Does L-Glutamine Cause Liver Problems?

Alternative pills on a wooden spoon and in a bowl
Avoid glutamine supplements if you have a liver condition. (Image: Ioana12/iStock/Getty Images)

Glutamine is an amino acid that your body makes on its own. Using a glutamine supplement may be helpful when you have certain medical conditions such as surgery, an infection or prolonged stress because your glutamine levels may become depleted. Glutamine helps your immune system function and also is important for removing excess ammonia from your body. You should not use glutamine supplements, however, if you have liver disease.

Identification

The most common form of supplemental glutamine is L-glutamine. Glutamine supplements are contraindicated if you have liver disease. This is not because they will cause further damage to your liver but because a damaged liver is unable to properly process the glutamine.

Ammonia-Glutamine Cycle

When your liver damage is severe enough to diminish glutamine processing, your ammonia-glutamine cycle is disrupted. Glutamine is a carrier for ammonia, a natural by-product of protein metabolism and other functions in your body. Your liver usually converts ammonia into urea, which your kidneys excrete.

Significance

A disrupted ammonia-glutamine cycle raises your risk for hepatic encephalopathy. In this condition your brain function worsens because your liver is no longer able to remove toxic substances like ammonia from your blood. Disorders that reduce liver function include hepatitis and cirrhosis. Hepatic encephalopathy is most often occurs when you have chronic liver disease, but it can occur suddenly even if you’ve had no liver problems when you liver is damaged.

Expert Insight

Glutamine, as opposed to ammonia, may be partly responsible for the negative impact on your brain when your liver function is impaired. Glutamine appears to accumulate in your brain cells and draw water into them. This, in turn, causes them to swell, eventually destroying them and causing brain damage, according to “The Ultimate Nutrient, Glutamine,” by Judy Shabert and Nancy Ehrlich.

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