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Sunday
Jul182010

Glutamine: A Supplement for Every Body?

Written by Tom Nikkola - Director of Nutrition & Weight Management

Most supplements are easy to put into categories, such as basic health, weight loss, sports performance or anti-aging. Glutamine is one of a small number of supplements that seems to find a role in any of the categories mentioned above. We’ll take a look at this important nutrient and see how it can fit in with your health or fitness program.

Glutamine is a “conditionally essential” amino acid. Usually, amino acids are considered essential or non-essential. Essential amino acids must be consumed through the diet because the body cannot make them on its own. Non-essential amino acids can be created by the body. Glutamine, though, as a conditionally essential amino acid means that it becomes “essential” when the body is put in a condition where it cannot create enough on its own. Physical stress is one of the most common ways the body is put in a position where it cannot keep up with its glutamine needs.

Physical stresses have been shown to decrease the body’s levels of glutamine. Stress could also come from diseases, injuries and surgeries. Animal proteins, especially whey protein, are good sources of glutamine. For an average, healthy, sedentary individual, glutamine can generally be consumed through a good diet. However, those who are sedentary often do not eat a good diet, and those who eat a good diet often engage in other physical stresses such as exercise. Therefore, glutamine supplementation could be effective for just about everyone.

Immune Function & Gut Health

One of the most studied areas of glutamine supplementation is its effect on the immune system. The majority of the body’s defenses reside in the digestive tract. This is where most pathogens get into the body, if they’re going to get in at all. When the health of the digestive tract, specifically the intestine, is compromised, it becomes easier for those pathogens to enter the blood stream. Besides leading to potential illness, the increased permeability of the intestine can also allow large food particles to enter the blood stream, which can set off food allergies or sensitivities. Glutamine has been shown to help repair the lining of the gut, which helps enhance immune function and may help reduce the occurrence of food allergies or sensitivities.(1) Healing the gut is not a quick process, and may require a change in dietary patterns and food choices to get the most out of the goal of repairing the gut.

White blood cells, which include macrophages and neutrophils, are critical to the immune process. Glutamine is the major energy source for these cells. As you can imagine, the more infection these cells are fighting off at any one time, the more glutamine they will need. If there is not a sufficient supply from the diet, the body will break down its own muscle tissue to supply the glutamine needs.

Growth Hormone & Anti-Aging

While people have been seeking the fountain of youth for thousands of years, there is still no solution to halt the aging process. However, optimizing the body’s growth hormone levels seems to play a positive role in enhancing quality of life. Exercise and diet can influence growth hormone levels. Glutamine has also been shown to help increase the body’s production of growth hormone, even with supplemental doses as low as two grams.

Glutamine has also been shown to increase the production of glutathione, the body’s most significant antioxidant. Because biological aging has been linked to increases in the rate of oxidation, this is another means by which glutamine could help combat the process of aging.(3)

Sports Performance

It is rare to find an athlete who doesn’t understand the importance of eating enough protein, but even when eating enough protein, glutamine may be used up faster than it can be consumed through whole foods. From an athletic performance standpoint, glutamine may increase cell volume and stimulate protein and glycogen synthesis. This may lead to increased muscle mass and strength.(4) Many people seeking ergogenic effects combine glutamine and creatine with their pre and/or post-workout shakes or other meals. Because of glutamine’s effect on muscle tissue, it can be beneficial for those on a low-calorie diet to help reduce losses of lean body mass.

Wound Healing

Strong evidence indicates a positive effect from glutamine on wound healing. This can be important for athletes needing to get back in the game quickly and for the average person who just needs to get over the injury and on with life.(5) Because exercise itself causes microtrauma, glutamines beneficial effect on wound healing may further support its use for athletes.

Summary

Like using high-quality vitamins, minerals and omega-3 fatty acids, glutamine provides a variety of benefits for a variety of different types of people. Supplementation levels are usually in the range of five to fifteen grams per day, although therapeutic levels can be as high as forty grams per day for people recovering from severe trauma.  Because it is odorless and tasteless, it mixes well in shakes or other beverages.

In health,

Tom Nikkola

References:

  1. Dos Santos RGGG, Viana ML, Generoso SV, Arantes RE, Davisson Correla MI, Cardoso VN. Glutamine supplementation decreases intestinal permeability and preserves gut mucosa integrity in experimental mouse model. J Parenter Enteral Nutr. 2010;3(4):408-13
  2. Welbourne T. Increased plasma bicarbonate and growth hormone after an oral glutamine load. Am J Clin Nutr. 1995;61:1058-61
  3. Andrews PJD, Avenell A, Noble D, Campbell, M, et al. Randomised trial of glutamine and selenium supplemented parenteral nutrition for critically ill patients. Trials 2007;8:25
  4. Kreider RB, Wilborn CD, Taylor L, Campbell B, et al. ISSN exercise & sport nutrition review: research & recommendations. JISSN 2010;7:7
  5. Mark B Schoemann, C. Dustin Bechtold, Shefali Agarwal, Christopher W Lentz. Glutamine and Wound Healing. Nutrition and Wound Healing. 2007. Taylor & Francis Group. Boca Raton, FL

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

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Reader Comments (1)

Glutamine has never been proven to aid anyone other than burn victims in recovery (and it was introduced intravenously not orally). Not a single link has been provided that shows oral supplementation of glutamine to benefit any athlete of any level, much less the average person.

March 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterD. Adams

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