“The epithelial cells act like doors, almost like TSA agents: they don’t let everything through,” explains the gastroenterologist. Ali RezaieMD, MSc, Medical Director of the Gastrointestinal Motility Program at Cedars-Sinai, Los Angeles and co-author of The Microbiome Connection: Your Guide to IBS, SIBO, and Low-Fermentation Foods. “But if the epithelial cells are damagedwhich we call hyperpermeability or ‘leaky gut‘, then the bacteria can enter the body and produce a state of microinflammation.
Ah yes, the famous “leaky gut”. This is where the amino acid glutamine (also called l-glutamine) comes into play.
The most abundant amino acid in the human body, glutamine is a “building block” for proteins. It is produced naturally by the body (mainly in muscle) and can also be found in many foods. The blood carries glutamine to tissues throughout the body, including the intestine, where it promotes the regeneration of epithelial cells that serve as a barrier between the intestines and the abdominal cavity. According to Dr. Rezaie, epithelial cells in the intestine are completely replaced every five to seven days. “This rapid rate of reproduction of these cells depends on glutamine,” he says.
In general, healthy individuals get all the l-glutamine they need from their body’s natural production and diet, says Dr. Rezaie. However, people who suffer from digestive disorders such as celiac disease or Crohn’s disease may need more l-glutamine to keep their intestinal lining in optimal shape compared to those who do not suffer from these disorders. Additionally, if you suffer from a leaky gut, you may need to increase your l-glutamine intake in order to restore the intestinal epithelium. “Whenever there’s inflammation, you suddenly need a lot of energy to fight that, and cell turnover increases,” says Dr. Rezaie.
Foods containing glutamine
Chances are, you already eat glutamine-rich foods on a regular basis. According to Dr. Rezaie, many elements of the mediterranean diet— a largely plant-based diet that also includes whole grains, seafood, eggs, and lean poultry — are high in glutamine, including fish, chicken, and eggs. People who follow a strictly vegan or vegetarian diet can get their glutamine from the aforementioned whole grains, as well as cruciferous vegetables like cabbage and broccoli. However, for people for whom cruciferous vegetables cause bloating or distension, Dr. Rezaie recommends two other potent sources of glutamine: carrots and beets.
You can also find glutamine supplements on the market, but according to Dr. Rezaie, supplementation is only recommended in rare situations: for example, a doctor may recommend people who frequently engage in very intense workouts (glutamine can aid in muscle recovery) or those recovering from infectious gastrointestinal illness consider this supplement. (One study suggested that glutamine supplements helped normalize intestinal mucosal permeability in patients with post-infectious irritable bowel syndrome.) “But on a day-to-day basis, you don’t usually need supplementation on this, unless for some reason you’re on a very restricted diet,” says Dr. Rezaie. Be sure to consult a medical provider before starting any new supplement.
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