Glutamine is an amino acid, an essential building block of protein. Under normal circumstances, your body produces enough to support healthy bodily functions. But, if your body is under stress -- from trauma or an extreme athletic endeavor, such as a marathon -- you may benefit from adding more glutamine to your diet. Glutamine is readily available in many plant and animal foods.
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Glutamine isn't just any amino acid, it's the most abundant one found in your body -- stored mostly in the muscles and the lungs. Because your body can synthesize its own glutamine, it's considered a non-essential amino acid. Glutamine helps remove ammonia, a waste product, from your body and supports your immune system, tissue repair, brain function and digestion. People with inflammatory bowel disease, severe physical trauma, cancer, muscle breakdown from endurance events and HIV/AIDS might benefit from consuming more glutamine, as these stresses increase your body's requirement for the amino acid.
Always discuss major changes in your diet with your doctor if you're on particular medications, such as blood thinners. Some of the foods that contain glutamine also contain high levels of vitamin K, which can compromise the effectiveness of warfarin as well as some other anti-clotting medications.
Vegetables Containing Glutamine
Many raw, leafy vegetables have high levels of glutamine. Heat destroys glutamine, so eat glutamine-rich vegetables raw, when possible. Raw spinach and cabbage are some of the most common ones. For a loaded dose of the amino acid, drink freshly juiced cabbage. Raw parsley provides a solid dose of glutamine; add it to fresh juice or a smoothie. Beans and legumes are a good source of glutamine, too, and can add protein to a vegetarian diet.
Animal Protein Foods That Contain Glutamine
Animal proteins -- including beef, poultry, pork, fish and organ meats -- are sources of glutamine. Cooking these foods, which is necessary to prevent foodborne illness, destroys much of the availability of the amino acid, however. You can still obtain some added glutamine by including cooked meats and safely prepared sushi and sashimi to your diet. Eggs are another glutamine-containing protein source appropriate for people who avoid meat.
Dairy foods also contribute to your dietary intake of glutamine. Milk, yogurt, ricotta cheese and cottage cheese are examples of such foods. Goat's milk is even higher in glutamine than cow's milk.
Glutamine is available in a supplement form and is sometimes used during healing from trauma, ulcers, diarrhea or for muscle recovery from extreme exercise. Never take glutamine without direction from your doctor or dietitian, as it may negatively interfere with some medications or conditions, such as kidney or liver disease and psychiatric disorders. Although glutamine may be beneficial in some types of cancer treatment, it may also interfere with chemotherapy treatments, so it should not be taken by someone who has cancer without the oncologist's permission.
The precise dosage of glutamine hasn't been established, and it's unclear how much is too much. It's hard to overdose on glutamine from dietary sources, which is why food sources are preferred as a way to boost your glutamine intake. Whole foods also contain multiple compounds that, when combined with their available glutamine, may offer the most benefit. These combined effects can't be duplicated in a supplement.