Glutamine is known to be one of the most abundant amino acids in the body, readily synthesized and found in the highest concentrations in skeletal muscle, lung, liver, brain and stomach tissue. glutamine is involved in the production of Glutathione, one of the most potent natural antioxidants in the body, but is also heavily involved in gastrointestinal health, wound healing and immune support. Given the high demand by many cell types within the body, glutamine may be one of the most important nutrients needed to aid in recovery from a variety of conditions, helping to boost overall cellular health, strength and stamina.
Glutamine is naturally found in diets that are high in beef, chicken, fish, eggs, some dairy products and vegetables including spinach. In most cases, glutamine is consumed in sufficient levels and synthesized according to demand, but there are many instances that point to the increased need for glutamine supplementation.
Given that it is readily synthesized by many cell types, it is generally not considered to be ‘essential’ in terms of supplementation, but one needs to keep in mind that certain disease conditions render the demand for this nutrient to be elevated, thus potentially leading to a deficit situation. In simple terms, demand can outweigh supply, creating a need for supplementation, labeling glutamine as a conditionally essential amino acid. Conditions such as injury, various illness conditions, recovery from illness and even high levels of stress imposed on the body can create increased needs for glutamine, which are often unheeded due to poor dietary conditions or even anorexia. This is correlated with protein-caloric malnutrition, essentially implying that the body is not being provided with the nutrients needed to recover, which can be seen in a variety of conditions ranging from simple to severe.1 In this state, catabolism often ensues, with more tissue destruction and loss occurring instead of healing.
The cells lining the gastrointestinal tract, enterocytes, are viewed as one of the highest consumers of glutamine to promote healthy cellular function. Modern research has demonstrated that diets and intravenous nutrition given to recovering patients that is deficient in glutamine, results in villous atrophy of the small intestinal lining which can then impact further nutrient absorption and contribute to a ‘leaky gut’ type of syndrome. The ‘leaky gut’ syndrome is well known in medical literature and is linked with increased gastrointestinal permeability, which essentially implies that various bacteria, viruses, fungi, food particles and toxins can cross over into the systemic circulation.1 This process has been theoretically connected with a host of medical problems ranging from allergies to immune mediated conditions. Patients suffering from food allergies, ulcerative colitis, Chron’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBD) and other similar conditions may benefit from glutamine supplementation, which has been supported by medical research.
For years, those in the bodybuilding discipline have relied on glutamine supplementation for good reason. Glutamine has been connected not only with enhanced recovery, enhanced energy and immune support for those individuals, but has questionable effects on overall muscle mass development. Skeletal muscle is the highest area of glutamine concentration in the body, often serving as a donor to the rest of the body in times of increased need or demand. Due the high demand for glutamine by skeletal muscle, deficiencies may help explain muscle loss or atrophy in patients recovering from a variety of conditions.
Glutamine supplementation has also been demonstrated to benefit wound healing and immune health in patients, which can span from simple wounds to surgical recovery, as glutamine is utilized by the body in numerous ways.2 The simple logic is that glutamine is needed by immune cells and gastrointestinal tract for overall function and growth. Without proper levels of glutamine, those cells are impacted negatively, which translates into slower healing, recovery and immune health. Glutamine depletion may actually contribute to higher incidence of post operative infections and overall poor healing in some patients. Glutamine supplementation has also been shown to enhance collagen synthesis, supporting overall tissue repair and potentially cartilage health within joints.4
Research has also been conducted regarding the potential importance of glutamine in cancer therapy and recovery. The information can be conflicting at times as it has been noted that many cancer cells also require glutamine for their main energy source or fuel. In theory, supplementation of glutamine to recovering cancer patients could fuel the cancer progression, but research has gone both ways on this matter. Viewing glutamine as a vital nutrient for the body that can be in a negative state, dependent on the demand, it has been theorized that many larger tumors actually become glutamine traps, selfishly consuming the available glutamine and depriving the rest of the body. If this is true, then other cells of the immune system and gastrointestinal tract could become debilitated and contribute to the demise of the patient. So, the question comes is to if we provide higher levels of glutamine to those patients, could we potentially enhance overall health and strength, allowing the body to rebound and recover? In vitro research studies have indicated that glutamine supplementation could fuel cancer cells, but in-vivo studies have not supported those finding, but actually showed that glutamine supplementation reduced tumor growth by up to 40% and enhanced overall immune function.1,3 Glutamine supplementation to cancer patients has been found to reduce intestinal damage and increased permeability, but has also been shown to mitigate other side effects of chemotherapy and radiation such as induced diarrhea and mucositis.1
Essentially, when it comes to health, recovery and overall energy production, our body needs many nutrients to function correctly and at an optimal level. Glutamine is one of many of those nutrients that can impact cellular function at the gastrointestinal, immune, neurological and skeletal muscle level. Deficiencies of glutamine may explain poor recovery and healing associated with numerous conditions while enhanced levels may be correlated with a stronger immune response, tissue healing and gastrointestinal health.
Glutamine is required by every animal species to ensure optimal cellular health. The question comes as to if we or our animal companions are consuming enough or producing enough intrinsically to meet demands? In cases of injury, surgery or long term illness, especially when there is a reduced caloric intake, glutamine supplementation may prove to be essential. Considering the diet consumed by the average human and that of our animal companions, especially when taking into consideration the high levels of stress that we all endure and the health implications, glutamine supplementation may be a good thing, helping to support overall health, resistance to infection and enhanced recovery.
So, how does glutamine supplementation apply to your, your pets or your equine companions? If you or them are recovering from an illness, especially if the condition is prolonged in nature, glutamine may enhance overall recovery. If you are suffering from immune dysfunction, allergies or gastrointestinal problems, glutamine supplementation may provided added benefits improving outcomes and long term management. Joint conditions due to cartilage erosion and decreased collagen synthesis, which includes ligament and tendon injuries, may also benefit from glutamine supplementation by helping to restore tissue integrity and strength.
Our Cur-OST® formulas were designed to enhance recovery and support overall health. Glutamine is one of the main amino acids provided in our Cur-OST® Immune formulas and Nourish products, which have been utilized for years to enhance the immune response, strengthen tissue and accelerate recovery in many of our patients. I am not one that believes in a ‘mono-therapy’ or single nutrient approach for my patients, thus feel that glutamine is one of many nutrients needed to support overall health and utilize it in combination with other amino acids and nutritive herbs to achieve a more rounded impact.
All our best,
Tom Schell, D.V.M.
Nouvelle Research, Inc.
1. Glutamine Monograph, Alternative Medicine Review, vol 6, no.4,2001, p.406-410
2. Blass, SC et al, Time to wound closure in trauma patients with disorders in wound healing is shortened by supplements containing antioxidant micronutrients and glutatmine: a PRCT, Clinical Nutrition. 2012 ,Aug;31(4):469-75
3. Fahr, MJ, et al. Glutamine ehances immunoregulation of tumor growth. J Parenter Enteral Nutr 1994; 18: 471-476
4. Williams, JZ et al. Effect of a specialized amino acid mixture on human collagen deposition. Ann Surg. 2002. Sept; 236(3): 369-374.