L-GLUTAMINE FOR HEALTH
As you pass through your day, undertaking your normal daily activities, you probably won’t be thinking about all the essential nutrients in your body, working in synergy to make those activities possible.
Amongst them, amino acids – the building blocks of protein.
A massive 40% of the human body is made up of protein (in the absence of water) and, as such, this macro-nutrient plays a crucial role in almost all biological processes.
For instance, amino acids:
-make up a large proportion of our cells, muscles and tissues, helping to give them structure
-they play a key role in the transport and storage of nutrients
-they influence the function of organs, glands, tendons and arteries
-they are essential for healing wounds and repairing tissue, especially in the muscles, bones, skin and hair
-they are involved in the removal of waste deposits, produced as a result of the process of metabolism
-they support immune system function and digestive tract health
and much more.
Some amino acids are manufactured by the body itself, while others (so-called essential amino acids) must be obtained through the diet as the body is unable to produce them. Having said that, even in cases where the body is able to manufacture the amino acids, during times of strain an external source (such as through diet or supplementation) can provide invaluable additional support.
This is because, in the modern world, a wide range of factors can prevent our bodies from producing or receiving a full and balanced supply of these important nutrients, including: environmental pollution, hormones found in the food chain (e.g. in meat and other animal products), the intensive use of fertilisers in agriculture, food processing, stress, illness, old age and even lifestyle habits such as smoking and drinking.
All of these factors, and more, can prevent our bodies from fully absorbing and using what we eat, and/or manufacturing what we need in sufficient levels.
Many nutritional health experts believe that almost every disease related to modern living is a result of, or at least contributed to by, imbalances in our metabolism. The amino-acid pool is one important part of the puzzle when it comes to achieving a balanced metabolism.
As such, a failure to maintain that pool in the correct combination, with one or more amino acids unavailable in sufficient quantities, could lead to a number of symptoms or health conditions. For example, weight problems, hair loss, skin problems, digestive disorders, sleep disorders, mood swings, depression, arthritis, diabetes, cardiovascular imbalance (high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure) and even menopausal complaints.
What are the amino acids?
There are more than 50 amino acids, each one of them a little different. Only 20 of the 50 identified by scientists are actually used to make proteins in the body. Of those 20, 9 are classed as essential; the other 11 can be synthesised by an adult body, as mentioned above. Thousands of combinations of those 20 are used to make all of the proteins in your body.
The essential amino acids are: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine.
The non-essential amino acids are: alanine, asparagine, aspartic acid, glutamic acid, arginine, cysteine, glycine, proline, serine, tyrosine and glutamine.
For the purposes of this article, we will be looking at the specific role of glutamine in more detail.
What is glutamine?
Glutamine is the most abundant free amino acid in the body. It is produced in the muscles and is stored in, and distributed by, the blood to the organs that need it.
It is also one of the few amino acids that can directly cross the blood-brain barrier – a separation of circulating blood and the brain extracellular fluid in the central nervous system. This means that it can readily reach the central nervous system, ready for use.
How can glutamine be used by the body?
As a precursor to GABA: Glutamine is a major precursor for the neurotransmitter gamma amino butyric acid (or GABA), and is especially important when the body is subjected to stressful situations. It has been suggested that when there is no GABA, there is no calm or sleep because the brain is unable to “switch off”. As such, glutamine is therefore also sometimes used to support lower levels of anxiety.
As a potent energy source: Glutamine is vital for high-energy activities, such as exercise, training and any projects requiring concentrated thinking and memory usage. It is therefore essential for supplying both the body and brain with energy and is sometimes even referred to as “brain food”.
For waste removal: Glutamine is important for removing excess waste products that commonly accumulate in the body, such as ammonia. This function has been shown to support the immune system, which can become strained if the body is overloaded with toxins. Your white blood cells also use glutamine, along with glucose, as an immediate fuel source.
For digestive health and gut wall integrity: Researchers have found that glutamine can play a critical role in healthy digestion, by helping to protect against mucosal breakdown in the gut. For example, in cases of inflammatory bowel disorders, leaky gut syndrome, coeliac disease or food intolerances or allergies. It is thought to have this positive effect by simultaneously fighting against harmful gut flora, helping to keep the delicate tissue (known as epithelial cells) in the gut alive, enhancing gut barrier function and supporting gut immune response. Glutamine also provides fuel for your gastrointestinal tract, particularly in the cells of the lining of your small intestines.
For joint health and flexibility: Chronic inflammatory conditions are affecting a growing number of people, especially in the West. Rheumatoid arthritis is one such condition – an autoimmune disease in which your body’s immune system mistakenly attacks your joints. Research suggests that one possible underlying cause may be a reaction to antigens originating from the intestinal tract. Glutamine may therefore offer assistance by (i) acting as an anti-inflammatory, and (ii) supporting the integrity and repair of your intestinal lining, by coating your cell walls and acting as a repellent to irritants.
Glutamine also plays a role in a variety of other functions in the body – particularly when under conditions of stress.
As such, it is one of the amino acids that is considered to be “conditionally essential”. In other words, it becomes essential when those conditions mean that its synthesis by the body can be too limited to meet demand, and we may therefore need to up our intake from food or supplements.
Such conditions might include, for example, following surgery, during periods of extreme physical activity or demand, following traumatic injury or during periods of illness.
Food sources of glutamine and supplementation
Meat, poultry, fish and seafood are amongst the best food sources of glutamine – foods that supply higher levels of lean protein tend to be higher in glutamine. Oily fish, like mackerel and salmon, are excellent sources as well.
Similarly, many dairy products are rich in glutamine. Whey protein and eggs are great examples. As with other animal sources, milk, yogurt and cheese that are lower in fat typically supply slightly more protein and glutamine per ounce than high-fat sources do.
And for those of you who don’t eat animal products, don’t worry, there are vegetable sources too. Good examples include dried lentils, peas and beans (especially soybeans). Basically any plant-based food that is naturally rich in protein, such as wheatgrass, cabbage, spinach, kale, parsley, fresh beans, beetroot, carrots and Brussels sprouts.
Many whole grains are also rich in glutamine, including oats, wheat germ and products made from whole wheat, quinoa, millet and brown rice. Despite their high fat content, nuts, seeds and their butters contain significant amounts of glutamine. Almonds, pistachios, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and peanuts are all good sources.
And, as a dietary supplement, glutamine is available as free form L-Glutamine: a white, free-flowing fine powder, which has no odour and very little taste.