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Digestion, Nutrition | January 4, 2018 | Author: Naturopath

Nervous system, IBS, Digestion


Glutamine is a major amino acid that is primarily used in the synthesis of proteins. Traditionally considered to be a “non-essential” amino acid, its status has recently been bumped up to “conditionally essential” during times of increased demand such as inflammation, illness, infection and injury [1]. So we can consider it a superhero of the amino acid world.

Glutamine is used in the synthesis of proteins, creation of cellular energy, safe transport of toxic compounds, liver processes, intestinal barrier integrity, and neurotransmitter synthesis.

Signs you could use some more glutamine include:

  • Slow wound healing
  • Frequent infections
  • Leaky gut
  • Sensitivity to stress
  • Sore muscles and slow recovery after exercise
  • Unintentional weight loss

Glutamine for Cellular Energy

Glutamine is cell food. After glucose, it is the body's favourite fuel source. 

This conditional amino acid also has a huge role in the metabolism of glucose into ATP (cellular energy) as a carbon donor in the Kreb's cycle. With such a huge role in energy production, it's no wonder that glutamine stores are burned through as we exercise.

A recent review concluded that glutamine supplement may not be necessary for most casual gym-goers, but it may help to boost muscle gains and immune strength in those who take their fitness seriously [2].

Glutamine levels drop dramatically when training for longer than 1 hour at a time or doing repeated high intensity exercise (hello, HIIIT).  Over-training can lead to long-term low  levels of glutamine and has been linked to upper respiratory tract infections in athletes, the good news is – studies have shown that supplementing with glutamine may significantly reduce the risk of infection in athletes [3].

Glutamine may also have a role in preventing and treating fatigue. Studies have shown it has a big impact on exercise-induced fatigue in young athletes [4] and chronic fatigue conditions in adults [5]. It can even help to reduce soreness and boost muscle recovery after intense exercise – a study from 2015 showed that young adults who took L-glutamine supplements had faster recovery and less pain after 3 days [6].
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Glutamine, Glutamate and GABA

Are you feeling flat? Can't shake a cranky mood? Memory losing its sharp edge?

Low levels of glutamine may be to blame. It is the most abundant amino acid in the brain and acts as a precursor for two major chemicals that work throughout the nervous systems: glutamate and GABA.

The recipe goes like this:

Glutamine → Glutamate → GABA

Glutamate is an excitatory neurotransmitter – it is used to put the “spark” between nerve cells. Low levels can cause symptoms of poor memory, foggy headedness, learning difficulties and insomnia.

But don't reach for a bottle of glutamate supplements just yet – in high amounts, it may cause seizures, depression, migraines, heightened pain sensitivity, and ADHD-like symptoms.

GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter – it relaxes nerves and neurons, promotes sleep, supports muscle function, and keeps the nervous system balanced. Low levels of GABA can cause symptoms of anxiety, IBS, weak digestion, insomnia, addiction and mood swings.

The nervous system naturally balances glutamate and GABA through a series of feedback loops and chemical reactions called the “GABA shunt”.

Through the GABA shunt, the body can convert GABA back into glutamate and further into glutamine. When the nervous system requires glutamate or GABA again, it can begin converting it from glutamine stores.

Glutamine, Glutamate and GABAThis balance is maintained quite strictly, but things can go wrong when there isn't enough glutamine to meet the demands of the nervous system. People with low glutamine levels are prone to symptoms of low glutamate and GABA that may seem to contradict each other – e.g. feeling depressed, “on edge”, and hyperactive. Glutamine can help to restore the balance but speak to a qualified practitioner for advice before self-prescribing.

Glutamine for Antioxidant & Immune Support

Glutamine is one of the three main ingredients of the “master antioxidant” – glutamine joins with  with smaller amounts of cysteine and glycine to form glutathione, a major free radical scavenger, immune booster, and can exert antioxidant effects in both lipid and aqueous environments. Glutathione protects the entire body against oxidative stress and is essential for proper functioning of the immune system.

Glutamine supports the immune system through its role in glutathione synthesis as well as being used directly as a fuel source for immune cells.

The immune system uses glutamine to:

  • Create and grow new immune cells
  • Communicate immune signals throughout the body
  • Antigen presentation to identify pathogens
  • Quarantine and destroy pathogens [1]

Studies have shown that taking glutamine supplements can boost the number and function of particular immune cells, including neutrophils and lymphocytes [11], and is particularly beneficial for people in hospital. A recent study concluded that glutamine supplements can reduce the rate of infection, inflammation and length of hospital stay, while improving gut function [7].

Glutamine is a key nutrient for people suffering from immunosuppressive conditions such as HIV and AIDS, where the catabolic breakdown of muscle can result in lower glutamine reserves, impaired gut function and weight loss.

Glutamine for Gut Health

Glutamine for Gut HealthGlutamine is a major fuel source for intestinal cells and supplementation has been shown to tighten the gaps between internal cells – this creates a tight barrier that can prevent leakage between the gut and the blood (heard of “leaky gut”?).

It is also needed to create secretions that protect intestinal cells and prevent damage to the lining of the gut.
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Glutamine supplementation has been used for relief of IBS symptoms, Chron's disease and diverticulitis. It can even protect the mucosal lining of the gut from radiation damage, which is particularly helpful for cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy [8].

NOTE: By supporting a tough gut barrier, glutamine create an environment for beneficial probiotic bacteria. These “good bugs” not only maintain healthy digestive function but they can also make key nutrients and chemicals for health and happiness, including GABA and short-chain fatty acids [9]!

Other Glutamine Roles

Reaching every cell in the body, glutamine has also been shown to help:

  • Skin elasticity and anti-ageing processes
  • Reduce sugar cravings
  • Regulate insulin and burn fat
  • Build healthy hair by supporting follicles [10]

Boost Your Glutamine Intake

Glutamine is needed in higher amounts when the body is under any kind of stress. This includes:

  • Infection or illness
  • Mental and emotional stress
  • Physical work (e.g. moving house)
  • Intense or prolonged exercise (e.g. marathons or bootcamps)
  • Surgery – including dental work
  • Trauma of any kind
  • Increased mental workload (e.g. exams or caring for someone who is unwell)

Increasing your glutamine intake via food or supplements may help you to stay calm, healthy and happy during times of increased stress.

Food sources of glutamine include

  • Meat 
  • Eggs
  • Dairy
  • Wheat
  • Miso
  • Beets
  • Beans
  • Spinach
  • Parsley
  • Cabbage - 

Fresh cabbage juice is an awful tasting but very effective traditional remedy for gut repair due to its high glutamine levels

If diet isn't doing it for you, L-glutamine is available as a powdered supplement. Take L-glutamine supplements away from food and protein shakes – it may compete with other amino acids for absorption in the gut. Doses of 3g – 5g per day have been found to be safe and effective [6]. 
Speak to a qualified nutritionist for personalised advice before taking mega-doses.  Australia’s best online discount chemist


[1] Newsholme, P. (2001) Why Is L-Glutamine Metabolism Important to Cells of the Immune System in Health, Postinjury, Surgery or Infection? J Nutr., 131:9, 2515S – 2522 S.

[2] Gleeson, M. (2008) Dosing and Efficacy of Glutamine Supplementation in Human Exercise and Sport Training. J Nutr., 138:10, 2045S – 2049S.

[3] Kreher, J. B. & Schwartz, J. B. (2012) Overtraining Syndrome. Sports Health., 4:2, 128 – 138.

[4] Koo, G. H., et al. (2014) Effects of Supplementation with BCAA and L-glutamine on Blood Fatigue Factors and Cytokines in Juvenile Athletes Submitted to Maximal Intensity Rowing Performance. J Phys Ther Sci., 26:8, 1241 – 1246.

[5] Dunstan, R. H., et al. (2013) Development of a complex amino acid supplement, Fatigue Reviva™, for oral ingestion: initial evaluations of product concept and impact on symptoms of sub-health in a group of males. Nutr J., 12, 115.

[6] Legault, Z., et al. (2015) The Influence of Oral L-Glutamine Supplementation on Muscle Strength Recovery and Soreness Following Unilateral Knee Extension Eccentric Exercise. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab., 25:5, 417 – 426.

[7] Hyeyoung, K. (2011) Glutamine as an Immunonutrient. Yonsei Med J., 52:6, 892 – 897.

[8] Rao, R. & Samak, G. (2012) Role of Glutamine in Protection of Intestinal Epithelial Tight Junctions. J Epithelial Biol Pharmacol., 5, 47 – 54.

[8] Boonstra, E., et al. (2015) Neurotransmitters as food supplements: the effects of GABA on brain and behavior. Front Psychol., 6, 1520. 

[10] Williams, R., et al. (1993) Metabolism of freshly isolated human hair follicles capable of hair elongation: a glutaminolytic, aerobic glycolytic tissue. J Invest Demantol., 100:6, 834 – 840.

[11] Cruzat, V. F., et al. (2014) Amino acid supplementation and impact on immune function in the context of exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr., 11, 61.

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