Glutamine is classified as an amino acid. Amino acids play many roles within the body. Their main purpose is to serve as building blocks for proteins. In human blood, glutamine is the most abundant free amino acid. It is non-essential and conditionally essential in humans, meaning the body can usually synthesize sufficient amounts of it, but in some instances of stress, the body’s demand for glutamine increases, and glutamine must be obtained from the diet. Glutamine is found in protein-rich sources such as beef, chicken, fish, dairy products, eggs, vegetables like beans, beets, cabbage, spinach, carrots, parsley, vegetable juices and also in wheat, papaya, Brussels sprouts, celery, kale and fermented foods like miso.
Glutamine exists in two different forms: L-glutamine and D-glutamine. L-glutamine is the one that is found in foods and supplements and is used to make proteins and perform other functions. L-glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the blood and other body fluids. Although it is produced naturally in the body, sometimes the body requires more than is produced. This is when supplementation is necessary.
Glutamine plays a very important role within the immune system. It helps fuel the immune cells within the body, including white blood cells and certain intestinal cells.
The intestines are considered the largest portion of the immune system due to its cellular immune functions. Within the intestines lies trillions of bacteria that impact immune health. These specific bacteria prevents harmful bacteria or toxins from traveling through the intestines and into the rest of the body. Glutamine helps to support the intestinal cells and maintain the barrier between the intestines and rest of the body.
Glutamine plays an essential role in protein metabolism and anti-catabolism. The most relevant glutamine-producing tissue is the muscle mass, accounting for about 90% of all glutamine synthesized. Glutamine’s anti-catabolism ability prevents the breakdown of your muscles. Research has shown that glutamine supplements may decrease muscle soreness and improve recovery following intense exercise. Glutamine also increases the secretion of Human Growth Hormone, which helps metabolize body fat and support new muscle growth.
Glutamine is often used for side effects of chemotherapy (diarrhea, pain/swelling inside the mouth, neuropathy, and muscle/joint pain); digestive conditions such as Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, and ulcers; enhancing exercise performance; sickle cell anemia; and alcohol withdrawal.
Since glutamine is found naturally in the body and in food sources, there is no concern that it causes any adverse reactions. However, there are some precautionary conditions that should be considered before taking glutamine. According to WebMD they are:
- – Pregnancy and breast-feeding: not enough is known about the use of glutamine during these.
- – Cirrhosis: glutamine could make this condition worse.
- – Severe liver disease with difficulty thinking or confusion (hepatic encephalopathy).
- – Monosodium glutamate (MSG) sensitivity: the body converts glutamine into glutamate.
- – Mania: glutamine may cause mental changes in people with mania.
- – Seizures: there is concern it may increase the likelihood of seizures.
- – Lactulose: helps decrease ammonia in the body. Glutamine gets changed into ammonia within the body. When taken with glutamine, the effectiveness of lactulose may be decreased.
- – Chemotherapy medications: it is too soon to know, but there is concern that glutamine may decrease its effectiveness.
- – Anticonvulsants (prevents seizures): these affect chemicals in the brain. Glutamine may also affect chemicals in the brain. This may decrease the effectiveness of the anticonvulsants. Some of these include: primidone (Mysoline), valproic acid (Depakene), gabapentin (Neurontin), carbamazepine (Tegretol), and phenytoin (Dilantin).