Glutamine is considered a non-essential amino acid, which actually sounds more misleading than it is. Its non-essential status really only means that the human body can produce it on its own. Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the body and one of the few amino acids that can directly cross the blood-brain barrier. In the body, glutamine is found both circulating in the blood and stored in skeletal muscle. The versatility of this amino acid is amazing, and you should consider adding it to your daily health regimen.
Why is glutamine important?
Glutamine is involved in a variety of biochemical functions in the body:
- Protein synthesis
- Regulation of acid-base balance in the kidneys by producing ammonium
- Cellular energy, as a source, next to glucose
- Nitrogen donation for many anabolic processes, including the synthesis of purines
- Carbon donation, as a source, refilling the citric acid cycle
- Nontoxic transporter of ammonia in the blood circulation
All those biochemical functions sound important, but what do they do?
Glutamine as an amino acid
Glutamine is the body’s most common amino acid, with most of it being found in your muscles. In fact, over 61% of skeletal muscle is glutamine. Glutamine consists of 19% nitrogen, making it the primary transporter of nitrogen into your muscle cells. Glutamine gathers ammonia and shuttles nitrogen between tissues, where it can be used for cell growth and tissue repair, among many other functions. It’s been reported that 30-35% of all nitrogen derived from protein breakdown is transported in the form of glutamine. Glutamine can also be broken down to resynthesize glutamate, which makes glutamine a critical source of ammonia and nitrogen.
The role of glutamine in protein synthesis
Glutamine plays a key role in protein synthesis. Studies have shown that L-glutamine supplementation can minimize the breakdown of muscle and improve protein metabolism. Glutamine plays key roles in protein metabolism, cell volumizing and anti-catabolism. It also increases your ability to secrete human growth hormone (HGH), which helps metabolize body fat and support new muscle growth. Glutamine’s anti-catabolism ability prevents muscle breakdown.
The role of glutamine in the immune system
Glutamine is essential for maintaining intestinal function as well as aiding in the immune response. After glutamine is synthesized in skeletal muscle, it is released into the bloodstream and transported to the kidneys, liver, small intestine and cells of the immune system, where it plays another vital role. Glutamine is used by white blood cells and contributes to normal immune system function. Individuals with muscle-wasting and immune system-related illnesses (such as cancer or AIDS) who may be incapable of manufacturing their own supply of glutamine may benefit from glutamine supplements taken along with other amino acids. Becoming ill or losing lean muscle mass are potential signs of a glutamine deficiency.
Benefits of glutamine supplementation
So what are the benefits of glutamine supplementation?
- Promote muscle growth and resist cabalism (muscle-wasting)
- Cognitive benefits — aid focus, memory and attention
- Boost metabolism and cellular detoxification
- Reduce stress
- Improve athletic performance and recovery from endurance exercise
- Help with IBS and diarrhea
- Cut sugar and alcohol cravings
- Improve diabetes and blood sugar
- Help heal ulcers
- Improve gastrointestinal health
Are you getting enough glutamine?
There are several reasons one might consider supplementing with glutamine. Pregnancy and lactation significantly deplete the body’s glutamine stores, as does exhaustive exercise, illness, disease, starvation or fasting, rapid growth and development and other conditions of extreme physiological stress. After a significant stress, it can take up to six days for the body to restore optimal levels.
If any of the list of the glutamine-depleting factors apply to you, you may want to consider supplementation. I take five grams a day just for maintenance, but extreme bodybuilders, and even AIDS patients, sometimes take 40 grams or more. Tweet at us (@LFIsocial) or tell us on Facebook what you take to enhance your daily performance.