Glutamine: Is this powerful nutrient safe for you?

2017 has officially started and I’m sure many of you have made your health a priority this year. A very powerful nutrient, glutamine, will probably be introduced to you to aid in your health goals. In today’s post, I explain what glutamine is, it’s effect on the brain and body, and why it’s not a safe nutrient for everyone.

Special thanks to Dr. William Walsh of the Walsh Research Institute for his insights into this powerful nutrient. Dr. Walsh’s research in the area of mental health has been accepted by the American Psychiatric Association and has helped thousands (including myself) recover from mental health imbalances.

What is Glutamine?

Glutamine is an amino acid used in the biosynthesis of proteins and is a major player in many biochemical functions including:

  • Protein synthesis, as any other of the 20 proteinogenic amino acids
  • Lipid synthesis, especially by cancer cells.
  • Regulation of acid-base balance in the kidney by producing ammonium
  • Cellular energy, as a source, next to glucose
  • Nitrogen donation for many anabolic processes, including the synthesis of purines
  • Carbon donation, as a source, refilling the citric acid cycle
  • Nontoxic transporter of ammonia in the blood circulation
  • Precursor to the neurotransmitter glutamate [1]

As an oral supplement, glutamine is used in catabolic states of injury and illness. It has been used to combat muscle wasting that occurs in people with advanced cancer and HIV/AIDS, as well as professional athletes that expend lots of physical energy. People with gut infections and intestinal barrier issues have also experienced improvement with glutamine. [2] In general, glutamine is a terrific positive for physical health.

Glutamine’s effect on the brain is completely different.

Glutamate, which comes from glutamine, is the #1 neurotransmitter in the brain. The two primary neurotransmitters in the brain that are both active and in the highest concentrations are glutamate receptors (of which there are many different types) and GABA. Glutamine is the precursor for both of them. As it turns out, glutamate is very excitatory and can be very neurotoxic. On the other hand, GABA which also comes from glutamine, actually neutralizes excess glutamate. One controls the other and it’s a nice compensatory system where one compensates for the other. However, in the brain, the major concern is having too much glutamate.

What is glutamate?

Glutamate is the #1 amino acid in the bloodstream with copious amounts flowing around in the periphery of the body. It comes from glutamine and the reaction of glutamine to glutamate is a straightforward one, primarily occurring in glial cells. Glial cells are brain cells that support and help nourish brain neurons (brain cells). This process is very active and direct. Glutamine can pass the blood-brain barrier very readily. The brain always has lots of glutamate and glutamine present. The problem is that glutamate tends toward neuronal hyperactivity. In other words, it’s excitatory and too much neuronal activity can kill brain cells.

There’s a number of mechanisms by which this can happen. Glutamate can actually kill brain cells and high glutamate levels have been observed is some pretty intense diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS), and autism. One thing an individual never wants is to have too much glutamate functioning in the brain because it can kill the brain. When excessive glutamate is in the vicinity of neurons, it tends to allow too much calcium to enter the neurons and that can kill of mitochondria and therefore brain cells.

How does GABA work in the brain?

It has to do with brain cell voltage. The brain has about 80 billion neurons (or brain cells) and they don’t divide. You will have pretty much the same neuronal brain cells that you were born with. We know that with respect to neurotransmission, and for the brain to function, brain cells have to be firing and communicating with each other, and this happens by way of voltage.

So anything that tends to lower that voltage tends to cause the cell to fire. There are numerous glutamate receptors on every brain cell and when they interact with those cells, they lower the voltage and make it more likely to fire. There is also a high number of GABA receptors on almost every brain cell, and if you have GABA interacting with a neuron at a receptor, it increases the voltage of that brain cell, therefore making it less likely to fire, so it’s calming.

GABA calms the brain making brain neurons in general less hyperactive, whereas glutamate does the exact opposite.

Glutamate, Chronic Overexcitability and N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) Receptors

Glutamate causes an enormously high percentage of brains to act to fire and have overexcitability. Chronic overexcitability of neurons causes apoptosis (death of brain cells) and is associated with a number of mental health conditions such as mania in bipolar disorder and hyperactivity (to name a few) and in addition to being neurotoxic, it can actually kill brain cells.

Some people are more prone to overexcitability than others and this is why testing is essential. Then there are people born without a tendency for neuronal hyperactivity so for them, glutamine is likely safe.

For people born with a tendency for neuronal excitability or hyperactivity, their brain cells tend to fire more than most people and these are the people most at risk to glutamate. Overmethylated individuals or patients who have high copper levels (not able to regulate copper) tend toward high neuronal activity which can cause anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. So for them, glutamine supplements can be very dangerous.

N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) is a glutamate receptor, but the complication is that whereas glutamate tends to be something that you want to avoid in most of the brain, for people who are in trouble, you want to increase glutamate activity at the NMDA receptor without affecting the rest of the glutamate receptors, which is what we are able to do with nutrient therapy.

The NMDA receptor is a peculiar one. It has a lot to do with memory and obsessive compulsive tendencies. It’s a leading culprit in terms of malfunctioning for schizophrenia. You have to have a simultaneous docking of glutamate at a receptor and at the same time, there’s another receptor that’s a dual receptor system that has to interact with several neurotransmitters.

What about free glutamates that come from natural foods?

I have found this is really dependent on the patient’s chemistry and symptoms, as well as food preparation methods. My experience with healing foods, such as bone broth, is that they can be made safely (such as meat stock that’s cooked slow and at a lower temperature with less time, usually 3 hours) therefore producing significantly less glutamic acid, while still imparting healing benefits.

Final Thoughts

If you struggle with any kind of mental health issue (even if it’s mild), you’d be wise to steer clear of any form of glutamine supplementation (l-glutamine is the most common). If you are supplementing, I encourage keeping a journal notating any responses. Even if you are an athlete, it’s wise to be aware of any harm it could be causing (be sure to read labels, l-glutamine is hidden in many protein powders).

Also, keep in mind that gut issues often have methylation imbalances, copper toxicity, and pyrrole disorder at their core, which makes testing an important tool in the recovery process.

If you know of someone who struggles with a chronic mental health condition, please share this post. If you are struggling, please share your experience in the comments below. It is through sharing your story that we create community, eliminate guilt and shame, and bring about healing.

Love,
SamiSig

Comments 34

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      Author

      Glutathione is often confused with glutamate, but they are very different. Glutathione is generally safe for most people, but I would check with your practitioner first.

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  1. Albeit glutamine having repercussions for those with mental health imbalances, I have documented no real negative effect at randomized doses under 5g. Glutamine, from what I’ve read, takes a week or so to build up in our system (hence the “loading” phase in athletes), therefore I seem to be having sucess taking it during shorter periods of time; allowing my body to receive the gut healing and muscle repair benefits. It can be a wonderful supplement to administer where slow muscle recover is predominate, or other gut healing protocols are seemingly not working. It was the one nutrient that gave me relief of intense post exercise muscle pain 🙂

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      Author

      I agree it is a great nutrient, but even at lower doses, it can create significant negative reactions. I’m glad it worked well for you!

  2. Hi Sami
    I had blood test done and noticed that copper and zinc were also tested.
    I’ve read that the copper/zinc ratio is as important as each level by itself and also the ceruloplasmin is also significant. When I try to determine the ratio it doesn’t come out to match and any reference that I read of so I think I’m figuring it wrong.
    If my copper is 114 (mcg/dL) and zinc is 71 (mcg/dL), ceruloplasmin is 28 (mg/dl), can you tell me how to determine the ration?
    Thank you

    1. You just divide the copper value by the zinc. Your ratio is 1.6,too high right now (just like my daughter’s 🙂

  3. I remember taking L-glutamine many years ago after reading the Mood Cure by Julia Ross. I instantly felt very good. However, I think that taking it over the years may have contributed to problems down the road. Now I know I’m an overmethylator. I’m really thankful I did the biochemistry testing and that you are sharing this information.

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  4. Can you tell me how do I know if a collagen powder or protein powder contain glutamine,since, as you stated it can be hidden?

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      Author

      All protein powders contain free glutamates, which most aren’t a problem for most people. What you need to look out for is the addition of l-glutamine to their formula. It will be listed under ingredients on the nutrition label.

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  5. I’ve recently been taking approximately 15g of l-glutamine to heal leaky gut. I’ve noticed that after taking it my body temperature increases dramatically and can lead to sweating (I am normally run cold in temperature).

    Would this be a negative side-effect related to the brain? I can’t seem to find much information on the temperature side-effect.

  6. Where in Australia in Brisbane noosa and is there a great bio practitioner the one I’ve got at the moment is turning me around in circles
    Makes me,wonder how she is,being trained costing me thousands for a no care attitude

  7. So last year, I was completely healthy, great corporate high paying job, new car, recently married, everything was great, then like a flick of a switch, a rush surged up the back of my head and everything changed. Since that 10 second rush I’ve been in constant Derealization, everyday, all day, like I’m disconnected and in a dream. I have tinnitus, visual disturbance, migraines, occasional vertigo and anxiety. I’ve lost my career and have filed for disability. I was diagnosed with Meniere’s Disease, an inner ear disease and Vestibular Migraines but I sometimes wonder if Glutamine could’ve caused it. About a week before this hit me I started working out and taking BCAA’s which had L Glutamine as a main ingredient, as a pre workout. My first workout I took a full dosage and I was super wired, heart beating fast, I felt completely off so I slowed down to sipping it throughout the day vs all at once. A week later, boom, rush up my head and everything changed. Do you think there could be a connection? I’ve been told by doctors there’s nothing more they can do except prescribe me anxiety meds and am at the end of the road. Please feel free to email.

  8. Samantha,
    I don’t have a primary care physician and I do not have insurance anymore but I do desperately need help with eating disordered and deciding if I’m over methylated or under , I’m homo c677t and currently battling severe anxiety and social anxiety as well as depression and just out of control everything. Anyways I want a consultation with you but was wonder
    How we would go about get testings done and such. Thank you for our insightful website, you are amazing.

  9. So nobody should supplement with L-glutamine? I heard some forms of depression respond positively to L-glutamine. Do you feel nobody with depression should supplement with L-glutamine?

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  10. Hi Sami,

    My Name is Ana. Ive been really sick due to Copper Toxicity because of an IUD I had placed in December of 2015. The one thing I noticed that helped me get unstuck from the obsessive negative thinking, depression and Anxiety was 5g of lglutamine 2x a day. I Know that alot but it was helping me shift my attention and my anxiety and depression has been alot better as well. OF course Im also taking 400 mg of Magnesium and 100 mg of B6. I was just wondering …do you know if there is any connection with Lglutamine and copper toxicity?

    Thanks
    Ana

  11. I have a leaky gut and my health practitioner told me to take L glutamine , 3 capsules each day. I have been taking 50mg of dosulepin each day to prevent migraines. And have been on them for 4 years Anyway, I’m feeling awful since taking the glutamine, run down, tired, agitated, depressed and have never felt like this before. I’m going to stop taking them!

  12. For people who have been using L-glutamate for gut health but have methylation problems, depression and anxiety, what is a suggestive replacement to help gut health. My son needs his gut health to be better in order to absorb his vitamin/supplements. He has two autoimmune diseases. Gut health is horrible

    1. Man, I wish I knew. I’m in the same boat as your son… At least with the anxiety/autoimmune/leaky gut issue. Most practitioners for dealing with leaky gut/autoimmune (Hashimoto’s in my case) scream from the rooftops that L-Glutamine is indispensable for gut healing, and I have no reason not to believe them. However, taking more than a small amount (nowhere even near the 10-30g a day most places suggest for effectiveness) makes me feel very agitated and unwell. Soooo… when I post asking for alternatives or workarounds to the L-Glutamine problem, I just get silence in response. Frustrating as hell. Perhaps the writer of this article knows of a way to get past this?

  13. I’m a high-mileage runner/athlete in the anxiety/depression, leaky gut, fatigue, brain-fog, gluten sensitivity boat with you all. However, I have had very different results using collagen and l-glutamine. Even months after cleaning up my diet (x-nay the sugars, wheat, and dairy), I was still feeling pretty slow in the head although much better physically. I read that to heal the gut, elimination of the offending foods isn’t enough, that gut-healing supplements are usually needed. I started collagen & glutamine and I only take a half scoop of collagen and 5g of glutamine per day and have noticed my brain fog and fatigue reduced significantly. My memory and mood have improved as well and have realized a general better attitude. I believe the glutamine and/or collagen have been helpful in my case. (Note: I also take fish oil, CoQ10, turmeric, nettle but had taken those before beginning the collagen/glutamine).

  14. I suffer from an anxiety disorder and have a history of having super severe panic attacks.
    I know for a fact that Pheylalnine has caused me to have severe panic attacks.

    I’m fairly certain that I have leaky gut syndrome. I have seen that it is thought by some that L-glutamine may help heal leaky gut syndrome.

    So, might L-glutamine be dangerous for me due to my anxiety-disorder/panic-attacks?

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  15. I took glutamine supplement for the first time today due to starting exercising. I couldn’t sleep was actually high and due to me having some issues with life right now I thought I was having a manic episode for the first time. I am bipolar and have a family history of mania. I started reading up on mania and eventually lead me to this site. If this does that for me that has never had mania before I would definitely not recommend someone in same shoes to use the supplement. Thank god it was the supplement because I thought I was having my first manic episode. It’s 4am and feel like I can go another day. Definitely not normal behaviour!!!!!

  16. Hi last year I went to a functional doctor and started taking L-Glutamine for my gut. I only took it for over a week however I started to feel bad with headache and problems sleeping. I stopped taking the supplements and since then I has not been able to sleep. I has been suffering from insomnio for almost a year. I also have GAD 65 antibodies which means the glutamate does not convert to Gaba as easy. So I wonder if taking that supplement increase my glutamate levels and something happened in my brain. I feel fine during the day but at night is so difficult to fall sleep like my brain is wired and I was never like that before taking the supplement. Have you heard anything like this before? Need some help . Thank you

  17. My son has been taking glutamine (1000mg) and suffered sever sleep deprivation. He has developed hypomania. Any idea how long it will take to leave his system and return to regular levels. Trying to avoid resorting to anti psychotics but tip toeing thru this right now. Would suggest anyone avoid unless they are sure it is safe (for them)

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