If you have diabetes or know someone that has diabetes, you’re not alone. There are more than 32 million people in the United States with diabetes or prediabetes. That’s 1 in 10 people! Prediabetes is a condition where your blood glucose levels are higher than normal (80-120 mg/dl), but not high enough to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
Blood glucose (commonly referred to as blood sugar) and insulin’s role in regulating glucose is at the heart of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. I’ll get more in detail about the differences between type 1 and type 2 a little later. Before I get into that, did you know your body creates its own helper that does a variety of amazing tasks in your body, including regulating glucose metabolism?
The amino acid L-Glutamine is your body’s superstar and one of its most important jobs is to feed your cells with nourishment from the food you eat.1 I’m about to tell you all about this all-star helper, it’s role in supporting insulin production, and how you can boost the amount of L-Glutamine in your body. Before we dive into L-Glutamine, let me give you a quick review of insulin.
The Role of Insulin in Your Body
Insulin is a natural hormone produced by your pancreas. It serves two primary functions: regulating blood glucose levels and aiding in the process of storing excess glucose for energy.2
Your body breaks down carbohydrates and turns them into glucose so it can enter the bloodstream and provide your cells with energy. This signals your pancreas to release insulin to control the amount of glucose that enters the bloodstream. Think of that insulin as a gatekeeper. When your pancreas doesn’t produce insulin or becomes resistant to it, your body has no way of controlling the amount of glucose that gets into your blood. This puts extra strain on your liver and kidneys since they filter out excess glucose in your blood. Over time, this can cause your kidneys and liver to fail.
When your insulin levels are high, your body stores excess glucose in your liver in the form of glycogen.3 When your insulin levels get too low, the liver turns glycogen back into glucose to keep blood sugar levels within a narrow range. Sometimes your body has more glucose than it needs for energy, and has no more storage for glycogen. Insulin then tells the liver to convert glucose to triglycerides and store them in fat cells.4
People with diabetes produce little or no insulin in their pancreas, which causes their blood glucose levels to either get too high (hyperglycemia) or too low (hypoglycemia). Let’s discuss the two types of diabetes and which one is an autoimmune disease.
Is Type 1 Diabetes an Autoimmune Disease?
Diabetes is and isn’t an autoimmune disease. Let me explain. There are two types of diabetes: Type 1 and type 2. The symptoms between the two are very similar and both affect the way your body regulates glucose. The differences are tied to insulin.
Type 1 Diabetes
People with type 1 diabetes have pancreases that produce little to no insulin at all. The reason for that is because the immune system attacks the healthy cells in your pancreas that produce insulin. This is what makes type 1 diabetes an autoimmune disease.
When you have an autoimmune disease, your immune system mistakes your joints, your skin, and even your organs as foreign invaders. A healthy immune system knows the difference between your own cells and foreign ones.
Type 1 diabetics are dependent upon synthetic insulin to regulate blood glucose levels because their pancreas does not produce it, or produces very little of it.
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disorder. If you have type 2 diabetes, your pancreas still produces insulin. However, your body does not respond to it the way it should. As a result, your pancreas makes more and more insulin to help glucose enter your cells. When insulin does not properly metabolize glucose it elevates blood glucose levels, causing glycation.
Glycation is a process in which glucose attaches to proteins including hemoglobin, a protein that carries oxygen to the blood.
Glycated hemoglobin (also known as HbA1c) testing is a common blood glucose test. It measures how many of your red blood cells are glycated, or coated with sugar. It provides your average blood glucose for 2 to 3 months without fasting or using a sweet substance. Normal ranges are 4.8-5.4 mg/dl or less. Prediabetes levels are 5.7-6.4 mg/dl. Anything higher than 6.5 mg/dl is considered type 2 diabetes.
LetsGetChecked’s home diabetes testing is a great way to test hemoglobin A1c levels. They also offer at-home diabetes and heart test, which also tests triglycerides, cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, LDL, cholesterol, and HDL% of total cholesterol. You can also get a basic at-home lipid panel test. The results are available online so you can share them with your functional medicine doctor.
So how does L-Glutamine fit into this picture? Well, I’m about to tell you. Let’s talk about this essential amino acid and its relationship with insulin.
What is L-Glutamine?
L-Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the body.5 Amino acids are building blocks for proteins. When proteins are digested by your body, amino acids are left behind to do their job. These amino acids do everything from building muscles, cartilage, bones, and your skin, to repairing your tissues to oxygenating red blood cells, aiding in digestion and regulating hormones, including insulin.
Where Does L-Glutamine Come From?
One of the most fascinating facts about L-Glutamine is that your body naturally produces this essential amino acid in your muscles. L-Glutamine is synthesized from glutamate and ammonia by the enzyme glutamine synthetase. It accounts for 90% of the L-Glutamine created in your body. The brain and lungs also produce L-Glutamine in small amounts.6
Even though your body produces this essential amino acid on its own, it is also abundant in certain foods. Free-range chicken, wild-caught fish, beets, and leafy greens are great sources of glutamine. It is also found in tofu, dairy foods, lentils, beans, and peas. However, lentils, beans, and peas are legumes and can cause inflammation in a lot of people.
As for dairy, I advocate everyone remove it from their diets for many reasons. A lot of people have an intolerance to lactose, a sugar found in cow’s dairy. The other issue with dairy is that it contains casein and whey. These two proteins are highly inflammatory for a lot of people. Casein is a protein very similar to gluten in its molecular structure. A lot of people have a gluten sensitivity and don’t know it, and those that have a gluten sensitivity commonly have a dairy sensitivity, which is why I recommend everyone remove both from their diets. Now let’s talk about the benefits of this superstar amino acid.
Benefits of L-Glutamine
I briefly mentioned a few ways L-Glutamine works in your body, yet this essential amino acid is really an all-around all-star for your health. Here’s a look at a few roles of L-Glutamine.
Supports Liver and Kidney Function
Your liver and kidneys help remove waste and deliver nutrients to your blood. They are basically filters. Your liver’s main job is to regulate chemical levels in your blood, including glucose. When there’s too much glucose in your bloodstream, it stores the extra supply in the liver. When type 2 diabetics become insulin resistant, fat can build up in the liver and make insulin resistance worse.
Your kidneys work in unison with your liver to remove waste. The kidneys’ filters remove sugar from urine. Then, sodium-glucose contransposers reabsorb the filtered sugar and move it to the bloodstream. When these filters are forced to work hard they become permanently damaged and can eventually fail.
L-Glutamine supports lower levels of lipid peroxidation in the liver.7 Lipids are fatty molecules that are insoluble in water that function as chemical messages and store energy. Lipid peroxidation is a process when free radicals steal electrons from lipids in the liver and cause damage. L-Glutamine also supports this process by facilitating the production of glutathione, a compound your liver uses to remove toxins from your body and repair cells damaged by oxidative stress.
Your kidneys are your body’s biggest user of ammonia (NH3). The kidneys use ammonia, a base, to maintain an acid-base balance in your kidneys. Your kidneys selectively sends ammonia to your urine or stores it to your renal vein to maintain that balance.8 Kidney disease can lead to the buildup of acid in the body. L-Glutamine is the most important donor of NH3 to the kidneys.9 It is metabolized in the liver and transported to the kidneys.
Promotes a Balanced Insulin Response
Several studies have shown that L-Glutamine directly introduces glucose into the bloodstream. More importantly, L-Glutamine has been found to support insulin production in your pancreas.10 This in-turn helps regulate blood-glucose levels. Add to this that L-Glutamine supports healthy pancreatic function, and you have a powerful aid in supporting and maintaining healthy glucose metabolism.
A quick note about L-Glutamine and type 1 diabetes. Some studies suggest that L-Glutamine supplementation can cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) in type 1 diabetics with no insulin secretion, especially after exercise. I recommend that if you have type 1 diabetes, talk with your doctor before taking L-Glutamine supplements.
Helps Curb Sugar Cravings
Have you ever wondered why you crave sugar? Your hippocampus, which is located in the temporal lobe of your brain, is what helps you remember the delicious taste of sweets. It is also what signals those sugar cravings.
Since protein slows the release of sugar into your bloodstream, low amounts of protein can cause your blood glucose levels to rise and fall at an abnormal rate, which causes sugar cravings. Protein slows down the absorption of sugar, and in turn prevents glucose spikes. This process reduces your sugar cravings and keeps you feeling full longer.
Why You Might Need More L-Glutamine
Did you know that L-Glutamine supplements rose to fame primarily as a fitness supplement? It’s true. One of L-Glutamine’s key benefits is that it supports muscle repair. When your body is under constant stress, such as that from intense exercise, it will quickly use up its natural L-Glutamine reserves.
If you are engaging in intense exercise that requires quick bursts of energy, such as running or high intensity interval training, your body uses up its own L-Glutamine faster because it needs as much as it can get for recovery.
Other common situations that can deplete your natural glutamine levels include:11
- Gut health conditions such as IBS or Crohn’s disease
- Trauma to your body such as a deep wound or cut
- Medications for cancer
- Blood disorders such as sickle cell anemia
- Autoimmune disorders
If your body is using up all of its L-Glutamine, it could lead to an insufficiency. Here are three signs you could have low levels of L-Glutamine:
- Sudden weight loss
- Persistent fatigue
- Increased colds or illnesses
How Boost Your L-Glutamine
Glutamine can be supplemented intravenously, however it is an invasive option and not appropriate for everyone.
Foods are a great source, and I certainly recommend eating lots of healthy proteins! However, it’s difficult to tell if you are getting enough L-Glutamine from your diet. The great news is that you can supplement this all-star amino acid without needles or eating a ton of food.
L-Glutamine supports optimal gut barrier function and helps maintain a healthy stomach and intestinal lining. What’s more, it supports your liver and kidneys, regulates insulin production and helps beat sugar cravings. My L-Glutamine capsules contain 850 mg per capsule. I take it every day! It really is a superstar amino acid!
- How Glucose Metabolism Works. Warner Family Practice. 2021.
- Diabetes treatment: Using insulin to manage blood sugar. Mayo Clinic. 2019.
- Glycogen Storage Disease. Johns Hopkins Medicine. 2021.
- Glycogen and triglyceride utilization in relation to muscle metabolic characteristics in men performing heavy-resistance exercise. B Essén-Gustavsson and P A Tesch. European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology, vol. 61. 1990.
- Nutritional importance of glutamine. M I de Vasconcelos and J Tirapegui. National Library of Medicine. 1998.
- The glutamate–glutamine (GABA) cycle: importance of late postnatal development and potential reciprocal interactions between biosynthesis and degradation. Leif Hertz. Frontiers in Endocrinology. 2013.
- Oral Supplementation of Glutamine Attenuates the Progression of Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis. Cathrin Sellmann, Anja Baumann, Annette Brandt, Cheng Jun Jin, Anika Nier, and Ina Bergheim. Journal of Nutrition, vol. 117. 2017.
- Renal Ammonia Metabolism and Transport. I. David Weiner and Jill W. Verlander. Comprehensive Physiology, vol. 3. 2013.
- Effects of glutamine supplementation on kidney of diabetic rat. Tatiana Carolina Alba-Loureiro, Rodolfo Favaro Ribeiro, Telma Maria Tenório Zorn, and Claudia J Lagranha. Amino Acids, vol. 38. 2010.
- A randomized cross-over study of the metabolic and hormonal responses following two preoperative conditioning drinks. Sherif Awad, Kenneth C H Fearon, Ian A Macdonald, and Dileep N Lobo. Nutrition, vol. 27. 2010.
- Glutamine. Association for the Advancement of Restorative Medicine. 2021.