Glutamine plays key roles in the synthesis of other amino acids, protein, and glucose. Do you need more?
I first discovered glutamine many years ago when I was researching irritable bowel disease and Crohn’s disease for a dear friend who had also had thyroid cancer and was scheduled to have a colostomy. While her situation had progressed beyond what I could help her with (she had already resigned herself to the surgery), I continued my research. I was thrilled to learn of glutamine’s benefits for athletes, muscle health, and brain power! Now hubby and I use it almost daily to support our aging minds and our efforts to work out daily.
When it comes to fitness chemistry, few things are more complicated to understand, the subject of more rumours, and potentially more misused, than amino acids, like glutamine.
Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. The twenty amino acids required for human life fall into two categories. There are eleven non-essential amino acids, which can be manufactured in our bodies on an as-needed basis. The nine essential amino acids must be supplied in the diet because we cannot make them.
Glutamine basic info
While glutamine usually falls into the non-essential amino acid category, specific situations move it into the special and unusual category of ‘conditionally essential’. While we can make it, in times of physical stress or injury our demand for it increases beyond our capacity to replace it, so taking supplemental amounts of it can be helpful. One challenge of using glutamine supplements is known as the ‘glutamine paradox’; between 50 – 85% of ingested glutamine doesn’t make it to the muscles. It gets used up supporting the liver, intestines, and immune system first!
Glutamine plays key roles in the synthesis of other amino acids, protein, and glucose. It is the most abundant amino acid in human muscle and plasma and makes up about 60% of the free-floating amino acid pool in skeletal muscles. Additionally, it is an important building block for the very powerful antioxidant glutathione, it boosts anti-inflammatory processes, and it increases glycogen stores. Some sources indicate that doses as small as 2 g per day may enhance growth hormone release. Growth hormone is necessary for the repair of damaged tissues and is responsible, in part, for the increase in muscle mass when one begins to exercise.
Do you need more glutamine?
Physically stressful times and overtraining increase cortisol production and reduce glutamine levels, which weakens the immune response and has catabolic effects on muscle tissue. Breaking down muscle tissue, as happens in strenuous exercise, increases the amount of free nitrogen in the body. Glutamic acid, the precursor of glutamine, picks up that free nitrogen and morphs into glutamine, becoming an amino acid that can be used to make other proteins and GABA. GABA is another amino acid that functions as a neurotransmitter. When properly balanced with other nutrients, GABA prevents anxiety and stress impulses in the nervous system from reaching their destinations. Glutamic acid is the only tool the brain has to detoxify itself of ammonia, and the resulting glutamine has proven useful in stimulating mental alertness, correcting some equilibrium problems, calming erratic behaviour in aging people, improving learning power, and strengthening memory. Other positive effects of glutamine include stopping sugar and alcohol cravings, speeding healing of peptic ulcers, speeding healing of intestinal tract issues, reducing arthritic symptoms, strengthening connective tissues, helping maintain proper pH balance, reducing fatigue, and minimizing autoimmune disorders.
A diet containing high-protein foods, including meat, fish, chicken, beans, and dairy products, usually supplies enough glutamine to meet normal requirements, though it may not supply enough glutamine if you work out daily or for extended lengths of time. Bone broth is an excellent source of glutamine.
Cautions about using glutamine
There are some specific contraindications to glutamine supplementation. Avoid using glutamic acid supplements if you are allergic to MSG, and do not use glutamine if you have cirrhosis of the liver, kidney problems, Reye’s syndrome, or any condition that results in an accumulation of ammonia in the blood.
There is one known general negative side-effect to taking glutamine. Large doses, generally considered to be more than 10 g per day, can lead to diarrhoea and intestinal cramping. Most sources recommend starting with small doses and building it gradually to upwards of 20 g per day. While extensive studies have been done using glutamine with burn victims, surgery recovery, and trauma, all showing impressive results, no double-blind studies have been published showing the effects of glutamine on athletes (although athletic doses of .5 – 1 g three times per day are recommended by some sources).
So, while it remains unproven for athletic purposes specifically, other testing indicates that glutamine supplementation may be useful in healing from overtraining, inflammatory processes, injury, and bowel related issues.
If you have concerns about your health or just don’t know where to begin making improvements, please contact me, Judith Cobb, to book an appointment. Skype, phone, webinar, and face-to-face appointments are available.
I also invite you to Like us on Facebook (Cobblestone Health Ltd) and to visit my other websites:
Complete Idiot’s Guide to Sports Nutrition. Weatherwax, Dawn and Weiss, Sonia. Alpha Publishing, New York, 2003
Prescription for Nutritional Healing. Balch, Phyllis. Avery Publishing, New York, 2006
The Complete Athlete. Winterdyk, John and Jensen, Karen. Alive Books, Burnaby, BC, 1998
Today’s Herbal Healing. Tenney, Louise. Woodland Publishing, Orem, Utah, 2007
Copyright © 2016 by Judith Cobb, Cobblestone Health Ltd. All rights reserved. Please respect the time it takes to write and publish articles. If you will link to this article and give proper attribution, you are encouraged to quote sections (though not the entire article).