The benefits of glutamine are becoming more evident with every study that links the nutrient to several of the body’s most critical processes: the immune system, metabolism, digestion and central nervous system.
The Basics about Glutamine
Glutamine is an amino acid – a protein building block – that we make naturally in our bodies. If your body is in good physical health, it synthesizes glutamine well. It is produced in our muscles and then carried by the bloodstream to other parts of the body.
Glutamine is used in the production of other amino acids. It regulates glucose levels and can be converted to glucose if your body needs additional fuel.
We rely on the benefits of glutamine to remove excess ammonia from our bodies. Ammonia forms when the good gut bacteria in our intestines break down proteins.
Ammonia can damage the central nervous system if levels get too high. Most of this by-product is processed by the liver and removed through our urine, but if conditions cause the liver to malfunction glutamine picks up the slack by regulating the body’s pH balance.
This amino acid is the only one that is part of two amine groups – a compound that contains a nitrogen atom – so it can drop one or the other group and bond with glucose if the body has a specific need. By converting itself to n-acetyl-glucosamine, glutamine can repair your digestive system – including leaky gut.
By converting itself to acetyl-d-glucosamine, glutamine transforms into the perfect compound for repairing muscles, tendons and cartilage, especially important for serious athletes.
The Benefits of Glutamine for Total Body Health
During periods of extreme stress, serious injury, illness or surgery, your body uses glutamine very quickly and cannot make enough to keep up with demand. When your body is healing, it requires nitrogen to repair the cells and protect the organs. One-third of our nitrogen supply comes from our glutamine levels.
It is imperative that you boost production or consider a supplement to give your system the fuel it needs to keep your system strong.
Symptoms of Glutamine Deficiency
- More frequent infections
- Unexplained weight loss
- Loss of muscle mass
- Decreased nutrient absorption
- Greater digestive distress
- Lack of energy and increased fatigue
Glutamine deficiency is a danger if you are a professional athlete, exercise more than an hour per day, have recently received an organ transplant, are undergoing chemotherapy, suffer from a digestive disease such as Crohn’s or inflammatory bowel (IBD), or if your immune system is already compromised due to HIV/AIDS.
Patients undergoing chemotherapy supplement with glutamine to counteract the side effects of cancer treatment and to preserve as many healthy cells as possible.
The University of Chicago Medical Center treat their burn and complex wound patients with glutamine as complementary therapy.
Carolyn Banner, RD, LDN, CNSD said she uses glutamine to “optimize a patient’s gut health by replacing depleted levels of glutamine, thereby enhancing a patient’s chance of optimal healing and immune function. I’d be excited to see glutamine used in septic and post-op patients due to newer research on glutamine’s role in heat shock proteins.”
The Journal of Nutrition published two studies related to the utilization of glutamine after traumatic injury and surgery. Douglas Wilmore – Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School – discovered that patients who supplemented with glutamine after surgery experienced less incidents of infection and spent fewer days in the hospital.
A similar study conducted by Philip Newsholme from the Department of Biochemistry at University College.
Dublin found that though glutamine is considered a non-essential amino acid, it may become “conditionally essential during inflammatory conditions such as infection or injury. It is now well documented that under appropriate conditions, glutamine is essential for cell proliferation, that it can act as a respiratory fuel and that it can enhance the function of stimulated immune cells.”
Metabolic Nutrition: How Glutamine Can Increase Nutrient Absorption
The benefits of glutamine are one of the most researched subjects in the fields of metabolic nutrition. If you have recently become more physically active, are recovering from an injury or surgical procedure or have one of the risk factors described above, consider additional intake of glutamine-rich foods or a glutamine supplement.
Foods Abundant in Glutamine
- Lean meat – beef, pork, all types of fish and skinless poultry
- Root vegetables – beets and carrots
- Leafy greens – spinach, broccoli, kale, parsley and cabbage
- Legumes – beans, peas and lentils
- Dairy products – milk, yogurt, ricotta and cottage cheeses
Consuming as many raw vegetables as possible preserves nutritional content and increases your body’s ability to absorb more vitamins and minerals per serving. If you choose to use a supplement, do your research!
Supplements are not monitored by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and you want effective levels.
Children and pregnant women should not take glutamine supplements until more research is conducted to determine possible side effects. Additionally, if you currently suffer from severe liver disease do not take glutamine without speaking to your doctor.