What is glutamine?
Some of you might have heard of glutamine, but you might not know what it is or what it does in the body. Glutamine is an amino acid, which are the building blocks of protein and critical for your body’s processes to be able to function. Of the 20 amino acids, glutamine is the most abundant and versatile amino acid found in the body.
Glutamine is made and stored in the muscles and then transferred by the blood into different organ systems. It is also made and stored in the lungs. Glutamine is a necessary component for the body to be able to make other amino acids and glucose.
The body can usually make enough glutamine for its regular needs. But during times of extreme stress (the kind you experience after heavy exercise or an injury), your body may need more glutamine than it is able to make on its own.
Are you one of the 36 million+ Americans who have decided they love to play pickleball? If you’ve tried to find an available court to play on, you know there has been an explosion in pickleball popularity.
But as the popularity of the sport surges, so do the sports injuries. Recently, the skyrocketing number of pickleball injuries has even made the news. The reason for this is simple. About 50% of all pickleball players are age 55 and older. And, sadly, our age group are more prone to injuries.
The statistics don’t lie. In an analysis in the Journal of Emergency Medicine, research shows that 90% of these injuries affect people over the age of 50. Yikes!
I chose the example of pickleball because I know so many of us love the game. But the potential for sports injury increases with age no matter what sport or activity we love. Glutamine can help us stay healthy and avoid injury.
Stay healthy and active with glutamine
I regularly supplement with amino acids because of the stress I put on my muscles with the exercise I do. When I’m done with a long ride on my bike or after a few hours of playing some intense pickleball matches, I take a powdered drink that has all nine of the essential amino acids. (If something is “essential” it means that your body can’t make it on its own.) Although glutamine is not an essential amino acid, one of the ways our body can make more of it is by making sure we get plenty of the nine that are essential.
We will address all of these essential amino acids in future posts, but today our focus will be on glutamine because we see so many clients who are deficient in it.
What glutamine does
Glutamine has several jobs in your system. It’s important for removing excess ammonia, a common waste byproduct in the body. If your body can’t process or eliminate ammonia, it can build up in the bloodstream, leading to serious health problems like brain damage, coma, and even death.
Glutamine helps your immune system function. Additionally, glutamine is needed for normal brain function. It is also an important part of digestion. (More on these below.)
Four important benefits of glutamine
Let’s take a closer look at four of the benefits of getting the right amount of glutamine.
Benefit #1: The right amount of glutamine supports a healthy immune system
Glutamine is the main fuel source for your body’s lymphocytes, those white blood cells that fight infection and disease.
But, your blood’s glutamine levels decline naturally as we age, and especially when we’re sick or injured. This reduces those lymphocytes’ ability to defend your body.
Studies show that immune system cells utilize glutamine at higher rates than other cells. This is especially true during stressful situations as mentioned above, things like recovery from surgery or high intensity physical activity. Because of this, glutamine is considered “fuel for the immune system,” and deficient levels are linked to poor outcomes and even increased risk of death.
In addition, studies have reported that supplementing with glutamine to boost the immune system may improve health, decrease infections, and lead to shorter hospital stays after surgery. So it’s important to keep a healthy amount of all amino acids, especially glutamine, in your diet to keep your immune system functioning optimally.
Benefit #2: The right amount of glutamine helps maintain and build muscle
This benefit of glutamine is so important. The more I learn about health, the more I realize the importance of being able to maintain healthy muscle and build healthy muscle. This is especially true as we age. After age 30, we lose between 3-5% of muscle per decade, leaving us more prone to injury and making it harder to burn calories.
If your body’s need for glutamine is greater than its ability to produce it, your body may break down protein stores, such as muscle, to release more of this amino acid. This can result in muscle loss.
There are studies that show that increased intramuscular glutamine levels have been directly linked to influencing muscle cell volume, which enhances protein synthesis and increases muscle size. By increasing muscle mass, the contractile force (that’s a fancy way to say strength) of a muscle can be increased.
These studies demonstrated that by administering an L-glutamine (the supplement name for glutamine) to mice through their drinking water, their skeletal muscle contractile forces were increased. The mice receiving the L-glutamine experienced greater muscle growth, and large muscles produce a greater force of contraction.
That’s a really oversimplified version of a complicated process. But in addition to increasing muscle volume, glutamine is proven to assist in muscle recovery as well.
Benefit #3: The right amount of glutamine can help with stress
Since stress is such an overwhelming part of life these days, we are interested in anything that can help mitigate our stress levels. Glutamine affects stress because the brain uses it to build and balance the neurotransmitter Gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA.
GABA is a chemical messenger in your brain. It slows down your brain by blocking specific signals in your central nervous system. GABA is known as a calming amino acid for its effectiveness in reducing stress-related anxiety symptoms. It’s believed to play a major role in controlling nerve cell hyperactivity associated with anxiety, stress, and fear.
Glutamine also detoxes the brain from excess ammonia and converts it into other amino acids, sugar, and urea. At More Than Healthy, we’re big on natural ways to detox the body and brain. But just like most supplements we’ve discussed, we prefer our clients get their glutamine from foods and only supplement if they are deficient. It’s important to note that you don’t want too much glutamine, as a critical balancing act is going on, especially in the brain.
Benefit #4: The right amount of glutamine can help your gut health
Glutamine helps maintain the barrier between the inside of your intestines and the rest of your body, thereby protecting against a leaky gut. This is something I know a lot about, as I have battled leaky gut syndrome for years. I work very hard not to eat the foods I’m sensitive to that cause inflammation and break down the intestinal barrier.
I’m also interested in vitamins, minerals, and amino acids that help repair and strengthen that gut wall. Glutamine helps in the growth and maintenance of the cells in that intestinal wall. It appears to help regulate cell growth rate, maintain certain protein levels, modulate signaling in specific inflammatory pathways, and prevent cell death and cellular stress.
Glutamine is a critical fuel source for certain intestinal cells that protect our intestines. It also helps prevent infections and soothe intestinal tissue. That’s why I take extra amino acids when I stress my body with exercise.
Signs of glutamine deficiency
Some signs you may be deficient in glutamine are frequent colds, flu cases, fatigue, and intestinal issues. And, if your deficiency levels are more extreme, you’re prone to lose muscle.
Be aware that certain medical conditions, such as injuries, surgery, infections, and prolonged stress, can all lower natural glutamine levels.
How to get the right amount of glutamine
Now that I’ve hopefully convinced you about the benefits of getting the right amount of glutamine, let’s talk about ways to increase it if you’re deficient in it.
The best way is always with food. Glutamine is found in quite a variety of foods. Because glutamine is a necessary part of protein, pretty much any food that has protein will contain some glutamine. The largest amounts are usually in animal products due to their high protein content, but there are some plant-based foods with lots of glutamine as well.
Foods that are high in glutamine include:
- Beef (we recommend grass-fed whenever possible)
- Red cabbage
- Ricotta cheese
- Yogurt (Check out our informative post on the benefits of fermented foods)
- Dark leafy greens
- Organ meats (Another super healthy option, read more here)
- Bone broth (So incredibly good for you – check out our post here)
Of course you should always make sure to only include foods you can tolerate. Focusing on increasing your daily protein is an easy way to increase the amount of glutamine you’re consuming.
Don’t forget, Carla has put together an amazing repository on our website of Gut-Healthy Recipes. We’ve got some great recipes that would help boost your glutamine intake. Take a look at some of my favorites:
I typically eat lots of these foods and plenty of them, so when I do a big workout and need extra amino acids, I use Kion Essential Amino Acid Powder. This product has all 9 amino acids. I simply add a scoop to my water, stir it up, and drink. I’ve noticed that with each of my hair analysis tests, my profile on Amino Acids just keeps improving.
Note: Please remember, we’re not doctors. We’re just sharing with you what’s worked for us on our health journey. You will want to consult your doctor before making any major changes to your diet and supplementation.
Check your glutamine levels with a More Than Healthy hair analysis
If you don’t know if you’re deficient in glutamine, then a great way to find out is with hair analysis testing, an amazingly informative service now offered at More Than Healthy. With just a few strands of your hair, you receive a full report that looks at toxins, nutrients, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, electromagnetic frequency exposure, chemicals, radiation, parasites, immune factors, and which foods you should avoid. Go to our website to learn more. You can schedule a local hair analysis or order it online to be mailed to you today.
It’s time to become “more than healthy”
As always, we enjoy hearing from you. If you have health questions on anything we’ve discussed or really any issue, you can go to our social media pages on Facebook or Instagram (@morethanhealthyliving). We try to respond to all questions.
We’d love to become your health coaches as you work to become “more than healthy.” It really is possible to live better, feel younger, and be vibrantly healthy! Let us help you get there.
Thanks for joining us, and we’ll see you next week.