L-Glutamine for IBS: Are the Health Benefits Real?
January 17th, 2020
If you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), you’ve got a lot of company. It’s estimated that up to 15% of Americans experience this issue.1 Because it’s one of the most common reasons people visit a primary care physician — it results in 12% of the visits each year!2 — there’s plenty of interest in resolving this painful problem. Yet conventional medical advice often doesn’t focus on the natural remedies for IBS or look deeper for its cause.
Surprisingly, in 50% of people who take a breath test after being diagnosed with IBS, SIBO, or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, is found to be the real issue.3 Fortunately, I’ve seen thousands of patients with SIBO and I know it’s very treatable. Take this quiz to find out if SIBO is the root cause of your problem.
For everyone else with IBS, L-Glutamine, an important amino acid, may be just what you need. First, let me explain how conventional medicine treats IBS. Then, I’ll talk about the approach I used to get to the root of IBS with my patients in my clinic. Lastly, I’ll address how L-Glutamine can support your body and help you get your health back.
What is the Conventional Medicine Treatment of IBS?
Let’s say you go to your primary care physician with one or more of the following symptoms:
- Gas, bloating, and diarrhea
- Abdominal pain or cramping
- Constipation, diarrhea, or alternating bouts of both
He or she may order a variety of tests including:
Imaging tests to check for physical abnormalities such as:
- Sigmoidoscopy. This is an exam of just the lower portion of the colon. It’s done with a flexible, lighted tube with a camera called a sigmoidoscope that is inserted into your rectum. You’re generally awake for this procedure.
- Colonoscopy. An exam via a long tube with a camera that is inserted into your rectum. This is a more invasive test for which you’d be unconscious.
- Upper endoscopy. This uses a device similar to a sigmoidoscope, that is inserted down your throat and into your esophagus to inspect your upper digestive tract and possibly obtain a tissue sample. You’ll be sedated, yet awake for this.
- Barium X-ray. For this one, you’ll drink a thick liquid called barium to coat your digestive tract to make it more visible on an X-ray. You’ll also be awake for this.
And labs to check for other issues such as:
- Lactose intolerance test to check if you are lacking the lactase enzyme and unable to digest milk products.
- Stool tests for bacteria, parasites, or excess bile acid.
If all of these tests come back normal, you will likely be diagnosed with IBS. This is known as a diagnosis of exclusion. That is, your doctor comes to this conclusion when he or she can’t identify any other cause.
They may suggest medications for IBS including over-the-counter laxatives, fiber supplements, and anti-diarrhea medications. They might also prescribe dicyclomine for bowel spasms, tricyclic antidepressants such as Tofranil, or pain medications such as Lyrica.
All of these can have significant side effects that impact your gut health. They may kill off the good bacteria that live there, increasing intestinal permeability, and causing leaky gut. I’ll get into that below.
Additionally, there are several clinical trials for different IBS-specific medications currently underway.
How Does Functional Medicine Approach IBS?
IBS is a different story in functional medicine. Functional medicine doesn’t just treat your symptoms, it treats your body as a whole and seeks to get to the root cause. I was trained to dig deep and uncover a patient’s history, looking for:
- Additional food intolerances such as gluten, casein, and fructose
- Histamine intolerance
- Chronic illnesses such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, diabetes, neuromuscular disorders, and autoimmune diseases
- Vitamin and mineral deficiencies, including vitamins A, B12, D, and E
- Rosacea and other skin rashes
That’s because all of these seemingly unrelated symptoms point to a single cause: leaky gut. In leaky gut, the tight junctions of your gut wall open up, allowing toxins and food particles to pass into your bloodstream. Take this quiz to find out if leaky gut is the root cause of your IBS. You can also learn more about treating a leaky gut in this article.
So what’s the connection with L-Glutamine? Let’s look at its role in your body and how supplementation can help support your body in managing IBS while you get the root cause of the problem.
What exactly is L-Glutamine?
L-Glutamine, also simply called Glutamine is an amino acid. In fact, it’s the most abundant amino acid in your body. It’s used to synthesize proteins.
It’s called a conditional amino acid because your body is able to produce it. However, it’s made and used very quickly, so there are times you may need to get it from outside sources including meat and fish, nuts, and eggs.
Why Might You Need Additional Glutamine?
Under stress, your body uses Glutamine quickly. Situations you may not even consider particularly stressful, such as engaging in intense exercise and sports that require quick bursts of energy, can result in a Glutamine deficiency. Other common situations that can call for more Glutamine than you can make include:
- Chronic gastrointestinal disorders
- Trauma such as a deep wound
- Major infections
- Immune disorders
- Blood disorders such as sickle cell anemia
How Does L-Glutamine Benefit IBS?
The main function of this amino acid is to provide the building blocks of protein. L-Glutamine can work to protect the mucous membrane of the esophagus and intestines. Because it’s so readily and easily used by your intestinal tissue, It can quickly restore your gut lining to an optimal state.
In fact, this is where L-Glutamine is a real hero! Its most important role in your body is to aid in cell reproduction.
Remember I talked about leaky gut? By enabling your gut cells to regenerate more quickly, L-Glutamine helps quickly seal the tight junctions in your gut. This helps prevent the leaky gut that can cause uncomfortable symptoms throughout your body, not just gut pain.
Additionally, because L-Glutamine is used for energy production, it supports muscle function and helps your body resolve intestinal spasms. Your body releases cortisol when it is stressed, which can lower the levels of L-Glutamine stored in the muscle tissue. People with IBS that is stress induced may find that increasing their intake of L-Glutamine mitigates the impact of cortisol, improving muscle function and helping your body resolve spasms.
Oral Glutamine Supplementation
As I mentioned, this critical amino acid is made and used very quickly. When you are ill or extremely stressed, your body simply can’t keep up with the demand. And of course, eating and processing Glutamine-rich foods takes time.
Glutamine can be supplemented intravenously and it’s the ideal delivery method in certain situations such as recovering from surgery. However, this invasive option is not appropriate for everyone. Foods are a great source, and I certainly recommend eating lots of healthy proteins! However, it’s difficult to tell if you are getting enough L-Glutamine from your diet.
My L-Glutamine contains 850 mg per capsule. It’s a great way to get a consistent L-Glutamine dosage to maintain a healthy gut barrier. Supplementing with L-Glutamine for leaky gut and IBS can make a big difference.
There are very few L-Glutamine side effects. However, anyone with liver disease including cirrhosis should consult a healthcare professional before taking L-Glutamine.
I also suggest pregnant and breastfeeding women consult their doctor before taking this supplement or before giving it to children.
If you want to help balance blood sugar, as well as support healthy weight loss, look no further than my L-Glutamine. Glutamine helps to support a balanced insulin response which in turn helps keep blood sugar levels in check throughout the day. Balancing blood sugar levels can also positively impact stress hormone levels, such as cortisol as I mentioned previously. This can be extremely important for those with stress-induced IBS.
Finally, my L-Glutamine supports thyroid and overall immune system health. By supporting the integrity of your gut barrier, you are making great strides in dealing with IBS on top of supporting normal immune function, and therefore, your thyroid. Your thyroid is incredibly sensitive, and susceptible to an immune system gone awry.
Unfortunately, many inflammatory proteins that a compromised gut barrier allows into your bloodstream trigger immune responses that can damage the thyroid as well. If you have thyroid issues or are concerned about thyroid and immune health, a high-quality Glutamine should absolutely be part of your routine.