If you’re always looking for the best supplement to improve your health, look no further than L-glutamine, which is sometimes just called “glutamine.” It is an amino acid that plays an essential role in many body functions and has been proven to have some great health benefits.
“L-glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the body,” he explains Brittany Michels, MS, RDN, LDN, CPT, dietician and registered dietician.
And its function in the body is quite large.
If you don’t know much about amino acids, here’s a helpful breakdown: Amino acids are categorized as essential (cannot be made by the body), non-essential (can be made by our body), and conditional, or non-essential except at certain times.
“L-glutamine is considered a conditional amino acid as it is not usually essential except during times of metabolic stress, illness or poor dietary intake,” it says. Roxana Ehsani, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN, registered dietitian and nutritionist and National Media Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “For example, if a person is undergoing surgery, which is a time of stress for the body, glutamine is quickly depleted from the body’s stores, as it serves as a major fuel source and must be replaced externally. This can be done by consuming extra protein and supplements or else the body will start breaking down its muscles to release more glutamine (amino acids).
And L-glutamine serves many roles in the body.
“Amino acids like L-glutamine are the building blocks for protein production in the body, they help transport substances throughout your body, help maintain antioxidant status and immune function,” says Ehsani. “L-glutamine helps make protein in the body, and it also helps make glutathione, an antioxidant.”
The body makes L-glutamine in the muscles, but you also get it from the foods you eat.
“We get L-glutamine from protein foods, and the highest levels are found in animal flesh and foods of animal origin: meat, fish, eggs, milk, yogurt, and cheese,” says Michels.
She adds that some plant-based foods also contain L-glutamine, including: beans, spinach, cabbage and beets. However, heat denatures L-glutamine, so she notes that raw versions of these foods provide more L-glutamine.
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Benefits of L-glutamine
There are so many benefits to having plenty of L-glutamine in your body. This includes:
Improves intestinal health
“L-glutamine is beneficial for any type of digestive condition,” says Michels. “The intestinal mucosa is the primary site of glutamine metabolism and is a major fuel source for intestinal mucosal cells. Glutamine supplementation has been found to decrease intestinal permeability, balance intestinal mucus production, and reduce symptoms of diarrhea.”
Promotes muscle growth
“Glutamine levels drop after intense exercise, and muscle tissue is a major site of glutamine production where it supports muscle growth,” says Michels. “Glutamine supplementation has been found to contribute to faster post-exercise recovery.”
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Supports immune health
“Glutamine supplementation has been found to strengthen the immune system because it is used at a high rate in many immune functions, including T-cell proliferation and B-cell differentiation,” says Michels.
Adds Ehsani, “L-glutamine may also be beneficial for people who are immunocompromised, have infections, are malnourished, and may also be beneficial for elite or professional athletes who have high training volumes and are more susceptible to weakened immune system. System function can be compromised when the body does not have enough glutamine. Therefore, a sufficient diet rich in important supplements or glutamine should be implemented.”
Supports blood sugar management
“Glutamine supplementation has been found to improve secretions of glucagon-like peptide-1, which helps satiety and regulate blood sugar,” says Michels.
Adds Ehsani, “Several studies have found that glutamine supplementation can lead to lower blood sugar levels, lower postprandial blood sugar, lower triglyceride levels, and increased insulin production. However, more research in this area.”
How to supplement L-glutamine
If you are interested in adding an L-glutamine supplement to your diet, here are some things to consider.
“Since L-glutamine is already being produced by the body, it is not necessary to consume it, only during types of metabolic stress, diseases and poor food intake should the supplement be consumed,” notes Ehsani. It also showed that most people are getting enough glutamine from eating protein-rich foods.
But if you’re looking to supplement, some studies have found that 5 grams per day is sufficient, as most people consume about 3-6 grams of glutamine per day from food.
Michels adds that dosage recommendations vary and can range from 5-30 grams per day in divided doses, depending on the desired benefit. She notes that the easiest way to get into goal range is to consume a powder option.
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L-glutamine risks and side effects
The good news is that there are no major risks associated with taking L-glutamine.
“There are low risks to glutamine supplementation, especially short-term within the dosage range above,” notes Michels. “Those with kidney disease, liver disease, Reye’s syndrome or cancer should consult their doctor before taking the supplement. In case of an allergic reaction, stop taking immediately.”
If you have any concerns or questions, always consult a professional.
“It’s always best to consult with your medical provider and registered dietitian before starting any type of supplement,” says Ehsani.
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- Roxana Ehsani, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN, registered dietitian and national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
- Brittany Michels, MS, RDN, LDN, CPT, registered dietitian at The Vitamin Shoppe