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Supplements

glutamine
What Is It?
Health Benefits
Forms
Dosage Information
Guidelines for Use
General Interaction
Possible Side Effects
Cautions
References
Evidence Based Rating Scale


What Is It?

Glutamine is classified as a “semi-essential” or “conditionally essential” amino acid. "Conditionally essential" means that under normal conditions the body can create enough glutamine to maintain a state of health and homeostasis. However, when under great stress such as when you suffer from disease, trauma, or are subjected to harsh drugs such as chemotherapy, the body exhausts its supply to glutamine. In these cases glutamine supplementation can help the body maintain the necessary quantities of glutamine to maintain healthy metabolic function. Few people who are generally healthy and follow a balanced diet are deficient in this amino acid, one of the most abundant in the bloodstream. However, as the body is subjected to undue stress shortages can occur, causing significant physiological distress.

Glutamine is primarily produced in the muscles and appears to play an important part in keeping them functioning normally, particularly in the digestive system. It's also used by white blood cells and contributes to normal immune-system function. Individuals with muscle-wasting and immune-system related illnesses (such as cancer or AIDS) who may be incapable of manufacturing their own supply of glutamine may benefit from glutamine supplements taken along with other amino acids.

Health Benefits

Studies have demonstrated that glutamine may have immune boosting, and gastrointestinal, and antioxidant properties. Specifically glutamine may help to:

  • Reduce the incidence of mouth sore in patients undergoing cancer treatment or bone marrow transplant. Several studies have shown that glutamine, when used as an oral rinse, can help to reduce cancer chemotherapy or radiation induced mouth sores (1-3).
  • Reduce hospital stay and morbidity after trauma. A placebo controlled study testing oral glutamine supplementation found that patients suffering from multiple traumas had less cases of pneumonia, and other serious infections (4-6). Randomized controlled trials assessing adult burn patients replicated these results (7, 8). However, not all study results suggest conclusive benefit (9, 10). More research is needed to determine if glutamine positively affects these patients.
  • Prevent infection in low birth weight babies. Some studies purport that glutamine supplementation added to feed tubes may reduce the number of infections experienced (11). However, larger reviews question this benefit (12). The current level of evidence for this condition does not suggest any clear benefit for clinical efficacy.
  • Nourish and protect the stomach lining. Small animal studies have demonstrated that glutamine may prevent the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) induced gut damage (13). If these results are replicated in large randomized placebo-controlled trials, they could be important for adults who use these drugs to combat many of the degenerative conditions associated with aging. The results have not been as promising for people who suffer from inflammatory bowel disease (14). Larger randomized controlled trials that specifically target those suffering from Crohn’s disease  and ulcerative colitis will need to be conducted in order to assess the efficacy of glutamine supplementation for these diseases (15).
  • Reduce alcohol cravings. Early animal studies suggest that glutamine supplementation may reduce alcohol cravings in rats (16). These results need to be tested again in larger scale trials before they can be used to make clinical recommendations to human subjects.
  • Help athletes protect from immune suppression due to overtraining. In the popular literature, glutamine has been recommended as a supplement to help build muscle endurance (17). Study results do not show a benefit for this purpose, but suggest that glutamine supplementation may help protect the immune system from overtraining stress (18-20). Larger trials will need to be conducted to see if glutamine is efficacious in larger heterogeneous populations.

Forms

  • capsule
  • tablet
  • powder

Dosage Information

Look for glutamine supplements prefaced by the letter L. This form resembles the glutamine in the body more than supplements prefaced by the letter D.

  • For chemotherapy or radiation induced mouth sores take: 2 to 4 grams twice a day dissolved in water – swish around in your mouth and then swallow.
  • As a supplement to medical/ enteral nutrition for cancer, AIDS, burs, and other major trauma take: 4 to 21 grams daily. If taking glutamine for these conditions you must be under the supervision of a medical professional.
  • For protection after a strenuous workout take: 1.5 to 4.5 grams daily between meals.

Guidelines for Use

If you are taking glutamine as a nutritional supplement for a severe trauma, serious burns, or chronic disease such as cancer or AIDS you must be under the care of an experienced doctor. Your doctor will need to ensure that you are receiving the correct balance of nutrients via your solution in order to ensure optimal regenerative levels are met.

General Interaction

  • Methotrexate, a drug used to treat certain kinds of cancer, psoriasis, and rheumatoid arthritis, may interefere with glutamine's effectiveness in treating mouth ulcers resulting from cancer chemotherapy.
  • Glutamine may adversely interact with medications prescribed for epilepsy. If you currently taking drugs for epilepsy, consult your doctor before supplementing your diet with glutamine.
  • Glutamine is a precursor of the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate. Therefore people suffering from bipolar illness, or manic depression should use caution when trying glutamine – it may lead to changes in mood (18).
  • People who have sensitivity to monosodium glutamate (MSG) may also have adverse reactions to glutamate.

Possible Side Effects

The most commonly experienced side effects experienced while taking glutamine include: constipation and bloating.

For patients suffering from bipolar depression, glutamine may exacerbate mood swings. Consult your physician before beginning supplementation with glutamine.

    Cautions

    • Some people may experience headaches and other side effects with glutamine, but much remains to be learned about the potential adverse reactions associated with this supplement. In clinical trials, no toxic reactions were recorded at relatively high doses of 4 to 21 g a day.
    • If you have any serious illness or are pregnant or breast-feeding, only take an amino acid such as glutamine after consulting your doctor.
    • Date Published: 04/18/2005
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