G is for Glutamine

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Randi Karlinsky MS, RDN, LDN, CHC, NASM-CPT

Glutamine is one of 20 amino acids that serve as the building blocks of protein in our body. Amino acids are categorized into two groups, 9 essential and 11 non-essential. The essential amino acids must be consumed through food because the body is unable to produce them naturally while the 11 non-essential amino acids are produced by the body. Glutamine is not only part of the non-essential group, it is the most abundant natural amino acid in the body. However, there are times our body may not produce the amount of glutamine needed making it a conditionally essential amino acid.

Glutamine serves as a critical fuel source for both immune system cells, such as white blood cells, and certain intestinal cells. The main function of the intestinal cells is to maintain a strong barrier between the intestines and the rest of the body. This barrier prevents harmful toxins and bacteria from leaving the intestines potentially threatening our body’s health.

There are times when glutamine levels become too low compromising the immune system and making our body more susceptible to infections, viruses, etc. This can happen when blood levels decrease after a traumatic injury, severe burns or undergoing surgery. As a result, the body’s need for glutamine will increase above its ability to produce it causing our body to break down protein stores such as muscle to produce the amino acid.

On the upside, there have been many studies that show an increase in glutamine intake can be very helpful in treating major injuries and speeding up recovery from major surgeries. The risk for infection decreases significantly improving overall health.

Glutamine is generally found anywhere there is protein. As long as you consume foods with adequate protein throughout the day, you will feed your body adequate glutamine. Consult your Registered Dietitian or physician if you are considering a glutamine supplement.