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NMU 133 – Glutamine and Immunity

Nutrition / Natural Medicine Update No 133 (June 26, 2019)

with Dr. James Meschino


Topic: Glutamine Supplementation Shown to Support Immune Function in Specific Cases (Infection, Overtraining, Hypercatabolic Stress)

Source: Journal “Nutrients” (October 2018)


The most abundant amino acid in the body is the amino acid glutamine, which we obtain from a variety of protein-containing foods. Glutamine serves many functions in the body but one of its most interesting and impressive roles is that it is a primary fuel for many immune cells and it supports other important aspects of immune function. During infection or hypercatabolism (which occurs in burn victims, critically ill subjects, as well as when undergoing regular intense exercise), there is an increased demand for glutamine by immune cells. If the supply does not keep up with the demand, then the immune system becomes compromised and negative health outcomes often follow. For this reason, several clinical trials have been undertaken to show that providing critically ill patients or patients undergoing invasive surgeries, with glutamine supplementation, reduces the risk of death, other complications and shorten the hospital stay.

Further studies are underway to substantiate these findings, but the indication is that under certain stressful conditions when the immune system is being overtaxed, glutamine supplementation may be helpful to keep infections at bay or to help the immune system fight an infection that is in progress. Likewise, in long-distance runners, some studies have shown that glutamine supplementation reduces the risk of upper respiratory tract infections.  Intense exercise training is known to weaken the immune system and increase the frequency of upper respiratory tract infections among athletes with rigorous training schedules. Glutamine has been shown to reduce these infections. After age 60, one of our very important immune cells called neutrophils, become much less able to kill emerging cancer cells or various bacteria, viruses or other microbes, as neutrophil’s ability to generate respiratory bursts and blow up these undesirable cells and microbes becomes compromised. This leaves us more prone to cancer and life-threatening infections like pneumonia. One of the ways that glutamine supports immunity is by providing neutrophils with the raw materials from which it can boost their respiratory burst capacity.

Thus, glutamine supplementation, as part of an anti-aging program, may deserve some consideration to help preserve this part of our immune function. As far as daily practical application for most of us, studies hint that during infections (like colds or flus) or during lingering low-grade infections (chronic fatigue, chronic bronchitis, chronic mono, Epstein-barre) glutamine supplementation (5-10 gm per day) may be helpful to support your body’s immune system capacity to fight these infections.  If you routinely train hard at the gym or have a very labor-intensive job, then glutamine supplementation may help your immune system stay strong during periods when it is being overtaxed by this type of hypercatabolic-inducing stress.

Two words of caution about glutamine supplementation. As glutamine can stimulate certain aspects of immune activity it may not be advisable for those with an autoimmune disease to supplement with glutamine.  As well, some cancer cells can use glutamine as a source of energy and help synthesize their DNA for cell replication. So, although glutamine supplementation may help immune cells kill cancer cells and has been shown to protect the gut lining from inflammation and other damage induced by cancer radiation treatments, the risk is that glutamine may also help certain cancer cells thrive. Thus, if you have cancer or are a cancer survivor, other types of immune support may be more advantageous, such as the use of medicinal mushrooms. But that’s a whole other topic.

For today, I want you to be aware that glutamine supplementation (adding glutamine powder to shake or juice – 5-10 gm) may be helpful to support immune function in cases of acute or chronic infection and may help to reduce infection frequency under conditions of intense physical stress or exertion.

I have included the three main references for this information in the text below


1. Cruzat V, Rogero MM, Keane KN, Curi R, Newsholme P. Glutamine: Metabolism and immune function, supplementation, and clinical translation. Nutrients. Oct 23, 2018 10(1): 1564


2. Meils GC, ter Wengel N, Boelens PG, van Leeuwen PA. Glutamine; recent developments in research on the clinical significance of glutamine. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2004 Jan;7(1):59-70




Eat Smart, Live Well, Look Great,

Dr. Meschino

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