Glutamine supplements show promise in treating stomach ulcers

May 15, 2009

Nearly 20 years ago, it was discovered that bacteria known as Helicobacter pylori were responsible for stomach ulcers. Since then, antibiotics have become the primary therapy used to combat the H. pylori infection, which affects approximately six percent of the world population and is also a primary cause of stomach cancer. But today the bacteria is growing increasingly resistant to antibiotics.

Now a study led by scientists at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology demonstrates that the amino acid glutamine, found in many foods as well as in dietary supplements, may prove beneficial in offsetting gastric damage caused by H. pylori infection. Reported in the May 2009 issue of the ., the findings offer the possibility of an alternative to antibiotics for the treatment of .

"Our findings suggest that extra glutamine in the diet could protect against gastric damage caused by H. pylori," says senior author Susan Hagen, PhD, Associate Director of Research in the Department of Surgery at BIDMC and Associate Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School. "Gastric damage develops when the bacteria weakens the stomach's protective mucous coating, damages cells and elicits a robust immune response that is ineffective at ridding the infection." Eventually, she notes, years of infection result in a combination of persistent gastritis, cell damage and an environment conducive to cancer development.

Glutamine is a nonessential amino acid naturally found in certain foods, including beef, chicken, fish, eggs, dairy products and some fruits and . L-glutamine - the biologically active isomer of glutamine - is widely used as a dietary supplement by body builders to increase muscle mass.

Hagen and her coauthors had previously shown that glutamine protects against cell death from H. pylori-produced ammonia. "Our work demonstrated that the damaging effects of ammonia on gastric cells could be reversed completely by the administration of L-glutamine," explains Hagen. "The amino acid stimulated ammonia detoxification in the stomach - as it does in the liver - so that the effective concentration of ammonia was reduced, thereby blocking cell damage."

She and her coauthors, therefore, hypothesized that a similar mechanism might be at work in the intact stomach infected with H. pylori. To test this hypothesis, the investigators divided 105 mice into two groups, which were fed either a standardized diet (containing 1.9 percent glutamine) or the same diet with supplemental L-glutamine (containing 6.9 percent glutamine) replacing carbohydrates for five percent of the total calories. After two weeks, the mice were subdivided into two more groups, with one group receiving a sham (fake) dose and the other group receiving a real dose containing H. pylori. (This resulted in four separate mouse groups: an uninfected control group; an uninfected glutamine group; an infected control group; and an infected glutamine group.)

The mice were then followed for a 20-week period, during which time samples of blood and stomach tissue were removed. Blood was analyzed for antibodies to specific types of T-helper immune cells, which mediate the body's response to H. pylori infection. Stomach tissues were examined for evidence of damage and cancer progression and also chemically analyzed for cytokines (inflammatory substances) which are produced by T-helper cells.

Their results showed that at six-weeks-post infection, the animals exhibited increased expression of three cytokines - interleukin 4, interleukin 10 and transforming growth factor-alpha mRNA. "These all play an important role in the stomach's ability to protect against damaging effects resulting from other responses to H. pylori infection," explains Hagen.

Of even greater significance, by week 20, the study results showed that, among the H. pylori-infected animals, the mice that were fed the L-glutamine diet exhibited lower levels of inflammation than did the mice that received the standard control diet.

"Because many of the stomach pathologies during H. pylori infection [including cancer progression] are linked to high levels of inflammation, this result provides us with preliminary evidence that glutamine supplementation may be an alternative therapy for reducing the severity of infection," explains Hagen, adding that studies in human subjects will be the next step to determine the relevance of this finding in the clinical setting.

"H. pylori bacteria infect more than half of the world's population and were recently identified as a Group 1 carcinogen by the World Health Organization," she adds. "Approximately 5.5 percent of the entire global cancer burden is attributed to H. pylori infection and, worldwide, over 900,000 new cases of gastric cancer develop each year. The possibility that an inexpensive, easy-to-use treatment could be used to modify the damaging effects of H. pylori infection warrants further study in clinical trials."

Source: Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Could vitamin B3 treat acute kidney injury?

August 20, 2018
Acute kidney injury, an often fatal condition without a specific treatment, affects up to 10 percent of all hospitalized adults in the United States and 30-40 percent in low-income countries. The condition causes a build-up ...

New assay to detect genetic abnormalities in sarcomas outperforms conventional techniques

August 20, 2018
Sarcomas are rare tumors that are often misdiagnosed. Specific recurrent chromosomal rearrangements, known as translocations, can serve as essential diagnostic markers and are found in about 20 percent of sarcomas. Identification ...

Team develops new way to grow blood vessels

August 17, 2018
Formation of new blood vessels, a process also known as angiogenesis, is one of the major clinical challenges in wound healing and tissue implants. To address this issue, researchers from Texas A&M University have developed ...

New imaging technique can spot tuberculosis infection in an hour

August 16, 2018
Guided by glowing bacteria, researchers have devised an imaging technique that can diagnose live tuberculosis in an hour and help monitor the efficacy of treatments. That's particularly critical because many TB strains have ...

Obesity, infertility and oxidative stress in mouse egg cells

August 16, 2018
Excessive body fat is associated with negative effects on female fertility and pregnancy. In mice, maternal obesity impairs proper development of egg precursor cells called oocytes. In a recent paper published in Molecular ...

Research shows it's possible to reverse damage caused by aging cells

August 15, 2018
What's the secret to aging well? University of Minnesota Medical School researchers have answered it- on a cellular level.

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

deatopmg
1 / 5 (1) May 15, 2009
next - what happens when the infection is present(for a long time) before consuming glutamine??
tpb
not rated yet May 15, 2009
In the title area it says,
"H. pylori infection, which affects approximately six percent of the world population"

Toward the end of the article it says,
"H. pylori bacteria infect more than half of the world's population and were recently identified as a Group 1 carcinogen by the World Health Organization,"

So, which is it?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.