Prevent Oral Mucositis and Neuropathy in Cancer Patients?

Two of the most common side effects experienced by cancer patients are oral mucositis and neuropathy. Recent studies suggest that both conditions may be caused or worsened by a deficiency of L-glutamine. In this article, we will explore the evidence that L-glutamine supplementation can help prevent oral mucositis and neuropathy in cancer patients, starting with an explanation of why glutamine deficiencies happen.

What Causes Glutamine Deficiency in Cancer Patients?

When someone is diagnosed with cancer, it means that their body is playing host to malignant cells typified by rapid growth. Cancer cells are greedy in terms of nutrient consumption. They tend to steal essential nutrients and resources from healthy cells, and the result can be nutritional deficiencies in some patients.

One nutrient that seems to be a favorite of cancer cells is the amino acid, L-glutamine. L-glutamine plays an essential role in the growth of new cells and the repair of damaged cells. Many cancer patients experience a reduction in the amount of glutamine in their bodies, making it difficult for them to fight back against cellular and nerve damage. When the body lacks the ability to repair damaged cells, it can lead directly to the development of conditions such as mucositis and neuropathy.

Glutamine Deficiency and Mucositis

Mucositis is a very common side effect of cancer, occurring most frequently in patients who are receiving one of the following:

  • High-dose chemotherapy
  • Radiation of the head and neck
  • Fractionated radiation
  • Full-body irradiation

Simply put, mucositis is an inflammation of the mucosa, the thin membranes that line the digestive tract, starting at the mouth and ending at the anus. While mucositis can occur at any point along the digestive tract, is it most common in the mouth and esophagus.

Mucositis has four stages. The first stage tends to be asymptomatic and is typified by the death and shedding of epithelial cells, the cells that protect the mucosa. In the second stage, inflammation of the mucosa occurs and may be accompanied by some pain and difficulty swallowing. The third stage causes serious pain and inflammation of both the mucosa and submucosa, and the fourth stage is characterized by the formation of painful ulcers (open sores) on the mucosa.

While early stage mucositis permits patients to continue cancer treatments, if it reaches Stage 3 or Stage 4, treatments must usually be halted to allow the mucosa to heal. For obvious reasons, it is not ideal to have to interrupt or stop cancer treatments.

There is evidence to suggest that a deficiency of L-glutamine can cause or contribute to mucositis. In its absence, the mucosa is unable to repair itself. As the damage spreads from the epithelial cells to the mucosa and submucosa, the body lacks what it needs to keep up with the damage.

Glutamine Deficiency and Neuropathy

Another common side effect of cancer treatment is a condition called neuropathy, which is a form of nerve damage. While neuropathy may be a complication of certain cancers such as lymphoma or multiple myeloma, the nerves may also be damaged by high-dose chemotherapy or radiation. Because cancer treatments cannot be targeted only at malignant cells, they sometimes end up doing damage to healthy cells as well – including nerve cells.

Neuropathy can manifest itself in three different ways:

  • Sensory neuropathy causes tingling or numbness in the hands and feet, and may also cause some pain and weakness.
  • Motor neuropathy affects our bodies’ ability to move, and can cause mild or serious weakness in the limbs.
  • Autonomic neuropathy affects bodily functions, including things like digestion.

The most common type of neuropathy experienced by cancer patients is sensory neuropathy, which is also sometimes called peripheral neuropathy because it affects the extremities of the body.

Glutamine as a Treatment for Mucositis and Neuropathy

If glutamine deficiency can cause complications of cancer treatment such as oral mucositis in cancer patients, the next question is, can taking a glutamine supplement help prevent or manage these conditions?

The answer appears to be yes, it can. There have been several studies examining the effects of glutamine supplementation, and the results are promising.

In several studies of patients receiving head and neck radiation, it was found that taking glutamine orally in a liquid suspension led to two positive things:

  1. A delay in the onset of mucositis in patients; and
  2. A decrease in the severity of mucositis

While most of the patients in these studies still ended up getting mucositis as a result of their treatments, the patients who took glutamine took longer to get it, and tended to stay in the early stages instead of progressing to the point where they had to stop treatment.

The studies are equally as promising for patients who experience neuropathy. Recent studies looked at patients with advanced stage breast and colorectal cancer, and found that taking a glutamine supplement greatly reduced the chances that the patients would experience symptoms of neuropathy. The breast cancer study was especially promising, showing a reduction from 40% in the control group to only 8% in the test group. The results were just as encouraging for patients who underwent high-dose chemotherapy as a precursor to bone marrow transplantation.

What Form of Glutamine Is Most Effective?

The final question to ask is, how should cancer patients get the glutamine they need? As mentioned above, the most effective form of glutamine is a liquid suspension formed by combining a glutamine powder with water. For mucositis patients, taking a suspension has two benefits. First, it nourishes the mucosa by delivering glutamine directly to the cells that need it most. Second, the liquid form of glutamine is easily absorbed by the body. The second benefit applies to patients with neuropathy as well.

At Healios, we have developed a special formulation of glutamine that is highly beneficial in the treatment of both oral mucositis and neuropathy. It combines L-glutamine with a blend of synergistic ingredients to give the body exactly what it needs to stay strong while patients are getting treatments. Click here to get your supply now.