3 Science-Backed Ways L-glutamine Helps In Alcoholism

lglutamine for alcoholism

Name: L-glutamine
Goes well with: Tryptophan, Vitamin B
Number of scientific references: 31
Level of Evidence: Level II What is this?

Note: L-glutamine reduces alcohol consumption and cravings thus reducing addiction and maintaining abstinence. It possibly acts by regulating brain chemistry. Many individuals with alcohol addiction have found it useful to curb alcohol cravings.
No recent study has evaluated the ‘anti-alcohol’ effect of L-glutamine and more research is required to understand its mechanism of action.

L-glutamine is one of the naturally occurring amino acids present in the dietary protein. Previously it was considered as a non-essential amino acid since our body does synthesise glutamine, but current research states that it is conditionally essential amino acid. [1]

That means that body needs higher amounts of L-glutamine in case of critical illness, stress and injury.

Glutamine is found in high concentrations in the muscles, blood, liver and brain. [2] It acts as a nitrogen shuttle or buffer that stores excess ammonia and releases it when needed to make amino acids, amino sugars, nucleotides, urea.

It plays an important role in maintaining muscle mass, strengthening immunity, maintaining gut health and antioxidant defences by raising glutathione (our primary endogenous antioxidant) levels.

Now glutamate is a neurotransmitter or a chemical in our brain that facilitates communication between our brain cells and is involved in motivation, memory and learning. Excess glutamate causes toxicity in the brain; hence its levels are adequately balanced by the glutamate-glutamine cycle.

Glutamine not only serves as a precursor to glutamate present in our brain cells but also acts as a fuel for maintaining energy levels of the brain cell.

Studies in individuals with the alcohol use disorder have confirmed that disturbance in glutamate-glutamine cycle contributes to alcohol cravings and relapse even after detoxification. [3] This disturbance may exist before alcohol abuse and may even persist during prolonged abstinence. [4]

So would supplementing with L-glutamine benefit from alcohol addiction?

L-glutamine is reported to help with alcohol addiction by reducing alcohol cravings and supporting abstinence. It mediates this ‘anti-alcohol’ effect by influencing the brain chemistry. Pre-clinical evidence suggests that it may even protect from alcohol toxicity.

Most of these findings are limited to old studies; no recent study has confirmed the benefits of L-glutamine for alcoholism.

Suggested L-glutamine Supplements For Alcoholism

Please consult your health practitioner before taking L-glutamine supplements.

I have listed both L-glutamine capsules and powder. Many people report that L-glutamine helps them curb alcohol cravings which is great; but I would also suggest supplementing with a quality protein powder or branched chain amino acid powder to get sufficient amounts for amino acids that may support alcohol recovery.

Thorne Research L-glutamine supplement
Bulk Supplements L-glutamine powder
glutamine capsules

Image Credit: Thorne Research, Inc.

lglutamine powder

Image Credit: Bulk Supplements

Contains 500mg L-glutamine in vegetarian capsules Contains L-glutamine powder

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3 Science-Backed Ways L-glutamine Helps In Alcohol Addiction

Let’s explore the research on effects of L-glutamine on alcohol addiction.

1.L-glutamine reduces alcohol consumption and cravings

The glutamate-glutamine cycle occurring in the brain maintains optimum levels of the neurotransmitter glutamate in the brain. Excess glutamate is stored as glutamine in the brain cells and is converted back to glutamate to maintain the cycle.

In alcohol addiction, dysfunction of the glutaminergic system is observed.

A study published in The Journal Of Biological Chemistry, 1955 demonstrated that 100mg oral L-glutamine daily reduced alcohol consumption by 35-85% in animals. [5]

Interestingly, researchers found that some animals remained unaffected by L-glutamine’s anti-alcohol cravings effect and they hypothesised that individual genetic differences might be responsible for the differences.

Experiments in animal models conducted by Häkkinen and Kulonen in 1961 revealed that alcohol intoxication lowered glutamine levels and disturbed the levels of neurotransmitters glutamate and GABA. But treatment with L-glutamine suppressed these effects of alcohol. [6]

Further animal studies conducted in the 1980s also confirmed that L-glutamine regulates the brain chemistry to deliver an anti-alcohol effect. [7] [8]

Studies conducted in the 1950s and 1960s found L-glutamine effective in reducing alcohol addiction in humans. [10] [11] [12]

Dr Roger Williams found that 4000-5000mg of L-glutamine taken daily reduces alcohol and sugar cravings. The patients also experienced an improvement in mental and physical health and reduced fatigue. [13]

Dr Lorene Rogers reported that L-glutamine at a dose of 5000mg daily is more effective than placebo in eliminating alcohol cravings. [14]

However, no recent studies have evaluated the anti-addictive effect of L-glutamine in alcoholism.

Quick Gist: Disturbances in glutamate-glutamine cycle cause alcohol addiction and cravings and can even lead to relapse. Studies in animal models, as well as humans, have found that L-glutamine supplementation eliminates alcohol cravings and supports abstinence.

But these studies are fairly old; further research in the form of well-designed clinical trials can help us understand the way by which L-glutamine mediates an anti-addictive effect.

2.It can reduce alcohol withdrawal symptoms and reduce relapse

Sudden alcohol withdrawal disturbs the levels of plasma amino acids in patients with alcoholism. [15]

A study published in Neuropharmacology, 2011 revealed that individuals with alcohol use disorder or in remission have higher glutamine levels and lower glutamate levels thus indicating that alcohol-induced perturbations in the glutamate-glutamine cycle may persist for a long time. [16]

Chronic alcohol use inhibits the activity of glutamate receptors, and as compensation, the number of subunits of glutamate receptors (namely NMDA receptors) is increased.

Sudden alcohol withdrawal leads to overexcitation of these receptors, and this contributes to symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome.

GABA or gamma-aminobutyric acid is a neurotransmitter derived from the neurotransmitter glutamate. It helps relieve symptoms of stress and anxiety.

Withdrawal symptoms in alcoholism occur as a result of decreased GABAergic inhibitory activity and increased glutaminergic excitatory activity. [17][18]

This imbalance may last for months after alcohol cessation and may contribute to relapse. [19]

A study published in FASEB Journal, 2007 reported that oral L-glutamine increases GABA levels and transmission. The researchers stated that this could be particularly useful for conditions like anxiety and seizures where an increase in GABA activity is desirable. [20]

This could partially explain how L-glutamine may help in alcohol withdrawal and addiction.

L-glutamine supplementation along with vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) is found to relieve symptoms of alcoholism in animal models. [21]

Researchers from J. J. Strossmayer University, Croatia conducted a study where they treated patients undergoing alcohol withdrawal with a placebo or a food supplement containing [22]:

  • D-phenylalanine: to inhibit the activity of enzymes that break down endogenous opioids which provide relief from pain and stress
  • L-glutamine: to balance glutaminergic function (related to neurotransmitter glutamate)
  • L-tryptophan: to balance serotonergic function (related to neurotransmitter serotonin)

The therapy brought about a significant decrease in mental health symptoms and improved immunity. L-glutamine is known to improve immune function, and L-tryptophan serves as a precursor for our happy hormone serotonin. (Check my post on The Role of Tryptophan in Alcoholism).

Similarly, Blum et al. have demonstrated that treatment with L-glutamine, phenylalanine, tryptophan and vitamin B6 (this nutritional formula is called SAAVE) helps lower stress and mental health symptoms in alcohol addiction and substance use. [23]

The formulation inhibits the activity of enzyme Enkephalinase which degrades endogenous opioids, and this inhibition may prevent the compulsive behaviour, alcohol addiction and craving.

Quick Gist: Alcohol withdrawal disturbs the glutamate-glutamine cycle, and this may persist even during abstinence and cause a relapse. Low activity of neurotransmitter GABA and increased activity of neurotransmitter glutamate is observed during alcohol withdrawal.

L-glutamine supplement may help reduce alcohol cravings and anxiety during or after alcohol withdrawal by increasing the activity of neurotransmitter GABA.

Glutamine’s combination with other amino acids and B vitamins is found to reduce alcohol withdrawal symptoms by influencing our natural opioid system. Opioid peptides produced in our body regulate pain and stress and are involved in drug craving and addiction.

3.L-glutamine can fight alcohol toxicity

L-glutamine helps balance the level of ammonia in our blood and regulates pH levels.

Sudden alcohol withdrawal is associated with abnormalities in acid-base balance and balancing glutamate-glutamine cycle is found to assist in detoxification and balance pH. [24] [25]

In 1955, Ravel et al. confirmed that glutamine plays an important role in protecting from alcohol toxicity. [26]

Excess and chronic alcohol consumption impairs liver function and paves the way for alcoholic liver disease. Combination of amino-acids alanine and glutamine is found to reverse alcohol-induced liver damage and support regeneration of liver tissue. [27]

L-glutamine is essential for optimal gut health. It serves as fuel for our digestive tract.

Chronic alcohol consumption increases the permeability of our gut lining making it easy for toxic substances and pathogens to enter our blood.

This leads to endotoxemia which triggers inflammation and can impact various organs. It may even lead to alcoholic liver disease.

Glutamine supplementation repairs gut health and prevents alcohol-induced gut barrier dysfunction by boosting antioxidant defences. It even protects from alcohol-induced liver damage. [28]

Quick Gist: L-glutamine protects from alcohol toxicity. It reverses and protects from alcohol-induced damage to gut and liver health possibly by lowering inflammation and oxidative stress.

Dosage of L-glutamine For Alcoholism

In chronic alcoholism, L-glutamine at a dose of 4-5g daily is found to reduce alcohol cravings. Start with small doses and increase gradually over weeks to identify a dose that works for you.

L-glutamine supplementation may help support alcohol abstinence and reduce alcohol cravings after withdrawal.

Please consult a health practitioner before taking L-glutamine.

Precautions with L-glutamine Use

The upper limit for L-glutamine intake is 14g per day in supplemental form; no side effects have been observed till this limit.

Long-term supplementation with L-glutamine at extremely high doses (40 g per day) may have some serious side effects such as alteration in amino acid transport, disturbances in levels of glutamate and ammonia, alterations in the immune system, increased risk of cancer etc. [29]

Excess glutamine supplementation may cause elevated levels of ammonia in the body and related toxicity. [30]

L-glutamine may trigger mania episodes; please take with caution if you have a concurrent bipolar disorder with alcohol addiction. [31]

Please consult a health practitioner before taking L-glutamine supplements, especially in case of severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

Conclusion

L-glutamine that we derive from dietary protein suffices our daily requirements such as maintaining the nitrogen urea cycle, supporting growth and maintenance of muscle mass, serving as energy etc.

Disturbances in the glutamate-glutamine cycle in the brain increases alcohol addiction and cravings and may even cause relapse after withdrawal.

L-glutamine supplementation increases the level of neurotransmitter GABA and influences the brain chemistry to stop alcohol cravings. It may even assist in detoxification and can help in maintaining alcohol abstinence.

L-glutamine’s combination with other amino acids and B vitamins can be more effective in managing alcohol addiction.

No recent study has evaluated the effect of L-glutamine on alcoholism. More research is required to understand the mechanism by which L-glutamine relieves alcohol addiction.

If you have tried L-glutamine for alleviating alcohol cravings and reducing addiction, please share your experience as comments below.

Learn how L-glutamine helps reduce alcohol cravings and benefits in alcohol addiction.

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