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What is glutamine?
Glutamine is a naturally occurring semi-essential amino acid found in food. Semiessential in this context means that the body can produce glutamine itself from other amino acids to a certain extent when needed, however, in certain situations of increased glutamine demand, this amount is not sufficient to meet the body's needs. As a result, there are situations such as trauma or extreme physical exertion where body proteins such as muscle protein must be broken down to provide additional glutamine if adequate amounts of glutamine are not supplied to the body through diet or supplements.
Glutamine is closely related in structure to glutamic acid. They can be converted into each other. In humans and all mammals, only the L form of each of these two amino acids occurs. Glutamine was isolated from beet juice in 1883, but could not be isolated from gliadin, a wheat protein, until 1932 and chemically synthesized a year later. Glutamic acid was isolated from wheat in 1866 and synthesized in 1890. It is found mainly in plant proteins.
These can contain up to 45 percent glutamic acid, while other proteins often have proportions of only 10 to 20 percent. Glutamine is very important for cell metabolism in mammals and is the only amino acid that can pass the barrier between blood and brain very quickly. It can be produced by the human body itself in smaller amounts when needed, if glutamine-rich sources are lacking in the diet. However, the largest part is obtained from food.
What does the body need glutamine for?
The human digestive tract is dependent on glutamine as an energy source and sufficient amounts of glutamine are also needed for the immune system to function properly. At the same time, the body consumes large amounts of glutamine during intense training sessions, which means that the body's own glutamine levels can be reduced by up to 50% after training.
For what reasons can glutamine supplementation be beneficial for athletes?
Glutamine can serve the body as an alternative energy source for the trained muscles during training and thereby increase performance and endurance of the muscles. Because the body consumes large amounts of glutamine during an intense training session for this reason, glutamine supplementation after training can accelerate muscle recovery and prevent the body from having to break down muscle protein to obtain glutamine needed for other important body functions.
Because glutamine promotes immune system function, it can help athletes better protect themselves from infectious diseases such as colds or flu that can cause unwanted breaks in training. If an infection is already present, glutamine can help speed up the healing process by stimulating the immune system. As an added bonus, similar to creatine, glutamine can increase muscle cell volume and give muscles a fuller appearance, while when taken on an empty stomach it can increase the body's production of growth hormone by up to 400%.
What are the main benefits of glutamine?
- Support for regeneration after training
- Prevention of muscle breakdown, which can occur when the body needs more glutamine than it can produce itself or is supplied through the diet
- Possesses a cell volumizing effect similar to that of creatine
- Can increase the body's growth hormone release by up to 400% when taken on an empty stomach
- Support the function of the immune system and reduce susceptibility to infectious diseases.
Glutamine and glutamic acid have important functions in the body
Glutamine is the amino acid with the highest levels in the human body and the most important non-essential source of nitrogen. Glutamine is the precursor substance of GABS, gamma-aminobutyric acid. This is a neurotransmitter in the brain that has a calming and soothing effect on neural pathways. Well-known sedatives or sleeping pills such as benzodiazepines exert their effect by stimulating GABS in the brain. Of all amino acids, glutamine has the highest concentration in the blood and muscle tissues.
It is broken down there to produce energy. Glutamine is generally the most important source of energy in cells. It contributes to the synthesis of gene building blocks. Therefore, all body cells that divide or renew frequently have a high demand for glutamine. This is especially true for the cells of the intestinal walls and leukocytes (white blood cells). In this way, glutamine can also strengthen the immune system, this is especially true during strong physical stress.
Glutamine can be converted to glucose in the liver, this can stabilize the level of blood sugar in the body. Together with cysteine and selenium, glutamine is also a starting material for the formation of glutathione, a vital antioxidant in tissues. Glutamic acid is formed by the hydrolysis (cleavage by water) of proteins.The conversion of glutamic acid to glutamine is very important for the regulation, breakdown and excretion of ammonia in the body.
Enriched in the muscle cell, glutamine exerts an osmotic pressure, i.e. glutamine holds water in the muscle and thus creates the conditions for optimal protein synthesis. Accordingly, studies have shown that the muscle cell is placed in an anabolic state when glutamine is administered. A targeted glutamine supply after physical exertion can reduce susceptibility to infections in athletes. Interestingly, one study showed an increase in anabolic and fat-burning growth hormone, as well as plasma bicarbonate levels, an important acid buffering system of the body.
Bicarbonate helps to reduce lactate accumulation in the muscles that occurs during exercise, so that more repetitions can be completed by the strength athlete who takes glutamine before training. It can raise growth hormone levels, improve concentration, and possibly reduce cravings for sweets.
The main sources of glutamine and glutamic acid
Many protein-rich foods contain abundant glutamic acid, for example poultry, fish and vegetables, including especially beets, carrots and radishes. Glutamine and GABS, on the other hand, are rather rarely present as specific substances in foods.
Typical groups for an additional demand for glutamine and glutamic acid
In the case of physical stress, for example after injuries, operations and in the case of chronic diseases, there is an increased need for glutamine in the intestine, in the liver and in the immune system. The body's own formation is then no longer sufficient to meet the additional demand. Supplementation together with other amino acids is especially recommended when the protein supply is generally too low. Glutamine can have a preventive effect on the tendency to stomach ulcers and gastritis due to excessive intake of aspirin or alcohol and help to reduce damage to the stomach walls. In alcoholism, glutamine may also reduce cravings for alcohol and lower anxiety.
The need for glutamine and glutamic acid may be increased in the following conditions, complaints and diseases:
- for competitive sports and hard physical work
- In the event of severe physical stress (e.g. due to injuries, operations, illnesses).
- with a tendency to stomach ulcers and gastritis
- for nervous stress and tension
- with high alcohol consumption
Can glutamine and glutamic acid be overdosed or are there side effects?
At relatively high doses (up to 21 grams daily), glutamine is not known to have any toxic effects. Excessive doses may possibly cause skin redness and tingling. People suffering from manic depression or epilepsy should avoid high doses of glutamine. They may increase glutamate levels in the brain too much. This can possibly worsen the mania or epilepsy. Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a monosalt of L-glutamic acid. This can be used as an additive in foods (E620 - E625). MSG is often held responsible for the so-called "quinine syndrome". Sensitized people can apparently experience palpitations and headaches after consumption.
Based on feedback from athletes who have used glutamine, the following intake schedules seem advisable:
- throughout the day 4-6 doses of 2-4g glutamine each.
- 5-10g glutamine before and after training, or
- The supply of 10-15g glutamine immediately after training, and one and a half to two hours later another 10-15g.
When taking glutamine, the athlete experiences improved recovery, a better pump during training, and a slight increase in body strength. Some athletes also experience an increase in lean body weight within the first few days of ingestion, similar to, but less than, creatine intake. This is likely due to increased glycogen storage, as well as an increased water content in the muscles.
Precautions and Warnings:
Pregnancy and lactation: Not enough is known about the safety of glutamine during pregnancy and lactation. For this reason, pregnant and lactating women should avoid glutamine to be on the safe side.
Severe liver disease with difficulty thinking or confusion (hepatic encephalopathy): glutamine could aggravate this condition and therefore should not be used by people suffering from this disease.
Sodium Glutamate Hypersensitivity: If you are sensitive to sodium glutamate, you might also be sensitive to glutamine because your body converts glutamine to glutamate.
Mania or mental disorders: Glutamine could cause mental changes in people prone to mania.
Seizures: There are concerns that glutamine may increase the risk of seizures in some people. For this reason, people who are prone to seizures should avoid glutamine.
Care should be taken when combining glutamine with the following medications:
Lactulose helps lower ammonia levels in the body. Glutamine is converted to ammonia in the body. Taking glutamine in combination with lactulose could reduce the effectiveness of lactulose.
Cancer drugs (chemotherapy)
There is concern that glutamine may reduce the effectiveness of some anticancer drugs. It is too early to make a statement about how this interaction occurs.
Medicines used to prevent seizures (anticonvulsant medicines).
Drugs used to prevent seizures affect certain chemicals in the brain. Glutamine could also affect chemicals in the brain. Through this, glutamine could reduce the effect of drugs used to prevent seizures.
Glutamine is available in different dosage forms. Besides capsules, the powder form enjoys the greatest popularity, as it can be easily mixed with other supplements such as protein powder. Alternatively, the powder can be dissolved in water or juice.
As with other supplements, the contained amount of the active ingredient - in this case glutamine - should be used as a quality factor.
- J Appl Physiol. 1999 Jun;86(6):1770-7. Effect of oral glutamine on whole body carbohydrate storage during recovery from exhaustive exercise. Bowtell JL, Gelly K, Jackman ML, Patel A, Simeoni M, Rennie MJ.
- Am J Surg. 2002 Apr;183(4):471-9. Reversal of cancer-related wasting using oral supplementation with a combination of beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate, arginine, and glutamine. May PE, Barber A, D'Olimpio JT, Hourihane A, Abumrad NN.
- Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2002 Jan;5(1):69-75. glutamine: Clinical applications and mechanisms of action. New J, DeMarco V, Li N.