In the recent Truth About Cancer docu-series hosted by Ty Bollinger, founder of Cancer Truth, interviewed Dr. Russell Blaylock, M.D. and Dr. Blaylock said no to glutamine supplementation because it feeds cancer like sugar.
Here is what Dr. Russell Blaylock said during Episode 4 – Excitotoxins that Fuel Cancer:
Cancer cells use two major fuels, they use glucose and they use glutamine. Of the two, glutamine is the more powerful stimulant for cancer cell growth.
The Warburg effect is the fact that normal cells use both anaerobic and aerobic system, the Krebs cycle. The cancer cells only use the anaerobic system, it was thought. Glutamine can work the aerobic system and product a lot more energy. So if you’re eating a lot of sugar and you’re eating a lot of glutamine, you’re really stimulating your cancer powerfully. So the idea is you want to cut down your glutamine intake. A lot of people are promoting glutamine as a way to heal the gut—the leaky gut syndrome. So, they’re saying, take five, six, ten grams of glutamine. That is a powerful stimulant for degenerative brain disorders, a powerful stimulant for cancer growth. You don’t want to do that. There’s a lot better ways to repair the GI tract—they work better and safer and actually inhibit cancer.
Dr. Blaylock, author of Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills, has been saying this for years. His coverage of MSG and how harmful it is, is very powerful groud-breaking work but many practitioners disagree with his glutamine-feeding-cancer comments.
As a result of this recent interview I’ve been getting a lot of questions about glutamine because it’s something I use with most of my clients for blood sugar control, carbohydrate/sugar cravings and gut healing.
In order to reassure folks I started looking at the current research and getting feedback from trusted colleagues.
I have now gathered 20+ studies showing glutamine to be beneficial in cancer: it heals the gut, helps boost glutathione, helps with muscle wasting, helps when someone is going through chemotherapy and radiation, and is useful for bone marrow transplants. Studies as far back as 1990 state it has benefits and doesn’t promote tumor growth, with 5 of them published this year.
This 2010 paper Glutamine as indispensable nutrient in oncology: experimental and clinical evidence summarizes many of the benefits:
Within the last two decades, 36 (24 oral/enteral, 12 parenteral) clinical studies evaluating the tolerance, safety and effects of glutamine in various patient groups have been published. In the great majority of these clinical studies, glutamine supplementation in cancer patients improves host metabolism and clinical situation without increasing tumor growth. Potential mechanisms of glutamine effects include maintenance of mucosal integrity, improved immune competence, inhibition of cell proliferation, increased apoptosis rate, increased synthesis of glutathione, induction of heat shock protein synthesis, and increased synthesis of glucagons-like peptides.
In various clinical situations, appropriate exogenous glutamine supply is safe and can beneficially contribute to diminish risks of high-dose chemotherapy and radiation. In addition, there is some evidence that adequate glutamine availability can beneficially affect outcome, especially in patients undergoing bone marrow transplantation.
With new research coming out all the time, a paper published in 2010 may seem very old and yet there are some more recent papers stating similar benefits, many of which were published this year and in 2014. Here are a few excerpts from some of these papers:
- Oral administration of [glutamine] plus [elemental diet] may prevent chemotherapy-induced oral mucositis in esophageal cancer patients. Link to paper
- This study suggests a beneficial role of oral [glutamine] use in prevention and/or delay of radiation-induced esophagitis, in terms of esophageal transit time and serum immunological parameters, as well as weight loss. Link to paper
- It also appears that glutamine may significantly reduce the duration and severity of objective oral mucositis during radiotherapy. Link to paper
- These results suggest that [glutamine] is an effective way to reduce radiation morbidity to breast cancer and is associated with the increased expression of a novel serum protein biomarker. Link to paper
- A promising supplemental therapy agent in the field is glutamine. Glutamine (Gln) is an amino acid that is produced in physiological conditions in human cells. However, in pathological states, glutamine production is often insufficient. In the clinical setting, glutamine has been shown to decrease metabolic side effects resulting from cancer treatment and to improve patient outcome. Link to paper
- Prophylactic oral glutamine could ameliorate the neoadjuvant chemotherapy-induced increase in intestinal permeability, but had no significant positive clinical effect on stomatitis and diarrhea and did not interfere with the antitumor effect of chemotherapy. Link to paper
- Oral [glutamine] increased [glutathione] levels and lowered IGF-I and TGF-beta 1 in a range that is considered clinically significant. However, the effect of [glutamine] in maintaining normal gut [glutathione] production in the presence of DMBA was much more significant. Link to paper
I’ve also posted the glutamine-cancer question in a number of online practitioner groups I belong to and have received this feedback:
- Some practitioners still feel glutamine supplementation is very safe to use up to 10-30g a day for a month and then titrated down to a maintenance dose
- An integrative cancer doctor says she is more cautious and would not recommend greater than 5g per day if someone has active cancer
- One practitioner shared that long term studies haven’t shown changes in mortality due to glutamine supplementation in cancer settings but glutamine may be used for fuel by cancer cells
- Glutamine is not neurotoxic as has been suggested in the book Excitotoxins:The Taste That Kills according to Dr. David Brady and other researchers
- Many consider bone broth to be safe, some feel bone broth should be avoided during cancer treatments
It’s clearly a controversial topic with very divided opinions and it seems the jury is still out. We are also very individual beings with unique biochemistry so there is never a once size fits all approach and it’s very likely that some won’t benefit from glutamine and some may have adverse effects.
I do list cancer as a possible issue under the glutamine precautions and recommend that you check with your oncologist if you are currently undergoing treatment.
I do want to share safe and valuable information with my clients and with you (my community) and am not afraid to back down and say I was wrong. BUT right now I don’t believe we have enough information to say NO-ONE should be using glutamine as a supplement. I’m gathering information and feedback, am learning a great deal and will be sharing more in future blogs on this topic. And I hope to get some feedback from Dr. Blaylock himself!
I hope this helps with questions you’ve been having or may have in the near future.
In the meantime I’d love your feedback…
- If you’re a practitioner I’d love to hear your thoughts and approach, what cautions you offer and do you recommended a safe upper limit?
- If you’re someone who uses glutamine or has used glutamine what does your practitioner say about it? Have they cautioned you about glutamine? Have they recommended a safe upper limit? What benefits have you seen when using it?
- If you’ve been treated for cancer, has your cancer team recommended glutamine? And did it help?
UPDATE: Feb 26, 2016 (The post above was originally published on October 30, 2015)
I promised to come back and share additional information from someone working in the area of cancer and so here we are – an update on the glutamine cancer concern:
Paul Anderson ND shared a literature review and practice implications in an called “Glutamine and Cancer: What do we know?” (Update Sept 2021: it was published on Emerson Ecologics but the link is no longer active)
When I read this reassuring literature – based on the 2015 paper, Key Roles of Glutamine Pathways in Reprogramming the Cancer Metabolism. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity – I reached out to Dr. Anderson and was given permission to share the link and excerpts from the article:
L-Glutamine the amino acid is one of the most widely used therapeutic substances in natural and integrative clinics as well as some allopathic practices. It has benefit in gastrointestinal illnesses and repair, post-surgical care, renal support, muscle mass maintenance, cachexia and a number of other conditions. Given its wide use in the integrative medical community the concern regarding potential for any adverse or untoward event associated with its use is significant. The primary potential issue is the “feeding” of cancer cells and another related issue is increasing glutathione stores and thereby inactivating standard therapies.
He shares some of the same potential benefits of glutamine that I mentioned above:
- Post-surgical healing
- GI repair and maintenance
- Immune system recovery and maintenance
- Muscle cell maintenance and recovery
- Glutathione pool restoration
Dr. Anderson shares that:
the availability of glutamine even in a supplemented person is often too low to do much more than feed the deficient GI cells, so peripheral use is limited with oral doses.
The one common exception is glioblastoma multiforme (GM). In the case of GM, it is theoretically possible that amounts of glutamine that were able to cross the GI barrier could be metabolized in a manner promoting of GM energy and health. In the case of GM the authors point out that restricting carbohydrates would likely make the glutamine effective in an anti-GM biology.
And he shares a number of take home points for clinical practice: oral glutamine supplementation is likely safe across most tumor types in patients with cancer, it’s indicated for GI damage, the timing and doses, and how he uses carbohydrate restriction for certain cancers (when also using glutamine).
Based on his clinical experience Dr. Anderson states that:
Glutamine used appropriately is an excellent adjunctive therapy in the oncology setting.
Dr. Paul S. Anderson is medical director of Anderson Medical Specialty Associates, a clinic focusing on the care of patients with cancer and chronic diseases. Former positions include professor of Pharmacology and Clinical Medicine at Bastyr University and Chief of IV Services for Bastyr Oncology Research Center. He is a graduate of National College of Natural Medicine and began instructing classes at naturopathic medical schools in the early 1990’s. He continues to hold board review classes and CME courses for most of the US and Canadian ND programs. He also is a founding board member of the Academy of Parenteral Therapies specialty group and an instructor and author for the International IV Nutritional Therapy training group.
His book, Outside the Box Cancer Therapies: Alternative Therapies That Treat and Prevent Cancer (here is my Amazon link) discusses glutamine and some of the research and benefits when used with cancer patients, and also recommends consulting with your physician.
Did your oncology medical team recommend use of glutamine while you were in cancer treatment and did it help?
Or did they say no to supplemental glutamine and share why?
Feel free to post additional glutamine questions too.