It’s amazing how the substances that make up the food we eat can affect the functioning of our bodies. In particular, a substance found in animal meat and cruciferous vegetables called L-glutamine, or simply glutamine. Few of us have even heard of this important amino acid, much less how it impacts the body; but, the reality is that it is extremely important for our health and can cause major issues without it.

L-Glutamine Functioning in the Gut

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While L-glutamine has several roles within the body, many of them affect how the gut functions. L-glutamine is a fuel source for several types of cells, including intercites (small intestinal cells), lymphocytes (white blood cells), and fibroblasts (cells that synthesize extracellular matrix and collagen). Providing fuel for cells is important because they are constantly turning over. 

Cells within the gut are known to reproduce themselves every two to seven days. However, without this fuel, they will not be able to replace broken-down cells and ultimately the gut will begin to deteriorate. Additionally, this amino acid helps to produce secretory IgA which is an antibody secreted in the GI tract to prevent harmful substances from entering the bloodstream. 

Additional Functions

L-Glutamine

As L-glutamine is one of the most abundant amino acids found in the muscle, it makes sense that it would play a major role in muscle healing and repair. It also helps fuel muscle cells to replicate themselves, again, helping with pain and repair. 

This amino acid also makes up one-third of the complex that creates glutathione. Glutathione is crucial in helping the body neutralize chemicals in order to excrete them before they can wreak havoc, including inflammation. Lastly, it is vital in the formation of nitric oxide which helps blood vessels vasodilate. Without nitric oxide, there is a reduction in blood flow, and therefore, a reduction in the amount of oxygen actually reaching body tissues.

Sources of L-Glutamine

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As previously mentioned, animal meats, including beef, chicken, liver, fish and even eggs provide excellent sources of L-glutamine. While those living a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle may be concerned, this amino acid can also be found in several cruciferous vegetables including sauerkraut, plain cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and asparagus. 

If an individual does not struggle with dairy or gluten allergies, he or she may also consume milk as their source of L-glutamine. While not strong sources, nuts, and some lentils will provide this amino acid, but other foods should be considered first.

Causes of Deficiency

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Apart from not getting enough of this amino acid in the diet, there are actually several other causes of deficiency. These include:

  • Chronic stress – Stress causes the secretion of cortisol at high levels which is a catabolic steroid. This breaks down muscles and pulls glutamine over to fuel the digestive tract.
  • Steroid use – Similarly to stress, steroids cause the muscles to break down, which makes them weaker and painful.
  • Lack of stomach acid – If the stomach does not have adequate acid, it will not be able to break down food and obtain this vital amino acid. This can be induced by disease or medication such as antacids.
  • Surgery, trauma, or acute injury – In the event of surgery, trauma, or injury, the body will send extra L-glutamine to the area of trauma for healing, depleting stores in the body.
  • Vegan diet or inadequate protein intake – Even if one is inactive, the body still needs about .6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
  • Cancer treatment – This treatment will suck the glutamine out of an individual, but supplementation must be discussed with a doctor as it can affect the growth of certain tumors.
  • Inflammatory bowel problems – This may be Celiac Disease or even Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis, all of which contribute to deficiency due to issues with the GI tract and intestines.

Who Needs Supplementation? 

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While changing one’s diet is always going to be the first consideration when dealing with a deficiency, there are some who may need additional help through supplementation. Some groups that may benefit from supplementing with L-glutamine include those with:

  • Leaking gut – Supplementing with this amino acid has actually helped repair villi found in the GI tract leading to better absorption.
  • Cancer – For some cancer patients, using this supplement can reduce the damage of chemotherapy and radiation, help with symptoms, and make the process easier. It also fuels lymphocytes which can help fight off cancer. 
  • Recurring infection – This amino acid fuels the immune system, therefore, helping to fight bacterial, fungal, viral, and parasitic infections.
  • Detox problems – Supplementing will help with the production of glutathione, and therefore will aid the body in ridding itself of harmful toxins.
  • Surgery, acute trauma, and burns – Using supplementation in these situations will promote healing and faster recoveries.
  • Struggling to put on muscle – The body will not grow new muscles without adequate L-glutamine. Furthermore, working out without proper amounts of this amino acid can actually cause injuries.
  • Leaky brain – Supplementation can help get rid of brain fog, memory problems, and even trouble recollecting words.
  • Sugar cravings – Taking this supplement can curb sugar cravings for those who may be switching to a low-carb diet or are just self-proclaimed “sugar addicts.”

Dosage

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If an individual is experiencing a major issue like an autoimmune disease or cancer, the dosage of L-glutamine should always be discussed with a doctor. However, for an individual looking to increase his or her intake, a daily maintenance dose can be anywhere from 500 to 1,000mg per day. 

A heavy dose, for an actual deficiency, can be from 3-5 grams per day, while a mega dose (only given under supervision) could be anywhere from 6-30 grams per day. When supplementing, be sure to proceed with caution as there can be side effects. For glutamine, these include headaches or migraines, anxiety, nausea, antsy demeanor, diarrhea, and gas.

 

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Consider Your Diet

If you are an individual who chooses to live a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle or you just don’t consistently eat meat, you may be depriving your body of vital amino acids. Consider switching up your diet to include healthy meats and cruciferous vegetables to ensure you are getting the necessary L-glutamine and discover how your body can thrive with proper care and nutrition.

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