You may think that Glutamine is only for gym junkies and fitness fanatics, but this could not be further from the truth. The beneficial effects of amino acid are wide and varied, making it a vital amino acid that we could all benefit from including in our wellness regime. In the fitness world, glutamine has a positive reputation for speeding muscle recovery and supporting weight loss. But did you know we need it for the health of our gut, immune and nervous system? Here’s the low-down on what glutamine is and why we need it for wellness.
What is Glutamine?
Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in our body. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and are needed for many functions throughout the body. The body’s need for this vital amino acid is so important that we have the ability to create it on its own, making it a non-essential amino acid. But this is not always the case. There are times where oral supplementation is beneficial and other times when the body’s need for glutamine exceeds our ability to make it. This has led some to consider it a conditionally essential amino acid. Glutamine tastes slightly sweet and dissolves easily in water making it easy to sneak into almost any food or drink.
Glutamine plays an important role in many systems within the human body. Let’s explore:
What does Glutamine do?
Glutamine supports immune function in several ways. Our white blood cells use it as an energy source to produce a healthy immune response when we come into contact with pathogens. The caveat to this is that white blood cells can’t make it on their own, making oral glutamine supplementation important particularly for critically ill hospital patients.
This ties into gut health as well. Did you know that 70% of our immune system lies in the gut? Our small intestine is lined with immune cells called Peyer’s patches, little areas of lymph nodes that help detect and fight pathogens that enter the body by our food. It’s inevitable that what we eat will contain toxins, allergens, bacteria and viruses so having these cells intact is pretty helpful!
The lining of our intestines is made of millions upon millions of tiny cells linked together, called the intestinal mucosa. This lining has to allow the absorption of digested nutrients and prevent unwanted viruses and bacteria from invading the rest of our body. Glutamine is required to maintain the strength of the bonds that hold the intestinal mucosa together (called tight junctions), maintaining a strong yet permeable barrier from the outside world. Glutamine feeds the cells in the mucosa, giving them the energy to grow, maintain and repair itself.
Glutamine is also a godsend during times of physical and mental stress. Large amounts of glutamine are required for the critically ill, burn victims and for recovery from surgery to promote tissue healing and immune support. There is also evidence to support the use of glutamine in exercise induced trauma, promoting recovery from heavy weight training and endurance exercise. Finally, glutamine is a precursor to the relaxing neurotransmitter GABA, which reduces anxiety. To top it all off, we also need it to make glutathione, the body’s king antioxidant!
Glutamine supplements have very few side effects in healthy adults, even with long term use. As a naturopath, I frequently recommend it to my patients because the beneficial effects of glutamine are so wide and varied making it so important to maintain optimal glutamine levels.