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What is glutamine? Why do we need it?

Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the body; it is involved in more metabolic processes than any other amino acid.

It can be converted into glucose when the body requires more glucose as an energy source; it can serve as a source of fuel for cells that line the intestines; and it can be used by white blood cells to enhance the body's immune function.

Animal studies have shown that glutamine acts as an anti-inflammatory. Used in conjunction with another substance, N-acetyl cysteine, glutamine promotes the synthesis of glutathione, an antioxidant believed to work against HIV infections. Other evidence shows that intravenous glutamine supplementation can help critically ill patients survive.

How much glutamine should I take?

Because glutamine is not an essential element, and because it is produced by the body, no dietary guidelines have been established. A qualified health care practitioner should be consulted before taking glutamine supplements.

What are some good sources of glutamine? What forms are available?

Glutamine is produced by the body. Additional sources include many high-protein foods such as fish, meat, beans and dairy products. As a supplement, it is available in capsule, tablet and powder form.

What can happen if I don't get enough glutamine? What can happen if I take too much? Are there any side-effects I should be aware of?

While deficiencies are rare, they can occur in patients who are critically ill, are fasting, or have severe cases of cirrhosis. As of this writing, there are no known instances of glutamine toxicity. Certain medications, such as paclitaxel, and other chemotherapy drugs, may interact with glutamine. Make sure to speak with a qualified health care practitioner before taking glutamine supplements.


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  • Griffiths RD. Outcome of critically ill patients after supplementation with glutamine. Nutrition 1997;13:752—4.
  • Klimberg VS, Nwokedi E, Hutchins LF, et al. Glutamine facilitates chemotherapy while reducing toxicity. JPEN J Parenter Enteral Nutr 1992;16(6 Suppl):83S—87S.
  • Robinson MK et al. Glutathione deficiency and HIV infection. Lancet 1992;339:1603—4.
  • Rubio IT, Cao Y, Hutchins LF, et al. Effect of glutamine on methotrexate efficacy and toxicity. Ann Surg 1998;227:772—8.
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