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What Does L-Glutamine Do in the Body?

by
author image Sandi Busch
Sandi Busch received a Bachelor of Arts in psychology, then pursued training in nursing and nutrition. She taught families to plan and prepare special diets, worked as a therapeutic support specialist, and now writes about her favorite topics – nutrition, food, families and parenting – for hospitals and trade magazines.
What Does L-Glutamine Do in the Body?
A head of cabbage. Photo Credit ErikaMitchell/iStock/Getty Images

Like all amino acids, glutamine helps build proteins, but its work doesn’t stop there. It’s also an important source of energy and crucial for removing excess ammonia from the body. You’ll get glutamine from protein-containing foods, but it’s also produced in your body. Levels of glutamine decrease significantly from strenuous exercise and during times of illness or stress. When that happens, you may need to boost your glutamine intake.

Two Vital Roles

Amino acids can be used for energy, but it’s not their primary job. Glutamine, or L-glutamine, is different because it serves as an important source of energy for cells in your kidneys, liver and intestine. It supports your immune system the same way, making sure that infection-fighting cells have the energy they need to develop. Your body naturally produces ammonia as a byproduct of protein metabolism. Glutamine helps remove that toxic ammonia by carrying it to the liver, where the ammonia is neutralized and eliminated.

Glutamine and Exercise

As your activity level increases, glutamine is converted into glucose to meet energy needs. Intense physical training and prolonged exercise can cause the levels of glutamine in your blood to decrease. They may stay low for an extended period of time if you overtrain without consuming extra glutamine. Taking 5 grams of glutamine after exercise and then taking another dose two hours later may benefit your immune system and help increase glutamine levels, but it isn’t likely to improve athletic performance, according to the University of Michigan Health System.

Intestinal Health

Your small and large intestines are lined by a special layer called the gastrointestinal barrier, which prevents bacteria and toxins from entering your bloodstream. The intestines are very dependent on glutamine for the energy needed to continuously replace cells, repair the lining and maintain an intact barrier. Glutamine may help heal leaky gut syndrome, which occurs when the barrier is damaged and harmful substances gain entry into your system, according to an article published in the January 2012 issue of the “Journal of Epithelial Biology and Pharmacology.”

Sources of Glutamine

Healthy animal-based sources include lean meat, skinless poultry, fish and low-fat or nonfat dairy products. You’ll also get glutamine from beans, wheat germ, oats, spinach and cabbage. Since it’s not an essential amino acid, a recommended daily intake has not been established. The University of Maryland Medical Center suggests supplemental doses of 500 milligrams taken one to three times daily. Glutamine is safe for most people, but consult your physician before taking supplements if you have kidney disease, you’re sensitive to monosodium glutamate or you take anti-epilepsy drugs.

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