L-Glutamine, also known as glutamine, is one of the 20 amino acids, or protein blocks, used by the human body for various functions. If you think of protein as your structure, then amino acids are blocks you would use to build your structure. Just as you can build a structure in various sizes and shapes, the designs protein can make with the various amounts of amino acids in them, are endless.
Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the body, and it is stored in muscles and transported to organs that need it by the blood. It has become popularly known as an essential component of building muscles; however, it has many other important functions.
Glutamine accounts for over 60 percent of the amino acids found in blood, muscle tissue, organs and the brain.
Here is a look at the role glutamine plays in some of the central functions in the body:
- It has the important job of providing nitrogen and carbon to cells all over the body, which is the fuel necessary for them to function.
- It is used by the body to make other amino acids. It is also used to make the primary source of energy used by the body, glucose.
- It allows for proper cardiovascular function because it provides energy to the cells that line blood vessels, also known as endothelial cells.
- It regulates nitric oxide synthesis by endothelial cells, which is imperative to minimize inflammation in blood vessel walls and maintain blood vessel tone.
- When blood sugar is low, it can be converted into energy for neuronal cells. This is a unique characteristic of glutamine and thought to be one of the reasons that it dampens the craving for sugar and alcohol.
- It helps in the process of healing when cells need to divide quickly to replace damaged cells.
- It is the key source of nutrients for cells that line the intestinal tract. It works to maintain the mucosa to ensure a healthy gastrointestinal tract. The small intestine uses the most amount of glutamine in the body. Here, it helps to control cellular reproduction, and to prevent and reconstruct a leaky gut, which is why glutamine supplements are thought to be helpful for people with irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
- It participates in contributing to a healthy immune system as it provides the necessary nitrogen to lymphocyte cells. This promotes the process of systematic and cellular detoxification.
Glutamine is categorized as an amino acid that is non-essential because it can be made by the body from substances in the diet and other amino acids. This means that during times of need, to synthesize proteins essential for the basic functions in the body, the metabolism can shift to produce glutamine from other amino acids and from the foods you eat. In the case of an essential amino acid, the body cannot make it, so it has to be regularly consumed as part of the diet. However, in rare cases, glutamine can be classified as an essential amino acid. This is because in certain circumstances, when the body is using glutamine at a rapid rate, it may not be able to produce enough to keep up with the demand.
In normal circumstances, the body can produce enough glutamine for its daily needs. However, in extreme cases such as during intense exercise when muscles are put under a lot of pressure, recovering from a traumatic injury, some forms of chemotherapy, or times of extreme emotional or mental stress the body may not be able to produce the amount needed to maintain the life of the tissues affected. Although there has not been enough research and evidence to prove without a doubt that taking glutamine supplements will repair all the damage, in cases where the body has been through extreme stress, glutamine treatment is presently thought to help preserve and rebuild tissues that have been affected.
Glutamine as a ready-made supplement comes in several forms. The most popular way to consume it is in powder form as part of a protein supplement. It is also available in capsule, liquid or tablet form. Foods that are good sources of glutamine are:
- Milk, yogurt and cottage cheese
- Egg whites, pork, poultry and beef
- Barley, corn, peanuts and soy
- Red cabbage, beets, spinach and parsley
- Beans and whole wheat
Having adequate amounts of glutamine in the body can boost the immune system, improve health conditions and ensure all the essential functions in the body are working properly, and thereby increase the quality of life. Still, there are potential side effects of taking high amounts of glutamine supplements because it can interfere, or have interactions, with other medications. To ensure only benefits are received, speak with a doctor before beginning to take glutamine supplements.