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. Glutamine is the most abundant free amino acid in the body, being produced in the muscles and distributed via the bloodstream. Glutamine provides the necessary nitrogen and carbon to fuel a variety of cells and is necessary to produce additional amino acids and glucose. Because of this, glutamine plays a key role in fueling the body’s natural healing processes and healthy organ function.
The body can usually synthesize sufficient amounts of glutamine, but in some instances of stress, such as after a traumatic injury or illness, the body’s demand for glutamine increases and can outpace the amount the muscles can produce on their own. Additional glutamine can 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, which are similar with slight differences on a molecular level. L-glutamine is the form of glutamine found in foods and supplements and is the one needed by the body to make proteins and perform other key functions. L-glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the blood and other body fluids and is a key fuel source for intestinal and immune cells, such as white blood cells.
Maintaining adequate levels of L-glutamine is critical to maintaining a healthy immune system and supporting the body’s ability to heal itself. While the body is usually capable of generating enough L-glutamine on its own, there are times when supplementation may be needed, such as when undergoing chemotherapy, recovering from major surgery or illness or other situations that put the body under more stress than normal.
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 their cellular immune functions. Within the intestines lie trillions of bacteria that impact immune health. These specific bacteria prevent 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 the 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).
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