Glutamine and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD): The Ultimate Supplement for Acid Reflux?

Contents

Gastroesophageal reflux disease

The food we eat travels through the digestive tract in the body, where essential nutritional components are absorbed by the body before waste products are excreted. The digestive tract includes many organs from the mouth to the anus. 

The oesophagus is an important tube that connects the mouth to the stomach. The stomach is a vessel for the acid that breaks down large food components. During GERD, the stomach acid flows back into the oesophagus, which is referred to as acid reflux and can cause damage to the cell lining. 1

Experiencing this type of acid reflux is highly common from time to time. An independent incident does not mean you have GERD. It occurs when you experience mild acid reflux at least twice a week or a moderate to severe/strong acid reflux at least once weekly. 

GERD often results in discomfort and pain that can easily be tackled with certain lifestyle changes, dietary patterns and medications (prescribed or over the counter). Surgery and stronger pharmacological interventions are only recommended when the first few steps have no significant effect on the symptoms. These symptoms, as outlined by the Mayo Clinic and the NHS, are mentioned below: 1,2

  • Heartburn (burning sensation in the chest)
  • Chest pain 
  • Inability to swallow or difficulty swallowing
  • A lump like sensation in the throat
  • Sour taste in mouth on account of the acid reflux
  • Bad breath and/or hoarse voice
  • Bloating and/or nausea 
  • Cough (chronic) and/or new/ progressive asthma
  • Laryngitis 
  • Sleep disturbances 

Glutamine

Glutamine is an amino acid, i.e. the smallest part of a protein.4 It has the ability to repair the cell linings within the gut and digestive tract. During GERD, this lining is often corroded or damaged due to stomach acid. Glutamine acts as a fuel for the cells and helps improve gut health and immunity. It can also help in protein synthesis, which is vital for muscle function. In addition, glutamine aids detoxification of the liver when foreign substances are present, boosts metabolism, helps in the assimilation of important nutrients from food, improves stamina and ensures proper bowel movement. 

The body can produce glutamine; however, the intake can be increased by consuming wheat, dairy, corn, peanuts, almonds, chicken, eggs, seafood, lentils, beans, tofu, cabbage, spinach, kale, avocado, peas, apples, melons, pears, bananas and more.3

Can it help GERD?

Glutamine can be found in the body and in many foods. However, L-glutamine, if not a cure, can aid in easing the symptoms of GERD. GERD is mainly caused due to weakness of a sphincter in the lower oesophagus that normally supports proper digestion by preventing food and acid from re-entering the oesophagus from the stomach. 

L-glutamine is the purest form of glutamine, i.e., in the form of an amino acid that can be taken orally.4 It helps restore the cell linings by providing cells with essential nutrients and enhancing muscular function. It can also help in the repair of the mucosal linings that have been damaged by stomach acids. Overall it can help ease pain, discomfort and other symptoms; however, it is vital to discuss this with your doctor in order to get the best outcome possible.5 

Could it worsen symptoms?

Glutamine is present in the body, and deficiencies are rare. Increasing your glutamine intake can be beneficial but should be considered carefully.1 L-glutamine should be taken only after discussion with a healthcare professional, due to possible side-effects and contraindications.7

How to avoid GERD?

There are many ways to tackle this. First, dietary changes are highly beneficial. They can improve the symptoms whilst helping you feel better, both physically and mentally. Depending on a doctor's advice, mild to moderate aerobic exercises can also help improve your health. This includes walking, yoga, tai chi and more. However, one should avoid extensive, vigorous exercise as this can worsen GERD symptoms. These changes can also help individuals who are overweight. Smoking and alcohol cessation is also vital. 1,6

The primary treatments for GERD involve eating smaller quantities of healthier, unprocessed foods, staying away from foods that worsen the symptoms (e.g. spicy foods, high-calorie foods), and sleeping on a pillow that raises your head higher. This is very helpful as sleeping at an angle can physically prevent food and acids in the stomach from re-entering the oesophagus. Antacids or other over-the-counter drugs can also ease the pain and be found at a local pharmacy. Your doctor may recommend more potent drugs or prescription medications in cases of severe, long-lasting symptoms. Surgery may be recommended in cases where medication has proved ineffective in reducing or easing the symptoms you are experiencing or if you prefer not to take medications regularly for a long time. 

Complications may occur in the form of ulcers or sores in the oesophagus due to the acid from the stomach corroding the oesophagal lining. Scarring or narrowing of the oesophagus can also occur. However, ingesting glutamine, making lifestyle changes and taking your medication can be beneficial in terms of leading healthier, fuller lives. 

Summary 

GERD can be uncomfortable, irritable and painful. However, it is also a sign to make necessary changes to your lifestyle. Some risk factors for GERD include obesity, smoking, alcohol consumption, large meals, excessive caffeine intake, eating before sleeping, processed foods consumption, high-calorie meals, spicy foods and lack of exercise. In addition, other medical conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, and hiatal hernia, can cause GERD. Glutamine can be beneficial for treating GERD symptoms because a weak sphincter, a muscle, mainly causes this disease and glutamine supports muscle strength.

References

  1. NHS Inform. Gastroesophageal reflux disease symptoms and conditions [Internet]. Nhsinform.scot. 2019. Available from: https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/stomach-liver-and-gastrointestinal-tract/gastro-oesophageal-reflux-disease-gord
  2. Mayo Clinic. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) - Symptoms and causes [Internet]. Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic; 2020. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gerd/symptoms-causes/syc-20361940
  3. Biswas, C. (2022). Top 15 Glutamine-Rich Foods You Should Add To Your Diet. STYLECRAZE. Retrieved 16 February 2022, from https://www.stylecraze.com/articles/glutamine-rich-foods-you-should-add-to-your-diet/.
  4. Kim, M., & Kim, H. (2017). The Roles of Glutamine in the Intestine and Its Implication in Intestinal Diseases. International Journal Of Molecular Sciences, 18(5), 1051. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms18051051
  5. Ingrid Kohlstadt. Food and nutrients in disease management. Editorial: Boca Raton, Fla.: Crc ; London; 2013.
  6. Gastroesophageal reflux disease [GERD] [Internet]. Cinclus Pharma. [cited 2022 Jun 21]. Available from: https://cincluspharma.com/our-science/about-gerd/
  7. Cadman B. Does L-glutamine work for IBS? In: Medicalnewstoday.com [Internet]. Medical News Today; 2018. Available from: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320850#side-effects

Author: Ishana Gole

Master of Science - MS, Bioscience Entrepreneurship, UCL (University College London)
Ishana is a Biomedical Science student with a keen interest in neuroscience and past experience in online consulting, marketing and advertising.

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