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Glutamine and Immune Health: Worth it?

Glutamine is the one of the most researched supplements on the market. It has been solidified in the fitness industry as a helpful addition for muscle recovery, but over the last decade or so the medical industry has been looking into glutamine much more heavily, particularly in the interest of immune health.

glutamine and immune health

Getting an understanding of what glutamine is and what it does for the body will help make the following paragraphs much more understandable. Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid found in the body, so that alone should serve as some indicator of how important it is. Glutamine is considered a non-essential amino acid; this is due to the body’s ability to make enough glutamine on its’ own without needing it from an external source (food, supplement). However, during times of extreme stress, illness or injury your body needs more glutamine than it can make. This is why glutamine and immune health have been an important topic.

During instances of extreme stress, the body is producing cortisol (a hormone) at a much more rapid pace than normal. Cortisol lowers our body’s natural glutamine stores, which can prevent our body from being able to reap the full benefits of the amino acid in times of stress. As it was stated earlier, glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the body and need for many different chemical reactions and serves several purposes within the body. Let’s run down two of the main needs as they directly relate to immune health:

· It’s the primary source of fuel for leukocytes and certain intestinal cells

· Helps maintain a healthy barrier between the intestinal wall and the rest of the body

Leukocytes are important white blood cells that are needed when our body is fighting an infection, and glutamine is what fuels these cells. If/when there is an infection present in the body, glutamine stores will decrease and there will be less fuel for our immune system to fight the present “attack”. Hence, supplementing with glutamine during an illness can improve recovery and outcome. In extreme cases, glutamine is often used in hospital-based settings via IV(intra-venous) nutrition.

When it comes to glutamine and gut health, you may be thinking…”But what does gut health have to do with immune health?” And the answer is, a lot actually. Glutamine has been researched and used in cases of IBS and “leaky gut” and has shown promising results, so it only make sense that gut health would be considered when talking about immune health as well. Seventy percent of the immune system resides in our gut. Dan Peterson, a professor from John Hopkins University School of Medicine explains it well by saying:

“A huge proportion of your immune system is actually in your GI tract. The immune system is inside your body, and the bacteria are outside your body, and yet they interact.”

Glutamine’s role in all of this begins to make more sense – given that it helps maintain the barrier between the intestinal wall (outside the body) and the rest of the body (inside the body); the role of creating a healthy barrier shows extreme importance for immune health.

So what is the takeaway from all of this?

Should you supplement with glutamine? It’s not required, BUT if you find your body is under higher stress, and illness, or recovering from an injury it may be advantageous. High stress could look different for everyone – external stress (job, relationships, big life change, etc,) or internal stress (currently in a caloric deficit, hormone imbalances). It may be worth trying if you are undergoing stress, an illness or injury.

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