Glutamine is one of the 20 amino acids that serve as the building blocks for all life on this planet (as far as life on other planets, who knows). But glutamine itself is a unique amino acid that really stands out from the crowd and may be especially beneficial to those intolerant to gluten. So what is it, what sets it apart from other amino acids, and most importantly: why do you care?
Generally, amino acids are divided into two groups: essential and non-essential. Essential amino acids are very intuitively named because they are, in fact, an essential part of the human diet. Unless we ingest these amino acids in our food, there is no other way of getting them and we would perish without them. Non-essential amino acids are the ones that our body can make by itself, and thus are not essential for humans to consume. Glutamine, though, kind of straddles the line and is considered to be “conditionally essential.” Our bodies can produce it, but the prevailing wisdom nowadays is that under certain conditions, our bodies need more glutamine than they can make. Conditions where glutamine may become conditionally essential include times of physical or mental stress, as well as when you are recovering from any sort of physical injury, whether it be major surgery, a vigorous workout, a cut on your knee, or when your gut has been damaged by ingesting gluten.
Glutamine serves many important functions in the human body. It helps shuttle nitrogen around for various biological processes and is a good overall marker of protein/nutritional status. If I wanted to know how well-nourished you were and I could have only one piece of information, the amount of glutamine floating around in your blood would give me a pretty good idea. Glutamine is also a major fuel source for intestinal cells, the groups of cells that are often damaged in Celiac and gluten-free patients. The gut and how well it functions plays a major role in overall health and the strength of the immune system. Glutamine not only fuels intestinal cells and promotes gut health, it is also utilized directly by the immune cells in your body. In this sense, glutamine scratches the gluten-free dieter right where he or she probably itches. By being a major contributing factor to gut and immune system health, glutamine promotes healing, gastrointestinal health, and reduced inflammation (inflammation is related to everything from Celiac Disease to heart disease and is a major contributor to poor overall health).
So how do you get more glutamine into your diet? Being that glutamine is an amino acid, anything that contains protein will contain glutamine. So the best sources of protein (meat, fish, eggs, and dairy) are also good sources of glutamine. Supplementation is another way to get more glutamine into your diet. Capsules of glutamine powder are sold by many health food and supplement store and typically aren’t that expensive, a purchase of $20-$25 should get you a supply that will last at least a month or two. And because of glutamine’s far-reaching beneficial effects, it is a small investment that could pay big dividends.
So should you consider glutamine supplementation or a higher protein diet? For both those following a traditional diet or a gluten-free/Celiac diet, glutamine supplementation may be beneficial. Who couldn’t benefit from a stronger immune system and a better functioning gut? A strong immune system is directly implicated in your body’s ability to heal and recover from everything from a paper cut to cancer and heart disease. And especially for Celiac and gluten-sensitive patients that often suffer from major gastrointestinal damage and distress, glutamine may be exactly what your body needs (more of). Some Celiac and gluten-free patients do benefit from glutamine supplementation, and others do not. As is true with many aspects of the gluten-free lifestyle, what works for one person and what is tolerated by one person, may not work or be tolerated by the next person. But if you haven’t tried glutamine supplementation and are looking for ways to better control and manage your symptoms and overall health, perhaps it is worth a shot. Glutamine, the little amino acid that could, may help reduce inflammation, improve gut and immune function, and lead to better overall health and well-being.
Article Courtesy: Andrew Steingrube