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Scoop of white collagen powder

Collagen is a structural protein found in the skin, bones, and connective tissue of animals, and it has some well-established medical uses, such as wound and burn healing. It’s also used to treat leaky gut syndrome, a condition that arises when damaged intestinal tissue allows bacteria, as well as microscopic bits of undigested food and waste products, to leak into the bloodstream.

Still, studies focused on collagen and gut health are limited. Thomas Sult, MD, a Minnesota-based functional-medicine practitioner, notes that other treatments have more science behind them. 

He recommends L-glutamine for anyone seeking improved gut health, including vegetarians and vegans. “There’s tons of research in both animals and humans on L-glutamine,” he says. “It’s an amino acid that’s been shown to increase gut healing and decrease leaky gut.” 

Glutamine is found in animal foods, including eggs, dairy, and meat, but it’s also in a wide range of plant foods, such as legumes, nuts, and fresh greens. Most glutamine supplements are manufactured solely from plant protein, but check the label. (Other gut-healing supplements include deglycyrrhizinated licorice, or DGL; slippery elm; and aloe vera.) 

Sult also recommends stress-management practices, such as meditation and deep breathing. Any calming activity is helpful to the gut. 

“If you’re constantly in fight-or-flight mode, as so many of us are today, you’re shunting blood from your gut to your muscles for that quick getaway,” says Sult. “It can cause a lot of trouble, including compromising your immune system, and that’s a perfect setup for your gut not to heal.”

This originally appeared as “I’m a vegetarian. How can I get the gut-healing benefits of collagen with plant foods?” in the October 2018 print issue of Experience Life.

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