(NaturalNews) It has been two decades since the discovery that many stomach ulcers result from an infection with the bacteria dubbed Helicobacter pylori, or H. pylori for short. Now it is known that about six percent of people in the world carry this infection which is associated not only with ulcers but with stomach cancer. The primary treatment for H. pylori has been antibiotics -- but they can cause a host of side effects and, what's more, the bacteria are quickly becoming resistant to the drugs. But there's good news: a natural amino acid, glutamine, appears to protect from injury caused by H. pylori and could reduce the risk of gastric cancers associated with the infection, too.
Glutamine is an amino acid found naturally in many foods, including beef, chicken, fish, eggs, dairy products and some fruits and vegetables. L-glutamine, the biologically active isomer of glutamine, is sometimes used in supplement form by body builders to increase their muscle mass. Now new research just reported in the May issue of the Journal of Nutrition concludes glutamine may prove beneficial in offsetting gastric damage caused by H. pylori infection. In fact, the study, which was conducted by scientists at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), suggests glutamine could be a natural alternative to the use of antibiotics now prescribed widely for treating stomach ulcers.
"Our findings suggest that extra glutamine in the diet could protect against gastric damage caused by H. pylori," 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, said in a statement to the media. "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." She added that over time, years of infection can cause persistent gastritis and damage to cells in the digestive tract -- creating an environment conducive to the development of malignancies.
In earlier research, Dr. Hagen and her research team had 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," Dr. Hagen said in the press release. "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."
To find out if a similar mechanism could be at work in intact stomachs infected with H. pylori, the researchers divided 105 mice into two groups. One group of lab animals was fed a standardized diet which was 1.9 percent glutamine. The second group ate the same diet plus supplemental L-glutamine that upped the percentage of the animals' food intake of the amino acid to 6.9 percent. After two weeks, the mice were again divided into two additional groups with one group receiving a fake dose of H. pylori while the other group received a dose of the real bacteria.
The result was four separate mouse groups comprised of an uninfected control group, an uninfected glutamine group, an infected-with-H.-pylori control group, and an uninfected-with-H.-pylori glutamine group. During the next 20 weeks, the scientists took samples of blood and stomach tissues from the animals for analysis. Blood was checked for antibodies to specific types of T-helper immune cells, which mediate the body's immune system response when there's an active H. pylori infection. Stomach tissues were also analyzed for signs of damage, the presence of inflammatory substance called cytokines, and for signs of cancerous cells.
The results? Six weeks after infection, the mice had increased levels of three kinds of cytokines that all play an important role in the stomach's attempt to protect against the damaging effects of an H. pylori infection. In addition, by the 20th week, the researchers found that the H. pylori-infected animals that were fed the L-glutamine diet had far lower levels of inflammation than the mice eating 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," Dr. Hagen said in the statement to the media.
"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 stated. "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."
Sherry Baker is a widely published writer whose work has appeared in Newsweek, Health, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Yoga Journal, Optometry, Atlanta, Arthritis Today, Natural Healing Newsletter, OMNI, UCLA's "Healthy Years" newsletter, Mount Sinai School of Medicine's "Focus on Health Aging" newsletter, the Cleveland Clinic's "Men's Health Advisor" newsletter and many others.