The basic units or builders of proteins are called as amino acids. There are more than 18 unique types of amino acids every human body needs. These acids are broadly classified into two – namely, nonessential and essential amino acids. Of these, the non-essential type is naturally made by your body; glutamine is one such substance. D-glutamine and L-glutamine are well-known variants of this amino acid. Of this, utility of the D variant is not fully known to medical sciences. On the other hand, the L-variant – called as L-glutamine is known to play a vital role in many functions. Supplements of this substance are administered to improve many activities such as healing by repair of tissues. You need to know the safe levels of intake and the likely side effects it may cause before starting to take its supplements.

Supplements of L-glutamine can be extracted from either vegetables or animal-based proteins. These supplements are taken for the treatment of a range of medical conditions such as mood-based disorders, schizophrenia, sleeping disorders, obesity, etc. L-glutamine supplement is also taken to help people recover from second or third-degree burns as well as to lessen the side effects caused by chemotherapeutic meds. Among cancer patients, the supplement has helped reduce skin damage and prevent the onset of other dermatological conditions. Produced mainly in your muscles, it helps streamline immunity levels as well as renal health. Not stopping with these, L-glutamine is also important for the health of your intestine; especially, maintenance of intestinal health through timely repair. One of the key uses is its ability to boost immune levels and help control infections after surgeries or injuries.

Side effects of L-glutamine

You need to remember that it is the most commonly made amino acid in your body. It is also the most common form among all amino acids present in bodily fluids, such as blood. Despite being made in your body, when you are experiencing trauma or surgical wounds, you may need to take supplements of this amino acid. It was widely thought that it may not cause any major or serious adverse reactions if taken in larger doses. However, a few clinical studies have associated some serious side effects to long term intake of L-glutamine supplements.

Common side effects of L-glutamine

The most commonly experienced side effects of its intake over an extended period are epileptic fits, convulsions, spasms, cramping of muscles or seizures. Hence, people who are taking antiepileptic meds or muscle relaxants need to exercise needful caution while starting a dose of L-glutamine supplements. Your treating doctor needs to know about your medication plans as well as your medical history, including current muscle-related discomforts, if any.

Prior medical conditions, especially liver related problems

This supplement can cause acute side effects when taken by people living with serious liver conditions; such as, cirrhosis of the liver, hepatitis or inflammation of liver, etc. Liver plays a key role in processing this supplement; hence, a damaged liver can lead to a large portion of L-glutamine doses to remain unprocessed.

For pregnant women and those who are breastfeeding

There are no scientific or well-documented evidences about its safety on women who are pregnant. So, if you are planning to become pregnant or already pregnant, you need to talk to a qualified medical practitioner before taking L-glutamine. In general, your physician may advise you to stay away from this supplement during pregnancy; especially, during the advanced stages.

Similarly, women who are nursing an infant or breastfeeding are advised not to take this supplement. The reason being – there is very little scientific evidence or research done on the safety of L-glutamine on breastfeeding mothers. The treating doctor will advise you to stop taking this supplement – for at least 15 days – before starting to breastfeed your baby.

People living with a compromised immunity system

Your body may need more amounts of L-glutamine when you are having any wounds, burns or if you are recovering from a major surgical procedure. In such instances, your immunity levels may get reduced if inadequate levels of amino acids are consumed. If your diet is devoid of needful proteins, the immediate option is to draw them from storage points, such as muscles and a few tissues. Once these storages are under siege, your immune health only weakens further. Those who have recently experienced wounds or burns are hence advised to take plentiful protein-rich foods.

But, evidences are yet to be established on the impact of supplements of L-glutamine on normal individuals leading a healthy life. Medical sciences indicate that healthy people can meet the needs of this amino acid through a normal diet. Above all, you must also remember that your body – on its own – is capable of making this amino acid.

Intestinal health and impact on overall wellbeing

Provision of needful amounts of L-glutamine is essential for the health of your guts. You need to know that intestinal health is a key prerequisite for your entire wellbeing. This is because of the presence of immunity boosting capabilities in the cells of intestines. Also, do not forget the billions and billions of microbes living in your guts. Balanced immune health of intestines and regulation of a huge number of bacterial strands in your guts are the two (2) fundamental functions of L-glutamine. Inadequate supply of L-glutamine is likely to permit bacterial strands in your guts to move to other parts of your body. Thus, this amino acid plays an important role in maintaining your intestinal wellbeing as well as in keeping you healthy.

Precautions to be taken prior to consuming L-glutamine to avoid side effects and discomforts

In general, you are advised to exercise needful caution while taking this supplement. It is considered a good practice to talk to your doctor if you need additional clarifications about the quantum for its daily dose. For almost all people, a daily dose of 4 to 5 grams of L-glutamine is recommended. You need to remember you may receive almost the same level – on a daily basis – from the foods you commonly eat. According to some scientific studies, for grown-up individuals (both genders) – a safe dosage level of supplementary form of L-glutamine is 12 to 13 grams per day. Hence, an intake of 5 grams is well below the safety level. However, for younger adults as well as children, the daily dose must never exceed 0.50 grams per day per kilogram of the child’s body weight. Instead of supplements, children can also be fed with foods with abundant amounts of this amino acid compound.

Other safety precautions

Most supplements of L-glutamine – available in groceries or health food chains – are not regulated by a central regulatory authority like say, the food and drug administration (FDA). Hence, it is important to buy products made by reputed and authentic manufacturers. But, how to know a manufacturer is reliable? There a few ways to find this out – (1) look for manufacturers who have opted for third-party certifications, in a voluntary manner or (2) check if certifiers like NSF, ConsumerLab, US Pharmacopeia and the likes have issued a certification after an audit of the manufacturing processes. Vegans and vegetarians need to check if the sources are plant-based – for example, items such as fermented vegetables, beets, etc.

You can easily procure supplements of L-glutamine from web-based pharmacies or online health shops, health food chains, groceries, etc. You can also explore food shops which exclusively sell dietary supplements. Also, remember that L-glutamine is made both as a powder and as a pill (capsule). Talk to your doctor if you are not sure which variant will suit you best.

Standard sources of L-glutamine

L-glutamine-rich foods are meat (beef), tofu, eggs, corn-based foods, rice (especially, white variants), dairy products such as milk, etc. Among these foods, meats (chiefly, beef) have more than 1.1 grams of L-glutamine in a standard serving of 4-ounces. Eggs also have a reasonable level of this substance; a serving of 2 eggs can give you more than 0.50 grams of L-glutamine. Vegetarians or vegans can source it from tofu (which has more than 0.50 grams of L-glutamine in a serving of 3.60 ounces), corn (has more than 0.35 grams of it in 0.5 cup or half of standard serving) or from rice (above 0.25 grams in half serving).

Share of proteins present in the form of L-glutamine

Among the foods in which L-glutamine is abundantly available, animal-based foods score over vegetables and plant-based sources. A key reason is the high share of proteins found in organ meats. However, a few exceptions among plant-based sources are rice, corn and soy-based foods (such as tofu). In terms of share of proteins, nearly 16% of proteins present in corn are made of L-glutamine. This is followed by rice (white variants) wherein more than 11% of its proteins manifest as L-glutamine. Rice is closely followed by tofu and milk, with 8 to 9% of proteins in these foods are in the form of L-glutamine. You need to remember that animal-based foods are – in general – high in protein share in general; this is the reason why beef and eggs have lesser than 5% of the total protein share in form of this amino acid. Another important fact to note is – the presence of L-glutamine in absolute percentage is highest in beef and eggs – i.e., when compared with plant-based foods. This fact also underscores that protein content in plant-based foods is low in an absolute scale.

The easiest way to ensure that your body gets ample amounts of L-glutamine is to ensure your diet is well-balanced, with adequate amounts of proteins. This is because L-glutamine is an integral part of proteins. So, consumption of foods – animal-based or plant-based foods – which are rich in proteins is the best possible way to meet the amino acid needs of your system.

In sum, always remember that a short-term dosage of L-glutamine is considered safe, and is unlikely to trigger any major side effects. Also, dosages in smaller quantities of less than 5 grams per day are highly recommended. This supplement is likely to cause adverse effects or allergies only if it is (1) consumed for a longer period and (2) taken in larger dosage forms each day.

The most common side effects caused by its persistent use include convulsions, cramps and seizures. Also, those who already have a liver condition – such as say, hepatitis or cirrhosis – are advised to stay away from taking this supplement. As a safety measure, you must inform your physician about the medication and / or treatment plans currently being pursued. It is also a good practice to share details about your medical history, including current muscle-related ailments, if any. Your medical team will prescribe safer alternatives or can help change your diet plan to minimise the likely side effects of L-glutamine.

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