Intact intestinal epithelium and associated lymphatic tissue act as body defences against luminal toxins. This barrier may become threatened or compromised in inflammatory bowel disease, leading to an increase in mucosal permeability and subsequent translocation of endotoxins. The effect of oral glutamine on gut mucosal ornithine decarboxylase activity and on endotoxin levels in portal vein blood was studied in a guinea-pig model of carrageenan-induced colitis. Despite failure to show induction of ornithine decarboxylase activity by glutamine administration, the mean endotoxin level of portal vein blood in guinea-pigs fed a glutamine-enriched elemental diet was 25.3 pg/ml compared with 71.2 pg/ml in animals given a standard elemental diet (P < 0.01). A glutamine-enriched elemental diet may be therapeutically beneficial in patients with inflammatory bowel disease.