When gut health is compromised, it can lead to a variety of unwanted symptoms including indigestion, poor energy, bloating, stubborn weight loss, skin problems, poor immunity, inconsistent bowel patterns, mental fog, and low mood. While many tend to rationalize these symptoms as the new normal, it’s actually far from what it’s supposed to be.
Recognizing we coach many individuals who show and experience these signs and symptoms of disrupted gut health, Life Time created a program and supplement system designed to support your efforts to reset your digestive health.
This program and supplement system, known as the GUT.FIX Kit, includes our top 3 recommended supplements for helping restore digestive integrity. While each supplement in the Kit is distinct and essential in the gut healing process, we’ll be highlighting the distinct role of Glutamine and why it’s so important, how much you should take and why your need for it can increase.
What it is & why it’s important
Glutamine is a “conditionally essential” amino acid. Usually, amino acids are considered essential or non-essential. Essential amino acids must be consumed through the diet because the body cannot make them on its own while non-essential amino acids can be created by the body. Glutamine, though, as a conditionally essential amino acid means that it becomes “essential” when the body is put in a condition where it cannot create enough on its own. While we’ll go into more detail in the sections below, physical stress is one of the most common ways the body is put in a position where it cannot keep up with its glutamine needs.
One of the most studied areas of glutamine supplementation is its effect on the immune system. In fact, our gut supplies over 70% of the immune system. Because a majority of the body’s defenses reside in the digestive tract, this is where most pathogens get into the body, if they’re going to get in at all.
When the health of the digestive tract is compromised, specifically the intestine, it becomes easier for those pathogens to enter the blood stream. Besides leading to potential illness, the increased permeability of the intestine can also allow large food particles to enter the blood stream, which can set off food allergies or sensitivities. To help combat these issues, Glutamine has been shown to help repair the lining of the gut, which helps enhance immune function and may help reduce the occurrence of food allergies or sensitivities.(1)
Glutamine is also a major energy source for white blood cells, which include macrophages and neutrophils, that are critical to the immune process. As you can imagine, the more infection these cells are fighting off at any one time, the more glutamine they will need. If there is not a sufficient supply from the diet, the body will break down its own muscle tissue to supply the glutamine needs.
The average American diet supplies 3.5-7.0 grams of glutamine per day. When looking for foods that are good sources of Glutamine, beef, pork, poultry, milk, yogurt, ricotta cheese, cottage cheese, raw spinach, raw parsley and cabbage are great options. Keep in mind that animal sources contain larger amounts because of their higher protein content. Whey protein is also an excellent supplemental source.
For sedentary individuals, the average daily amounts consumed are sufficient to meet the body’s needs. For exercising individuals without significant health complications, 2-5 grams per day of additional supplemental glutamine is often recommended.
Why do needs increase?
Under healthy, rested, unstressed circumstances, the body can produce enough glutamine to meet its daily needs. However, when the additional stress is added to the body, its need for glutamine may not be met by the body’s production, and it becomes more critical to get glutamine through diet or supplementation.
It’s also well known that some serious catabolic health conditions (severe burns, certain cancers, AIDS for example) dramatically increase our needs for L-glutamine (and other nutrients).In these clinical scenarios, L-glutamine supplementation significantly improves the prognosis of critically ill patients by nourishing the physiologic intestinal barrier and by reducing the frequency of infections[iii]. It does so through a number of important mechanisms involved in the regulation of gene expression, new cell growth and development, protein turnover (repair), anti-oxidative properties and by promoting immune health [iv]. In other words, even when the whole body seems to be breaking down, extra L-glutamine is effective at nourishing the very delicate cells lining our intestines and improving whole body health.
If you’re someone who experiences elevated stress levels and exercises frequently at a higher intensity without adequate recovery time, you can have a higher occurrence of depleted glutamine levels. Most people have other stresses in their lives to contend with as well – financial stress, work stress, lack of sleep, sickness. All of these stresses can cause a decrease in the body’s supply of glutamine which can suppress immune function.
Another reason why our needs increase is due to damaged intestinal villi, which are also called enterocytes, that can result from our moderndietary choices,food sensitivities, alcohol consumption, medications, toxin exposure, or general lifestyle habits.
Whether you work hard at the gym or work hard to relax by having a few cocktails at night, the lining of your digestive system may be encountering some damage you’re not currently accounting for. Fortunately, adding L-glutamine to your routine helps cut down the tissue damage, which is often referred to gastrointestinal permeability, or “leaky gut” [v],[vi]. It’s even been shown to improve exercise performance and strength [vii].
If you’ve been experiencing symptons of a disrupted gut, it may be time to pay closer attention to your daily routine, lifestyle habits and how they may be impacting your glutamine levels. While eating a balanced diet with foods high in glutamine is a great starting point for supporting your gut health, you can also take it through the convenience of a supplement. Taking Glutamine in a supplement form is easy because it is odorless, tasteless and mixes well in shakes or other beverages.
While Life Time offers Glutamine as an individual supplement, if you’re in need of a comprehensive system and holistic plan to get back to a healthier gut, a great place to start is with the GUT.FIX program.
In health, Paul Kriegler, Registered Dietitian, Life Time – Nutrition Program Development Manager.
This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.