Glutamine, or L-glutamine, is an amino acid derived from another amino acid, glutamic acid. It serves as a precursor to D-glucosamine, an amino sugar well-known for its ability to relieve pain and inflammation and regenerate connective tissue in people and pets with osteoarthritis. Severe stresses may result in a temporary glutamine deficiency.
There is no daily requirement for glutamine as the body can make its own glutamine. High-protein foods such as meat, fish, beans, and dairy products are excellent sources of glutamine.
Glutamine plays a role in the health of the immune system, digestive tract, and muscle cells, as well as other bodily functions. It appears to serve as a fuel for the cells that line the intestines (it serves as a primary energy source for the mucosal cells that line the intestinal tract). Because stress on the intestinal cells (such as chronic inflammatory bowel disease) can increase the need for glutamine as the body replaces the cells lining the intestinal tract, glutamine is often recommended for pets with chronic bowel disorders including inflammatory bowel disease. Heavy exercise, infection, surgery, and trauma can deplete the body’s glutamine reserves, particularly in muscle cells.
It has also been suggested as a treatment for food allergies, based on the "leaky gut syndrome." This theory holds that in some pets whole proteins leak through the wall of the digestive tract and enter the blood, causing allergic reactions. Preliminary evidence suggests glutamine supplements might reduce leakage through the intestinal wall. In people and pets, glutamine is also recommended to reduce the loss of muscle mass (as may occur during injury, stress, or high-endurance activities as might be encountered by dogs competing in field trials).
Glutamine is also a precursor to the enzyme glutamine: fructose-6-phosphate amidotransferase, which plays a role in the development of insulin resistance that may eventually manifest itself as diabetes if there is an imbalance or deficiencies in glutamine levels. Supplementing diabetic pets with glutamine may be helpful, although more research is needed in this area.
Glutamine may reduce the gastrointestinal toxicity of some chemotherapy drugs. It can also prevent inflammation of the intestinal tract caused by radiation therapy of this area. Glutamine should be considered as a supplement for dogs undergoing half-body irridiation for the treatment of lymphosarcoma.
There is little real evidence that glutamine works as a treatment for true food allergies, although it is highly recommended for pets with various bowel disorders.
In people, there is evidence glutamine supplements might have significant nutritional benefits for those who are seriously ill. In one study, 84 critically ill hospital patients were divided into two groups. All the patients were being fed through a feeding tube. One group received a normal feeding-tube diet, whereas the other group received this diet plus supplemental glutamine. After six months, 14 of the 42 patients receiving glutamine had died, compared with 24 of the control group. The glutamine group also left both the intensive care ward and the hospital significantly sooner than the patients who did not receive glutamine. Adding glutamine to the feeding formulas of hospitalized pets might be warranted.
Recommended dosages in pets are 250 to 3,000 mg daily. Maximum safe dosages for young children, pregnant or nursing women, or those with severe liver or kidney disease have not been determined; similar precautions are probably warranted in pets.
Glutamine, being one of the body’s amino acids, is thought to be a safe supplement when taken at recommended dosages. Because many anti-epilepsy drugs work by blocking glutamate stimulation in the brain, high dosages of glutamine may overwhelm these drugs and pose a risk to pets with epilepsy. If your pet is taking anti-seizure medications, glutamine should only be used under veterinary supervision.
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Shawn Messonnier, DVM
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Shawn Messonnier DVM Past Supporting Member, Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians Author, the award-winning The Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats, The Natural Vet’s Guide to Preventing and Treating Cancer in Dogs, and Breast Choices for the Best Chances: Your Breasts, Your Life, and How YOU Can Win The Battle!
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