By Amy Medling, founder of PCOS Diva
Glutamine is an essential amino acid that our bodies need for a long list of interconnected functions. Athletes swear by it for post-workout recovery, but it is not only for those who train to their limits each day. Getting your glutamine levels worked out can not only improve your gut health, but the cascade of symptoms that come with it including blood sugar levels, cravings, appetite, inflammation- the list goes on. I use it in my post-workout smoothies to re-energize me, but I also use it to bust sugar cravings. Is it right for you?
What is Glutamine?
Glutamine, made from glutamic acid, is the most abundant amino acid in your skeletal muscles, amounting to 61%. The others are distributed among your lungs, stomach, brain, and liver. Glutamine facilitates nitrogen metabolism, fueling intestinal cells, supports protein synthesis, and cellular immune response.
The kidneys are the primary consumer of glutamine since it’s where the ammonia from glutamine is removed to maintain the body’s acid-base balance. It goes without saying that as the body’s acidity increases, in response to intense training or a diet high in protein, so does the uptake of glutamine.
Glutamine supplements help offset nutritional deficiency, especially when it comes to athletes who train regularly. You may start to lose muscle, energy, and have an increased risk of getting infections. That said, benefits are not limited to competitive athletes. We all need glutamine, but as you ramp up exertion, you need more glutamine.
The 8 Benefits of Glutamine Supplementation
Glutamine supplements fill the deficiency in the body caused by external factors such as training and medication. But more than that, glutamine supplements are known to provide the body with all sorts of health benefits.
1. Promote healthy blood sugar levels
Studies indicate that glutamine following each main meal helps reduce blood glucose levels as well as body fat, waist lines, and systolic blood pressure to some extent. Glutamine in the intestine increases the release of insulin from your pancreas. Since insulin is the main hormone that helps body cells take up glucose, your blood sugar levels lower. — Reducing the release of glucagon from your pancreas, which reduces the amount of glucose produced in the liver. It also slows the release of food from your stomach, thus slowing absorption and reducing sugar peaks when you eat.
2. Regulate appetite and cravings
L-glutamine decreases levels of gherelin which stimulates your appetite, promotes fat storage, increases your food intake, and makes you crave high-calorie, sugary foods. Glutamine can also help repair leaky gut (see below). Leaky gut deprives your body of nutrients and so, drives cravings. You may crave foods high in zinc (sugar cravings) and magnesium (chocolate cravings) since those are two of the most commonly resulting nutrient deficiencies.
3. Restore gut health
Leaky gut is a condition where your intestinal lining has larger than usual gaps. These gaps let food particles, bacteria, and even waste products to directly contaminate the bloodstream. Some scientists speculate that leaky gut happens when you’re low on glutamine levels. Naturally, supplementing with glutamine has been shown to reduce the increase in permeability.
“Glutamine is an essential nutrient for gut mucosal epithelial cell growth, differentiation, mucosal integrity and barrier function…There is ample evidence to indicate that L-glutamine is the essential dietary supplement to help maintain mucosal integrity and barrier function under physiologic and pathophysiologic conditions. Human gut has little capacity to synthesize Glutamine and therefore it relies on the glutamine supply by other tissues and diet.”
L-Glutamine is essential when it comes to healing your leaky gut, stopping sugar cravings and helping with insulin resistance. It is a strong anti-inflammatory which helps to repair the damaged lining of your intestinal walls, reduce inflammation, and restore nutrient absorption.
Glutamine has also been shown to help as a rehydration aid, as it can help in the uptake of water from the gut.
For more about glutamine and gut health, check this out.
4. Aid in lean muscle repair, growth, and strength
Glutamine levels are depleted during exercise. This results in a reduction in strength, recovery, and overall stamina. The body takes around 5-6 days to replenish its glutamine stores for some people, and for those who are keen on growing muscle, they simply cannot wait that long. When you take glutamine supplements, not only are you speeding up the process of glutamine recovery, but you’re also minimizing muscle breakdown and improving protein metabolism.
5. Elevate growth hormones
Growth hormones promote muscle growth by improving protein synthesis of muscle tissues during muscle recovery or repair. Growth hormones also allow the body to produce more energy by improving fat metabolism and also build stronger bones. A study confirms that taking glutamine, even in surprisingly small amounts, increases growth hormone levels in the body.
6. Boost the immune system
As mentioned earlier, taking glutamine may greatly improve your immune system. A study has even confirmed this when patients who took glutamine left earlier after bone marrow transplantation than those who didn’t.
“In critically ill patients, parenteral glutamine decreased nitrogen loss and caused a decline in the mortality rate. Surgical patients who took glutamine evoked an improvement of several immunological parameters.”
Glutamine supplements should be taken to not only maintain adequate levels of glutamine in the body, but also boost the immune system, which helps prevent possible infections.
7. Treat ulcers
Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) is the major cause of peptic ulcer diseases. A study was conducted where one subject would receive a glutamine-focused diet while both were given H. pylori-induced ulcer. The control exhibited edema, congestion, and erosion after 3-month infection; and after 2-year infection, they showed cancer-like changes in the gastric lining. Glutamine significantly suppressed these pathological changes caused in the gastric lining by H. pylori infection.
8. Heal burn injuries faster
Getting burned is an injury that takes a while to fully heal, but taking glutamine supplements might just speed up the process. Research shows that administering glutamine supplements can help accelerate the wound healing process by maintaining cell volume and hydration. It was also concluded that it is most effective during the initial stages of healing.
Dietary Sources of Glutamine
Many whole foods which are high in protein are also high in glutamine. Check out these natural sources:
- Meat- Beef, chicken and lamb are all good choices. (*Watch your source for hormones and antibiotics. Try to buy grass-fed and organic when possible.)
- Seafood- Especially consider wild salmon since it contains Omega-3 fatty acids.
- Legumes- Peas, beans, try any legume that is high in protein.
- Skim Milk- *Dairy is not recommended for women with PCOS. Here’s why.
- Nuts– Try almonds, peanuts and hazelnuts.
- Tofu- Not recommended for women with PCOS. Here’s why.
- Eggs- These are a great source of Vitamin K, B Vitamin including biotin, thiamine, and Vitamin B12. They are also an excellent source of selenium, Vitamin D.
- Red Cabbage- Raw is more beneficial than cooked.
- Fruits & veggies- These typically have lower levels of glutamine, but are still decent sources. Try watercress, asparagus, and broccoli.
What if you can’t get enough glutamine naturally? This is where supplementation comes in. As with all supplements, glutamine dosage would vary from person to person, depending on level of activity and purpose.
I add high-quality glutamine powder to my post-workout smoothie to help my body recover and often take 1/4 tsp. when I have a sugar craving that won’t quit. Download my free PCOS Smoothie Guide for tips about what to add to (and leave out of) your smoothie as well as tons of recipes to keep things interesting!
As with any type of medication and supplement, it is important to avoid an overdose. Not only would it be inefficient for your body, as it won’t absorb more than it naturally needs, but it might also lead to the following side effects:
- Chest Pain
- Abdominal pain
- Dry mouth
- Crohn’s disease
- Back pain
- Rhinitis, laryngitis, and pharyngitis
- Flu-like disorder
Most side effects don’t require medical attention as some of these will go away once the body adjusts. If the symptoms persist even though enough time has passed, it would be best to consult your doctor.
Amy Medling, best-selling author of Healing PCOS and certified health coach, specializes in working with women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), who are frustrated and have lost all hope when the only solution their doctors offer is to lose weight, take a pill, and live with their symptoms. In response, Amy founded PCOS Diva and developed a proven protocol of supplements, diet, and lifestyle programs that offer women tools to help gain control of their PCOS and regain their fertility, femininity, health, and happiness.
- Holecek M. Relation between glutamine, branched-chain amino acids, and protein metabolism. Nutrition. 2002;18(2):130-3.
- Jalilimanesh M, Mozaffari-khosravi H, Azhdari M. The Effect of Oral L-glutamine on the Healing of Second-degree Burns in Mice. Wounds. 2011;23(3):53-8.
- Welbourne TC. Increased plasma bicarbonate and growth hormone after an oral glutamine load. Am J Clin Nutr. 1995;61(5):1058-61.
- Roth E, Spittler A, Oehler R. [Glutamine: effects on the immune system, protein balance and intestinal functions]. Wien Klin Wochenschr. 1996;108(21):669-76.
- Amagase K, Nakamura E, Endo T, et al. New frontiers in gut nutrient sensor research: prophylactic effect of glutamine against Helicobacter pylori-induced gastric diseases in Mongolian gerbils. J Pharmacol Sci. 2010;112(1):25-32.
- Rao R, Samak G. Role of Glutamine in Protection of Intestinal Epithelial Tight Junctions. J Epithel Biol Pharmacol. 2012;5(Suppl 1-M7):47–54. doi:10.2174/1875044301205010047
- Akobeng AK, Elawad M, Gordon M. Glutamine for induction of remission in Crohn’s disease. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016;2:CD007348.
- Hoffman JR, Ratamess NA, Kang J, et al. Examination of the efficacy of acute L-alanyl-L-glutamine ingestion during hydration stress in endurance exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2010;7:8. Published 2010 Feb 3. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-7-8
- Lenders CM, Liu S, Wilmore DW, et al. Evaluation of a novel food composition database that includes glutamine and other amino acids derived from gene sequencing data. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2009;63(12):1433–1439. doi:10.1038/ejcn.2009.110
- Mansour A, Mohajer-tehrani M, Qorbani M, et al. Effect of glutamine supplementation on cardiovascular risk factors in patients with type 2 diabetes. Nutrition. 2014 July 9.
- Kim, Min-Hyun, and Hyeyoung Kim. “The Roles of Glutamine in the Intestine and Its Implication in Intestinal Diseases.” International Journal of Molecular Sciences, MDPI, 12 May 2017, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5454963/.
- Jain, P, and N K Khanna. “Evaluation of Anti-Inflammatory and Analgesic Properties of L-Glutamine.” Agents and Actions, U.S. National Library of Medicine, May 1981, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7257951.
- Rao, RadhaKrishna, and Geetha Samak. “Role of Glutamine in Protection of Intestinal Epithelial Tight Junctions.” Journal of epithelial biology & pharmacology vol. 5,Suppl 1-M7 (2012): 47-54. doi:10.2174/1875044301205010047