteworthy and well-respected practitioners are beginning to recognize and acknowledge the dangers of this amino acid and this antioxidant in certain settings, it is wise for us to know their potential not only for good but also for harm.
One of the reasons glutamine is a beneficial amino acid in general is that it increases glutathione. Glutathione is a key antioxidant in the human body, one which protects the body from inflammation and pathogens. Glutathione also helps the body to detoxify and promotes proper liver function.
Yet there are better ways to encourage glutamine’s (and glutathione’s) presence naturally without supplementing with isolated glutamine.
Yes, that’s right: we’re again talking about co-factors and a balanced diet.
Glutamine is good. But it is best and safest when it is found amidst the other amino acids around which it’s found in nature. So…supplement with glutamine by consuming gelatin, in which case you will actually be consuming the healing glutamate/glutamic acid and, in turn, promoting healthy levels of glutathione production. Remember, too, that gelatin is most effective when consumed with its co-factors, whole food sources of protein and fat.
Whole food, digestible sources of glutamine are meat, fish, eggs, soaked beans, raw milk and cheese, human breast milk, bone broth, raw spinach, raw parsley, kombu and cabbage.
Here is the grass-fed gelatin that I recommend. Collagen is also wonderful, and even easier to digest than gelatin. Stir collagen into hot or cold beverages.
For more ways to incorporate gelatin into your diet, I recommend this post.
If you’ve noticed a gut-healing benefit from taking a glutamine supplement, this post may or may not apply to you. But I believe we are safer, based on recent studies, consuming gelatin and whole food sources.