The Benefits of Glutamine Supplementation for Cancer Patients
Do cancer patients benefit from taking a glutamine supplement? Most people who have cancer want to do whatever they can to keep their bodies healthy as they undergo treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation. While these treatments can be life-saving for cancer patients, they also come with some serious risks. This article will explore the risks associated with cancer treatment, and answer the question of whether glutamine supplementation can help.
The Risks of Cancer Treatment
When a patient receives a diagnosis of cancer, it is because doctors have identified the presence of malignant cells in the body. Cancer cells grow at a rapid rate, and they steal nutrients and other vital resources from healthy cells in the body. Because doctors do not yet have the ability to target treatments so that they affect only the harmful cells, the result is that healthy cells end up getting damaged in the course of treatment, too.
Some of the common side effects associated with cancer treatment include:
- Hair loss
- Anemia (Iron deficiency)
- Oral mucositis
One of the potential side effects of cancer treatment is a deficiency of the amino acid, L-glutamine. L-glutamine is one of 20 amino acids that make up the building blocks of protein. It also plays an essential role in both the growth of new cells, and the repair of damaged cells. Considering that cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation cause damage to healthy cells as well as cancerous ones, it is hardly surprising to learn that having sufficient glutamine in the body is important to cancer patients.
Cancer Treatments and Mucositis
Let’s take a closer look at one of the side effects listed above – a condition called oral mucositis. Any medical condition ending with the suffix –itis has to do with inflammation of part of the body. Mucositis, then, is an inflammation of the mucosa. The mucosa are thin membranes covering the walls of the digestive tract. While the mucosa run from the mouth all the way through the body, and mucositis may occur in any area of the mucosa, the most common site of infection is in the mouth.
Why is oral mucositis so common in cancer patients? Certain types of cancer treatment are more likely to cause mucositis than others. Patients who receive the following treatments are at the highest risk of developing mucositis:
- Radiation of the head and neck (typically for brain or oral cancers)
- High-dose chemotherapy
- Fractionated radiation
- Full-body irradiation
While all cells in the body are subject to damage as a result of chemotherapy and radiation, the cells of the mucosa are particularly vulnerable. You are most likely aware that the skin that lines your mouth is exceptionally thin. When you eat something that is too hot, or bite the inside of your mouth, the mucosa can be easily – and even seriously – damaged. It is hardly surprising, then, that the mucosa are at high risk for damage from cancer treatments.
The rate of oral mucositis in patients who receive radiation of the head and neck is particularly high, with virtually all patients experiencing some degree of mucositis. Mucositis has four stages. In Stage 1 and Stage 2, the symptoms typically include inflammation and slight pain. Patients who have early stage mucositis can continue with treatments, but their condition must be monitored closely.
If oral mucositis reaches Stage 3 or Stage 4, which are typified by serious inflammation, strong pain, and the presence of open sores called ulcers on the mucosa, the normal protocol is to suspend treatment to give the mucosa a chance to heal. Very serious cases of mucositis can require patients to be fed intravenously or with a feeding tube, as the process of swallowing can be very painful.
For obvious reasons, it is not ideal to have to suspend cancer treatments. When a treatment protocol cannot be followed as prescribed, it increases the chances that cancer cells will grow and multiply, and that puts the patient’s life and health at risk.
Glutamine Supplementation and Mucositis
Clearly, it is a priority for both oncologists and cancer patients to find a way to prevent and treat mucositis so that patients can continue to get the treatments they need. Since glutamine plays such an essential role in cell repair, it makes sense that researchers have started to look at glutamine supplementation as a way of helping patients who have oral mucositis.
The benefits of taking L-glutamine are clear:
- If the body is deficient in glutamine, taking a supplement can help correct the deficiency and restore the body’s natural balance of amino acids.
- In the absence of glutamine, the body (and the mucosa in particular) lack the ability to resist the damage inflicted by radiation or chemotherapy. Supplementation with glutamine can help the patient’s body heal the mucosa.
- Taking glutamine in a liquid suspension has the benefit of delivering L-glutamine directly to the cells that need it most, those in the mouth and esophagus. While taking a capsule would probably help, a liquid can be swished in the mouth before swallowing, thus maximizing its effectiveness.
- If glutamine supplementation can help delay the onset of mucositis or lessen its severity, it can allow cancer patients to continue to receive life-saving treatments.
Glutamine supplementation has been shown to help delay the onset of oral mucositis, as well as lessening the severity of mucositis in patients who have it. A recent study showed that 17.14% of patients in the control group developed Stage 4 mucositis, while only 2.86% of the patients in the study group did.
As mentioned previously, the ideal way to take glutamine for oral mucositis is in a liquid suspension. With that in mind, at Healios we have developed a powder that combines L-glutamine with other, synergistic ingredients. When mixed with water, it makes a pleasant-tasting liquid. Patients who take Healios Glutamine Complex twice a day can move forward with their cancer treatments, knowing that their bodies are getting the glutamine they need. Click here to get your supply now.