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Does L-Glutamine Help With Anxiety?

Micah Abraham, BSc
Does L-Glutamine Help With Anxiety?

Natural supplements have long been popular ways to fight anxiety, because the anxiety drugs currently available are not ideal for long term use. Many of them side effects that can disrupt your life. It's not just physical side effects either - anxiety drugs affect your brain chemistry, possibly leading to personality changes as well.

But natural supplements for anxiety are not created equal. One popular choice is glutamine, an amino acid found in food that some believe helps reduce anxiety. So is glutamine (aka l-glutamine) actually a valid anxiety treatment? We explore more in this article.

Choosing a Natural Option

Contrary to popular belief and marketing tactics, most natural supplements for anxiety are ineffective. The reality is that anxiety is too complicated a condition, and few anxiety supplements even cross the blood brain barrier, let alone improve coping ability.

What's interesting is that in their quest for natural medicine, most people seem to forget that the most natural way to cure anxiety is without any type of drug or supplement at all. 

Glutamine and Anxiety Effectiveness

If a drug doesn't cross the blood brain barrier, or at least affect something in the body that crosses the blood brain barrier, there is very little chance for it to affect anxiety (since anxiety occurs in the brain). Since most natural supplements do not do this, they are rarely effective.

Glutamine is a little different, because glutamine actually does cross the blood brain barrier, which means that there is a chance that glutamine may work.

However, beyond that the information is lacking. Most beliefs on glutamine stem not from studies that glutamine itself works, but from the results of GABA on anxiety. GABA is a neurotransmitter formed from glutamine that is known to have anxiety reducing benefits. GABA itself is actually affected by several anxiety drugs in order to produce these anxiolytic effects.

The question is whether glutamine itself allows the body to create more GABA, and the answer is "yes" but with caveats.

Glutamine is actually an extremely abundant amino acid, found in the vast majority of foods. It's in chicken, milk products, fish, beans, and more. There's a very good chance that you already have a lot of glutamine in your diet, and one thing that researchers do know is that nutrients from food are always more easily absorbed than nutritional supplements, which would lead one to believe that you probably have more than enough glutamine already.

There are also no studies that show that glutamine itself has any reduction benefits for anxiety, nor are there any studies that show that glutamine supplements change GABA levels in such a way that anxiety is affected. There are a few studies that show GABA levels do increase, but none that prove beneficial results.

It appears that glutamine is unlikely to be an effective natural anxiety treatment, but that more research is needed. Keep in mind that excess GABA can be problematic as well, so studies may show that L-Glutamine has a negative effect on anxiety instead. It's simply not clear.

Glutamine Could Work

One of the problems with most nutritional supplements is that they do not receive valid research. Now, part of this is because early studies usually show that these supplements are unlikely to be of much benefit, so research isn't necessary.

But in the case of glutamine, it's conceivable that the supplement could actually stimulate GABA production. It's just unclear based on the research. While you should always talk to your doctor before taking any type of supplement, there's a good chance that there is no harm in giving glutamine a try. Different people have different needs, so perhaps it does work and/or you're one of the rare people that can benefit from it.

Nevertheless, don't depend on it as though you expect it to work, and even if you do feel it's working make sure you're partnering it with a more proven method of relieving anxiety.

Article Resources
  1. Nathan, Pradeep J., et al. The Neuropharmacology of L-Theanine (N-Ethyl-L-Glutamine) A Possible Neuroprotective and Cognitive Enhancing Agent. Journal of Herbal Pharmacotherapy 6.2 (2006): 21-30.
  2. van der Hulst, Rene RWJ, et al. Glutamine and the preservation of gut integrity. The Lancet 341.8857 (1993): 1363-1365. 
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