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Glutamine is an amino acid that helps build and maintain the muscles of the body. It also helps remove toxic ammonia from the liver and helps maintain a healthy central nervous system.

Glutamine easily passes through the blood-brain barrier, a protective barrier formed by the red blood cells and the glia of the brain that protects the brain from any toxins, bacteria, and viruses, etc., that are circulating through the bloodstream. Inside the brain glutamine may be converted into glutamic acid, another amino acid that helps sustain proper brain function; it also increases levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), an amino acid that acts as a neurotransmitter in the body. L-glutamine supplements may improve mental function and have been used to treat epilepsy, depression, schizophrenia, and senility. Glutamine is also an important source of energy for the nervous system. If the brain is not receiving enough glucose, it compensates by increasing glutamine metabolism for energy. Glutamine users often report more energy, less fatigue and better mood.

Glutamine promotes a healthy digestive tract by helping to balance acid/alkaline levels in the body. Glutamine from food can be directly absorbed into the cells of the small intestine, and thus may be helpful for people with digestive who have trouble absorbing nutrients. Some health professionals believe that glutamine supplements may benefit people with intestinal problems like ileitis and Crohn’s disease. Glutamine helps remove toxic ammonia from the liver—excess nitrogen in the liver attaches itself to glutamic acid to form glutamine rather than being converted into ammonia. Glutamine also protects the liver from the effects of alcohol and acetaminophen overdose.

Glutamine helps transport nitrogen to other parts of the body as well, the muscles in particular. By regulating levels of nitrogen and helping to replenish glycogen supplies in the muscles, glutamine helps prevent the muscle breakdown during particularly strenuous workouts. Many serious body builders swear by glutamine for preserving and building muscle mass. Glutamine is the most abundant single amino acid in both blood and muscle tissue; up to 60 percent of the amino acid content in skeletal muscle tissue is glutamine. Because this amino acid helps to build and maintain muscle, supplemental glutamine may be useful for dieters, bodybuilders, and anyone with chronic conditions that require the prolonged bed rest that can contribute to muscular deterioration, such as cancer or AIDS.

Glutamine promotes normal cell division throughout the body. It is key to the development of DNA and RNA, and to the formation of cells that function as part of the immune system, such as thymocytes, lymphocytes, and macrophages. Without sufficient glutamine, the immune system would cease to function. For this reason glutamine is sometimes recommended for people who suffer from diseases linked to a malfunctioning immune system, such as rheumatoid arthritis, chronic fatigue, scleroderma, and AIDS. Glutamine may also be useful to those recovering from surgery or acute injury—when the body is under stress it may release as much as one-third of the glutathione in muscles to provide extra fuel to the injury site, and supplementation may be necessary to prevent muscle cannibalization.

Glutamine is found in many foods, but it is easily destroyed by cooking. If eaten raw, spinach and parsley are good sources. Glutathione is available in capsules and powders, and is added to most amino acid complexes. It is also included in many powder drinks marketed as muscle enhancers.

Anyone with liver or kidney problems, Reye’s syndrome, or any type of disorder that can result in an accumulation of ammonia in the blood should not take glutamine, as it may aggravate these conditions.

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