Glutamine: Overview

Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid found in the human body.  It was once thought to be a non-essential amino acid, but now we consider this as a "conditionally essential amino acid".  That is to say that, when people are under stress such as acute and chronic illness, psychological stress, or surgery, they do not have enough glutamine in the system.

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Take care not to confuse glutamine with substances that have similar-sounding names, such as glutathione, glutamic acid, gluten, and monosodium glutamate.


Glutamine can be readily synthesized by various tissues such as the skeletal muscles, liver, and adipose tissue.  The skeletal muscles are the primary sites for glutamine synthesis and storage as glutamine contributes to approximately 60% of the free amino acids within the skeletal muscles.

Glutamine-rich foods include poultry, fish, and legumes.

Glutamine is sold in health/nutrition stores and may be an ingredient in other dietary supplements such as protein powders.  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.

L-Glutamine is listed in the U.S.P. and can be purchased as such.

Function; Why it is Recommended

Glutamine, along with N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) forms the most important natural compound in our body, glutathione.

L-Glutamine is one of the 20 amino acids used to make proteins in the human body.  Along with being used to make proteins, it is one of the body's ways to safely carry excess ammonia out of the body by converting glutamate to glutamine.

One of glutamine's most important tasks in the body is to nourish cells that line the intestine and stomach.  Glutamine passes freely across the blood-brain barrier.  Once in the brain, it's converted to glutamic acid and increases the concentration of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid).  Both glutamic acid and GABA are essential for proper mental function.

During exercise or other times of metabolic stress (e.g. fasting, severe injury, illness), the demand for plasma glutamine markedly increases.  For instance, various cells of the immune system such as the lymphocytes and macrophages depend on glutamine as a primary fuel source, and thus the demand for glutamine increases when an immunological response is mounted.

Glutamine is a "brain food"; it helps build and maintain muscle; useful in weight loss and bodybuilding; used to treat arthritis, autoimmune diseases, fibrosis, intestinal disorders (such as Crohn's disease, irritable bowel disease, ulcerative colitis), lupus, connective tissue disease and tissue damage from radiation treatments, fatigue, impotence, schizophrenia and senility.  Glutamine has also been tried, with mixed results, for treating insomnia, depression and anxiety.

There are a few clinical applications for high intake of glutamine.  Glutamine (1gm/day) has been shown to reduce voluntary alcohol consumption in both human and animal studies.  The mechanism is unknown.

Another, better studied, use of glutamine supplementation is in the treatment of ulcers.  The mechanism is not completely understood, but is thought to stimulate the synthesis of certain mucoproteins which would increase mucin and benefit the ulcer patients.  It is considered by some to be an essential component to maintaining a healthy gut wall.

Few people who are basically healthy and follow a balanced diet are deficient in this amino acid, one of the most abundant in the bloodstream.  But there are some important exceptions.  Research indicates that glutamine is conditionally essential when the metabolic demand for glutamine exceeds the amount available in the free glutamine pool and that which can be provided by de novo synthesis.


Glutamine is relatively unstable in solution, and thus glutamine powders must be consumed shortly after being mixed into solution.  Some manufacturers of the supplement recommend consuming glutamine in divided dosages throughout the day.  It has also been suggested that glutamine be consumed shortly before sleep (a 6-8 hour fast) and after waking.

Some recommend 2 to 6mg, taken in juice (it does come as a powder) in mid-afternoon.  It will also act at that time as a "pick-me-up" tonic and a stimulation of the immune system.


It is an extremely safe nutrient with few to no side-effects.  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 even at relatively high doses of 4 to 21gm per day.

Glutamine can help with the following:


Alcoholism Recovery Issues

Because of its action in the brain, glutamine supplements have been recommended for preventing the deleterious effects of alcohol on the brain and for reducing alcohol cravings – a finding that has support in clinical trials.  Dosage: 500-1,000mg L-glutamine twice a day between meals.


Gluten Sensitivity / Celiac Disease

Glutamine is the preferred fuel of small intestine cells.  Supplemental glutamine may promote a faster recovery time once a gluten-free diet is begun.


Poor/Slow Wound Healing

The amino acid glutamine is an important substrate for rapidly proliferating cells, including lymphocytes (white blood cells).  It is also the major amino acid lost during muscle protein catabolism in the initial response to injury.  An article documented beneficial effects from supplying burn patients with glutamine and arginine in amounts 2-7 times those found in the normal diet of healthy persons [De-Souza et al.1998].


Gastric/Peptic/Duodenal Ulcers

Preliminary studies have shown that supplements of glutamine may protect against aspirin-induced gastric lesions and enhance healing of painful peptic ulcers.

Fresh cabbage juice has for a long time been used successfully against ulcers, probably due to its glutamine content.  The amino acid glutamine works over time in doses as low as 500mg three times daily (for one month) to heal stomach and small intestine lesions.  A study of ulcers found that 1600mg of glutamine per day had a 50% cure rate within 2 weeks and 92% within 4 weeks.

IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)

The enterocytes of the small intestines are the body's largest consumers of glutamine, accounting for about 40-50% of glutamine consumption.

Not recommended for
Crohn's Disease

Although glutamine is known to play a role in small intestine function, in Crohn's disease at least two studies have shown it to be mildly harmful. [J Parenter Enteral Nutr 24:196, 2000]

However, there are those who believe it to be beneficial, and advise 1,000mg L-glutamine twice a day.  More research is needed.

Drug Side-Effect

Chemotherapy Side-Effects

Several studies have shown that glutamine, when used as an oral rinse, can help to reduce cancer chemotherapy-induced mouth sores.


Low HGH (Human Growth Hormone)

It has been shown that growth hormone (GH) is adequately produced by the aging pituitary, but its secretion from the pituitary is down-regulated with age.  Scientists have found that certain amino acids and vitamins can stimulate the natural release of GH from the pituitary in many people.

Some amino acids have been shown to stimulate GH release, and may be found in preparations designed to increase GH release.  Most of these preparations come with the recommendation that they be used just prior to muscle building exercise for maximal effect.  These amino acids include L-arginine, L-lysine, L-glutamine, L-ornithine and glycine.



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.


Yeast / Candida Infection

L-Glutamine can help reduce candida-induced hair loss.

Tumors, Malignant

Cancer, General

Individuals with cancer who may be incapable of manufacturing their own supply of glutamine, may benefit from glutamine supplementats taken along with other amino acids.  Recommendation: 1 scoopful (3-4gm) mixed with water 3-4 times daily; swish in mouth and swallow.  Alternately 1,500-2,000mg in pills, 4 times a day.  All doses taken between meals.

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Glutamine can help prevent the following:


Parkinson's Disease

Raising glutathione levels (a potent antioxidant and detoxifier) will provide a protective effect.  See also the link between Parkinson's Disease and Glutathione.

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