TikTokers Are Taking L-Glutamine for Gut Health, But You Probably Don't Need It
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Gut health is a major topic on TikTok — there's even a popular hashtag about it dubbed #GutTok. It seems like every other day there's a new viral hack, tip, or piece of advice for how to cope with gut-related health concerns, such as doing abdominal massages for bloating and constipation. If you've found this place on TikTok, you've likely heard about L-glutamine, an amino acid people are taking in the form of a supplement for better gut health.
TikTok user Madison Paige posted a video showing before and after photos of her bloated tummy becoming flatter, attributing the results to taking L-glutamine supplements in the clip. In the video, which has more than seven million views since first posted in March of this year, Paige claims the supplements helped "heal her gut."
Another TikTok user, naturopathic doctor Carolina Arreola, N.D., stitched Paige's video with content of her own, endorsing the potential benefits of taking L-glutamine supplements for gut health, which include cell regrowth to repair the gut lining. However, before taking an L-glutamine supplement, you'll want to correctly determine the root cause of any health issues you're experiencing, she notes. That means figuring out what's really causing symptoms, such as bloating, constipation, and abdominal pain, by consulting your doctor.
Other creators have since shared how L-glutamine has worked for their own gut health. When you currently search for "l glutamine" on the app, you'll find thousands of videos with a total of more than 44 million views.
So, are these TikTokers on to something, or is this total B.S.? Well, yes and no. L-glutamine does have a positive impact on gut health, but there's a catch: L-glutamine supplements are only helpful if you have digestive issues caused by injury, trauma, and infections, say experts. Ahead, learn all about using L-glutamine for gut health, including who would benefit from trying the supplement, according to physicians and dietitians.
What is L-glutamine?
L-glutamine is an amino acid, and amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, explains board-certified physician Shera Raisen M.D. at The Lanby. Quick science class refresher: "There are essential and nonessential amino acids," explains Dr. Raisen. "The essential amino acids are not capable of being produced or synthesized by the human body and thus are necessary to be consumed via food. Conversely, nonessential amino acids can be produced or synthesized by the body."
The body naturally produces L-glutamine, but it's also found in protein-rich foods, such as eggs, beef, and tofu, and it's available in powder and capsule supplements. It's considered a "conditionally essential" amino acid, meaning that the body makes enough of it to support its needs, says Gail Cresci, Ph.D., R.D., a gut microbiome researcher in the department of pediatric gastroenterology, hepatology, and nutrition at the Cleveland Clinic. "However, during times of metabolic stress, such as that encountered from surgery, trauma, burns, [and] severe infections, your body may not be able to keep up with the higher needs for glutamine," she says.
So, how is this specific amino acid related to gut health? "L-glutamine is an amino acid used in many processes of metabolism," says certified dietitian Taylor Fazio, M.S., R.D., C.D.N at The Lanby. It serves as the main energy source in the gastrointestinal and digestive system to help support important functions, she adds. "One function is to help maintain a healthy intestinal permeability in the gut lining, which makes sure that the right molecules are getting absorbed from the intestines into the body," explains Fazio. (Related: A Guide to the Essential Nutrients — and Why Your Body Needs Them)
L-glutamine supports and maintains the gut barrier by promoting the reproduction of healthy intestinal cells, says Cresci. Maintenance of the gut barrier can help protect against digestive concerns and conditions, such as a leaky gut syndrome (when toxins and waste penetrate the digestive tract), adds Fazio.
Are L-glutamine supplements safe?
The good news is taking L-glutamine supplements does not have any negative significant side effects when taken in adequate doses, says Cresci. "[In one study], no safety concerns were noted when L-glutamine was taken for up to 14 grams per day," she adds, noting that higher doses haven't been "well-studied" and could have "potential side effects," such as constipation or frequent urge to have a bowel movement, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Another study found young healthy adults experienced no negative side effects when taking anywhere from 5 grams of L-glutamine per day up to about 45 grams per day (which increased based on individuals' body weight) for six weeks. Of course, you should always check with your healthcare provider before taking any supplements, says Cresci.
Do L-glutamine supplements help improve gut health?
L-glutamine is helpful for cell regrowth and function in the gut. "Glutamine supplementation may help repair someone's gut lining, gut absorption function, and immune function, especially if a patient has stressors of an infection or injury," says Dr. Raisen.
Studies show L-glutamine supplementation may be beneficial for those with leaky gut syndrome, people who have an inflammatory bowel disease, which is an umbrella term used to describe disorders marked by chronic inflammation in the digestive tract, such as ulcerative colitis, and those with a compromised digestive system due to HIV. L-glutamine supplements may also be helpful for people with irritable bowel syndrome, a disorder that causes cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, and constipation, but the studies are limited and inconclusive, says Cresci. (Related: The Connection Between PCOS and IBS)
That said, most people likely don't need the supplement added to their diet. If you haven't recently had infections, injuries, or severe illnesses in the gut, your body may already be getting an adequate amount of L-glutamine. One study reports that those who eat a typical diet with the recommended daily servings of protein obtain sufficient amounts of L-glutamine, ranging from 3-6 grams per day.
L-glutamine supplements are helpful for better gut health: true or false?
Ultimately, taking L-glutamine supplements can benefit gut health, but doing so is likely unnecessary for most people. Additionally, taking L-glutamine without knowing the cause of your digestive concerns may not benefit you in the long run. "While this amino acid has multiple benefits, understanding the root cause of gastrointestinal issues is the first course of action," says Fazio. If you're experiencing gastrointestinal issues, consult with a doctor for tailored advice.