All cells ranging from Healthy cells and cancerous cells both need glutamine for there survival.

person pouring protein powder into a blue bottle, What is the Relationship Between Glutamine and Cancer?

What’s the simple answer?

The simple answer is yes, there seems to be a connection between glutamine and cancer.

Many cancerous cells tends to use glutamine to grow, survive, and even multiply — to the level  that they can become dependent on glutamine.

In fact, glutamine is said to be a very important part of tumor progression that some researchers have studied it as a possible cancer treatment.

What exactly is glutamine?

Although glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the blood, it’s considered nonessential.

That’s because cells can create glutamine from other things in the body. It’s also found in various foods.

Glutamine is used as a source of nitrogen and carbon. It helps to produce proteins and support the gut and immune system, providing fuel for the likes of white blood cells.

It comes in two forms: L-glutamine and D-glutamine.

The former plays all of the important roles mentioned above and is the name some glutamine supplements are sold under. But D-glutamine doesn’t seem to be anywhere near as important.

What does the research say?

The exact role of glutamine in cancer is still being understood.

Research has found that certain types of cancer cells may need it to grow and spread, as well as to regulate various activities inside the cell.

It may do this by providing the carbon and nitrogen required for cell growth. But some tumors are found in an environment with low glutamine levels.

This is interesting for researchers because cancer cells need to take glutamine from the environment outside of the cell. If that area is deprived of glutamine, where are the cancer cells getting it from?

Further studies suggest that cancer cells have adapted to these limitations in more than one way.

They may have increased levels of an enzyme that can make glutamine from other abundant materials, such as glucose. They may also engulf other cells and take away their nutrients.

In fact, cancer cells are modified to take more glutamine than they need, using the excess to detrimentally impact cell repair processes.

What does this mean for people who have cancer or are in remission?

“Cancer patients and those in remission may benefit from treatments that address the disease’s marked dependence upon this amino acid,” says physician and medical researcher J. Wes Ulm, MD, PhD.

“On the flip side, physician-supervised glutamine supplementation may also be of value in facilitating the healing of tissues affected by chemotherapy or radiation therapy.”

Glutamine supplementation may even improve the overall outcome of cases. But more research is needed.

If you have cancer or are in remission, avoid taking any supplements or changing your diet until you discuss it with your doctor.

You may read the opposite advice online: to avoid foods containing glutamine. But this is likely to have no effect.

Remember that glutamine is naturally produced in the body. And as the research shows, cancer cells are highly adapted to sourcing glutamine.

What does this mean for people with an increased risk of developing cancer?

There’s still much research to be done on glutamine and cancer, so there are no specific recommendations if you have a higher risk of developing the disease.

This may change in the future. But right now, there’s no strong evidence that glutamine supplements or similar can reduce the risk.

“Individuals with variations in some genes related to glutamine metabolism may have a relatively greater predilection to develop cancer later,” says Ulm.

“Some oncogenes — mutated genes that enhance a cell’s growth (or bypass growth checkpoints), potentially giving rise to cancer — can specifically impact glutamine metabolism, most prominently a gene family called Myc,” he adds.

Myc is “involved in carcinogenesis (the onset of cancer) in many different cancerous subtypes,” says Ulm.

What does this mean for cancer prevention?

Similarly, there’s no evidence that consuming a certain level of glutamine in your diet can help prevent cancer.

General advice to maintain good health is to eat a well-balanced diet consisting mainly of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, legumes, and nuts.

Other frequently asked questions

Does glutamine cause cancer?

Cancer is complex. But glutamine doesn’t cause it.

Many types of cancer cells do appear to use glutamine to grow and spread. But cancer itself is caused by genetic changes that then affect how cells grow and divide.

This can be due to DNA damage from harmful environmental factors, like UV rays or cigarette smoke, or inherited from your parents.

Is there anything you can do to block or reduce glutamine naturally?

Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the bloodstream. Plus, your body produces it by itself in addition to getting it from your diet.

So, there are no realistic ways of reducing glutamine levels through the likes of dietary changes.

Is glutamine in food?

Glutamine is found in a range of foods.

Food with a high protein content tends to have the most amount of glutamine — think meat and other animal products like milk and cheese.

But you’ll find glutamine in anything containing protein, including the likes of white rice, cabbage, and raw spinach.

Are there certain foods you should avoid to reduce your risk of cancer?

“It’s been known for some time that dietary modifications — in particular, reduced consumption of red and processed meat, fast food, sugar, and alcohol, shifting toward regimens rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains — is associated with reduced cancer risk, regardless of other confounding risk factors,” explains Ulm.

It’s still unclear where glutamine falls into this.

Some research indicates that “higher blood glutamine levels may actually be protective against some disorders, such as cardiovascular disease, and that glutamine supplementation may paradoxically inhibit tumor growth and metabolic processes,” says Ulm.

But there are still no firm conclusions or specific recommendations.

So, sticking to a well-balanced diet rich in plant-based foods is the best advice available.

Are there certain foods you should avoid if you’ve been diagnosed with cancer?

Again, there’s no evidence to suggest you should avoid foods containing glutamine if you have cancer — mainly because the body is likely to produce enough by itself and because glutamine is needed as it plays numerous important roles.

Having cancer can affect your appetite and the way your body deals with nutrients. So, trying to eat as well as possible may help your body cope with both the disease and any treatments.

This usually means consuming a balanced diet and upping your protein and calorie intake if you lose weight. Your doctor may actually advise having more calorific snacks and swapping to high fat options.

They may also recommend steering clear of certain food and drink that can impact the side effects of treatment. This can include spicy foods, raw meat or seafood, and alcohol.

Consult with your cancer care team to find out what’s right for you.

In addition, glutamine helps cancer cells survive acidic stress through enzymatic deamidation rather than provide nutrition (27)Some studies in cancer patients suggest oral glutamine is well tolerated.
SUMMARY BACKGROUND DATA: Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the blood and tissues. It is essential for tumor growth and marked changes in organ glutamine metabolism are characteristic of the host with cancer.
One reason that cancer cells rely on high levels of exogenous glutamine is because glutamine can be used to fuel the TCA cycle through α-ketoglutarate to allow its further oxidation. It was shown that glutamine depletion reduces the NADH/NAD+ ratio, which inhibits oxygen consumption and ATP production.
Glutamine and glutamate are major bioenergy substrates for normal and cancer cell growth. Cancer cells need more biofuel than normal tissues for energy supply, anti-oxidation activity and biomass production.
Most cancer-causing DNA changes occur in sections of DNA called genes. These changes are also called genetic changes. A DNA change can cause genes involved in normal cell growth to become oncogenes. Unlike normal genes, oncogenes cannot be turned off, so they cause uncontrolled cell growth.
In addition, the metabolic products from glutamine are utilized to synthesize macromolecules that promote tumour growth, including amino acids, fatty acids, purines and pyridines. In colorectal cancer, increased glutamine metabolism is involved in cancer cell migration, invasion, and metastatic colonization.
Dependence on the glutamine pathway is increased in advanced breast cancer cell models and tumors regardless of hormone receptor status or function.
When taken by mouth: Glutamine is likely safe when used in doses up to 40 grams daily. Side effects are generally mild and might include bloating, nausea, dizziness, heartburn, and stomach pain.
Most extrahepatic organs lack a complete urea cycle, and for many organs, including the brain, glutamine represents a temporary storage form of waste nitrogen. As such, glutamine was long thought to be harmless to the brain. However, recent evidence suggests that excess glutamine is neurotoxic.
High brain glutamine levels are positively associated with neuroticism, trait anxiety [96] and hyperammnonemic coma. Many people supplement glutamine because they believe it improves the immune system, memory and cognition, even for those who do not exercise.
Cells are dependent on glutamine in so many ways. Mutations in the genes IDH1 and IDH2, which also change how glutamine products are used in a cell, are common in certain types of brain cancer and leukemia. This high demand for glutamine means that supplies of it inside of a tumor are often quite low.
Amino acids or their derivatives such as arginine, L-carnitine, glutamine, and creatine are commonly used by athletes and bodybuilders and seem to have no clinically significant adverse effects on kidney function, at least in healthy individuals.
If you have anxiety, sugar or alcohol cravings, constipation or diarrhea, a poor immune system, low muscle mass, poor wound healing or slow recovery after workouts, you may want to supplement with L-glutamine.
Cells are dependent on glutamine in so many ways. Mutations in the genes IDH1 and IDH2, which also change how glutamine products are used in a cell, are common in certain types of brain cancer and leukemia. This high demand for glutamine means that supplies of it inside of a tumor are often quite low.
Health care providers must know that consumption of dietary supplements such as glutamine may be associated with serious side effects. Liver damage is a possible side effect of glutamine. Hence it is necessary to consider hepatotoxicity as an adverse reaction in case of glutamine supplement consumption.
Glutamine is important for removing excess ammonia (a common waste product in the body). It also helps your immune system function and may be needed for normal brain function and digestion. You can usually get enough glutamine without taking a supplement because your body makes it and you get some in your diet.
However, in some instances, excessive shunting of l-glutamine into the Krebs cycle can promote cardiovascular disease by stimulating aberrant vascular cell proliferation, migration, and collagen synthesis.
Glutamate is removed from the synaptic cleft by several high-affinity glutamate transporters present in both glial cells and presynaptic terminals. Glial cells contain the enzyme glutamine synthetase, which converts glutamate into glutamine; glutamine is then transported out of the glial cells and into nerve terminals.
Glutamine is considered the most important nutrient for healing of ‘leaky gut syndrome’ because it is the preferred fuel for enterocytes and colonocytes. Low level of serum Glutamine concentration correlated with intestinal barrier disruption, inflammation and diarrheal diseases among children.
One of L-glutamine’s main roles in the body is to support detoxification by cleansing the body from high levels of ammonia. It acts as a buffer and converts excess ammonia into other amino acids, amino sugars and urea. Doing approximately one hour of exercise can cause a 40 percent reduction of glutamine in the body.

The bottom line

Both healthy cells and cancerous cells need glutamine. So, cutting glutamine out of your diet isn’t recommended.

Plus, your body makes its own glutamine, so dietary changes are likely to have little effect.

But whether glutamine could help treat cancer or be a target for such treatment is a question that still needs to be answered.