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Benefits & Side Effects of Glutamine

author image J.J. Ashton
J.J. Ashton is a registered holistic nutritionist. She has been writing since 2007, with work featured in various publications, and holds a B.A. in English. Ashton also runs her own holistic health company.
Benefits & Side Effects of Glutamine
A woman in athletic clothes is holding supplements. Photo Credit Milan Markovic/iStock/Getty Images

Amino acids are building blocks of protein, and glutamine is the most abundant nonessential amino acid found in your body. Nonessential does not mean that your body does not require it, however; it means that you do not need to get it through your diet because your body usually produces enough of it on its own. Under certain circumstances, however, your body may become unable to keep up, and in these cases consuming glutamine-containing foods or using supplements can be beneficial. Be aware that glutamine can produce side effects, too.

Immune System Support

Your immune system is like a fancy car in a way; it constantly needs high-quality fuel to run properly, and glutamine plays a major role in the fueling process. Chronic stress, extensive exercise, certain medications, bodily injuries and surgery all cause the release of the hormone cortisol into your blood, and the excess cortisol depletes your body’s supply of glutamine. Lymphocytes -- antibodies that play a vital role in immunity -- require glutamine to flourish, so when your glutamine supplies become low, your immune system becomes compromised, and your risk for infections increases. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, supplementing with glutamine when your body has a low supply can help to strengthen the immune system, prevent illness, increase recovery time and wound healing, and may even reduce the risk of death in the critically ill.

Potential Bowel Protection

Inflammatory bowel disease is a chronic, often painful inflammatory disorder that affects all parts of the digestive tract. Glutamine may benefit IBD patients because it helps to protect the digestive tract lining and maintain the integrity of the intestinal mucosa. Glutamine may also reduce intestinal permeability, a condition commonly associated with IBD patients. In this condition, instead of remaining inside your digestive tract, food particles pass through the intestines and into your bloodstream. Although glutamine may prove to be a beneficial supplement for IBD patients, one trial found that glutamine only helped during periods of remission, and more research needs to be done to confirm glutamine's exact effects on IBD.

Anecdotal Benefits

Glutamine is touted by some for its ability to heal stomach ulcers, benefit overall gut health, help treat diarrhea and reduce the risk of stomach cancer. Many athletes take glutamine because excessive exercise depletes glutamine stores, and glutamine supplements are thought to hasten recovery times, prevent muscle wasting and make it easier to build and maintain muscle mass. It should be noted, however, that these uses are based primarily on anecdotal and not scientific evidence.

Glutamine Side Effects

Glutamine may interact with certain medications and dietary supplements, and you should only take glutamine supplements under the supervision of a health care practitioner. Possible side effects associated with glutamine include edema, nausea, vomiting, flatulence, abdominal pain, constipation, dry mouth and hemorrhoids. Dizziness, depression, skin rashes, insomnia and increased sweating have also been reported. Although rare, glutamine has been associated with chest, joint, back and muscle pain. Scientists have recently begun to speculate that glutamine may actually stimulate tumor growth; as such, cancer patients are advised to avoid it. Finally, due to lack of safety data, people with liver disease, Reyes syndrome and kidney disease should also avoid glutamine supplements.

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