Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the body, comprising 60% of the free amino acid pool. Glutamine requirements increase during periods of metabolic stress and, therefore, glutamine is considered a conditionally essential amino acid. Glutamine is the primary fuel for rapidly dividing cells, including enterocytes, colonocytes, fibroblasts, and lymphocytes. Individuals deficient in glutamine often present with changes in gastrointestinal morphology, resulting in bacterial translocation, malabsorption, and diarrhea. Researchers have also found that Individuals deficient in glutamine may present with impaired wound healing and/or impaired immune function. Glutamine is available as a dietary supplement without prescription. Glutamine has been examined for management of diarrhea, mucositis, and peripheral neuropathy.
Leung, H.W., & Chan, A.L. (2016). Glutamine in alleviation of radiation-induced severe oral mucositis: A meta-analysis. Nutrition and Cancer, 68, 734–742.
STUDY PURPOSE: To assess the effectiveness of glutamine to treat severe mucositis induced by radiation therapy in patients with head and neck cancer
TYPE OF STUDY: Meta-analysis and systematic review
PHASE OF CARE: Active antitumor treatment
APPLICATIONS: Elder care
Glutamine treatment had statistically significant benefits: It (a) reduced the risk and severity of OM (grade IV) (RR = 0.17, 95% confidence interval [0.06, 0.47]) and (b) shortened the duration of OM by 2–3 days. The studies reviewed had a low risk of overall bias.
The protective effects of glutamine for radiation and chemotherapy-induced mucositis are promising. Glutamine or alanyl-glutamine accelerated the mucosal recovery through increasing mucosal tissue glutathione stores, reducing inflammatory parameters and speeding re-epithelization.
Large prospective, comprehensive clinical trials are needed to investigate the effectiveness of glutamine in the prevention of OM induced by radiation therapy or chemoradiotherapy.
Sayles, C., Hickerson, S.C., Bhat, R.R., Hall, J., Garey, K.W., & Trivedi, M.V. (2016). Oral glutamine in preventing treatment-related mucositis in adult patients with cancer: A systematic review. Nutrition in Clinical Practice, 31, 171–179.
STUDY PURPOSE: To review the evidence for use of oral glutamine to prevent treatment-related mucositis in adult patients with cancer
PHASE OF CARE: Active antitumor treatment
Seven studies reported actual mucositis outcomes. Other studies measured outcomes such as weight change or time to onset but not mucositis grades. Various methods of mucositis grading were used. In seven studies, statistical significance of differences observed was not reported. In 10 of 11 studies, the percent of patients with grade 3 mucositis was lower with oral glutamine. In two studies, grade 4 mucositis incidence was lower with glutamine, and in two studies, it was higher with glutamine. Duration of mucositis and time to development findings were inconsistent. Dosage and timing of glutamine varied across studies.
The results of this systematic review are insufficient to provide strong support for the efficacy of oral glutamine for the prevention of oral mucositis.
The authors stated that the study samples were small. High heterogeneity in terms of tumor types and treatments were involved, and no subgroup analysis was done.
The findings do not show a strong evidence of efficacy of oral glutamine to prevent oral mucositis in patients with cancer undergoing a variety of treatments. Oral glutamine did not, however, demonstrate adverse effects, and some evidence suggests that the severity of mucositis might be lower with glutamine. The effect dose and timing of oral glutamine for various patients and treatment types is unclear.
Blijlevens, N.M., Donnelly, J.P., Naber, A.H., Schattenberg, A.V., & DePauw, B.E. (2005). A randomised, double-blinded, placebo-controlled, pilot study of parenteral glutamine for allogeneic stem cell transplant patients. Supportive Care in Cancer, 13, 790–796.
Parenteral nutrition supplemented with 0.57 g/kg glutamine-dipeptide was started on day 6 for a median of 19 days for patients in the treatment group.
The study was conducted between July 1999 and July 2002.
This was a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled pilot study.
Oral assessment was conducted daily. Lesions, erythema, edema, pain, bleeding, dryness, and the production of viscous mucous were scored on a 0–3 scale and summed to produce a daily oral mucositis score (DMS).
Cerchietti, L.C., Navigante, A.H., Lutteral, M.A., Castro, M.A., Kirchuck, R., Bonomi, M., … Uchima, P. (2006). Double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial on intravenous L-alanyl-L-glutamine in the incidence of oral mucositis following chemoradiotherapy in patients with head-and-neck cancer. International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology, Physics, 65, 1330–1337.
Patients were randomized to receive IV L-alanyl-L-gluatime 0.3 g/kg (30 infusions in 5 patients) or 0.4 mg/kg (25 infusions in 5 patients), administered at a rate of 0.1 g/kg body weight/h. The principal endpoint was incidence of mucositis (mean of three highest scores by Objective Mucositis Assessment Score (OMAS) and highest grade on World Health Organization [WHO] scale).
The study used a two-step design. Patients were randomized first to different doses of the glutamine intervention, then to placebo (double-blind).
OMAS and WHO grading scale were used.
Measurement using both mucositis scales indicated a significant difference in intensity of mucositis.
Peterson, D.E., Jones, J.B., & Petit, R.G., II. (2007). Randomized, placebo-controlled trial of Saforis for prevention and treatment of oral mucositis in breast cancer patients receiving anthracycline-based chemotherapy. Cancer, 109, 322–331.
The study was conducted in Russia.
This was a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover, phase III trial.
Glutamine is easy to use, has a favorable safety profile, and is low in cost. The total daily dose was within the range of dietary glutamine consumed by an adult on a high-protein diet (about 8 g per day). This treatment should be tested in higher intensity chemotherapy regimens.
Tsujimoto, T., Yamamoto, Y., Wasa, M., Takenaka, Y., Nakahara, S., Takagi, T., . . . Ito, T. (2014). L-glutamine decreases the severity of mucositis induced by chemoradiotherapy in patients with locally advanced head and neck cancer: A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Oncology Reports, 33, 33–39.
To investigate whether L-glutamine (glutamine) decreases the severity of mucositis in the oral cavity, pharynx, and larynx induced by chemoradiotherapy (CRT)
Patients with squamous cell carcinoma of the nasopharynx, oropharynx, hypopharynx, or larynx (HNC) receiving CRT were randomized to orally receive either glutamine (group G) or placebo (group P) at a dose of 10 g three times per day throughout the CRT course.
Double-blinded, randomized, placebo-controlled trial that excluded patients with active mouth or throat soreness before treatment, uncontrolled diabetes mellitus, or severe renal or hepatic insufficiency.
The study demonstrated that glutamine significantly decreased the severity of CRT-induced mucositis in patients with HNC. Patients (group G) receiving glutamine had a decreased the incidence of grade 4 mucositis. The mean duration of supplemental nutrition because of severe mucositis was significantly shorter in group G than in group P (group G, 18 ± 13; group P, 27 ± 11; p = .046). Treatment delay caused by mucositis was observed in zero patients in group G and in 15% of patients in group P. In addition, NRS scores were significantly lower in group G than in group P at weeks 4, 5, and 6 (p = .049, p = .019, p = .032, respectively).
The study showed that glutamine significantly decreases the severity of CRT-induced mucositis in patients with cancer, which in turn will improve quality of life for patients.
This study could not provide conclusive results of glutamine in the prevention and treatment of oral mucositis. The study indicated the need for an integrative and multidisciplinary approach in patient care, which could result in substantial advances in the outcomes of cancer therapy and the improvement in patient quality of life. However, there is no known specific dose for glutamine, and it has not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of mucositis during chemoradiotherapy.
Vidal-Casariego, A., Calleja-Fernandez, A., Ballesteros-Pomar, M. D., & Cano-Rodriguez, I. (2013). Efficacy of glutamine in the prevention of oral mucositis and acute radiation-induced esophagitis: a retrospective study. Nutrition and Cancer, 65, 424-429.
To evaluate the effect of oral glutamine on the prevalence and severity of acute radiation-induced oral and esophageal mucositis
Data were collected retrospectively for patients receiving radiation therapy. Findings were compared between those who did and did not receive glutamine. Outcomes between those who were given glutamine early (prior to radiation therapy) versus late (after radiation therapy was begun) in the course of radiation therapy were compared. Data on nutritional status and interruptions in treatment were evaluated.
The study was conducted at a single site outpatient setting in Spain.
Patients were undergoing the active antitumor treatment phase of care.
This was a retrospective study.
The World Health Oragnization (WHO) mucositis grading scale was used.
Provision of oral glutamine prior to the beginning radiation therapy may be of benefit in the prevention of oral mucositis. Firm conclusions cannot be made because of multiple study limitations.
This study has numerous limitations and risks of bias, and it attempted to draw conclusions across a very heterogenous population of patients. Findings suggest that oral glutamine may be helpful in preventing oral mucositis in patients receiving radiation to the head and neck area, and it appears that glutamine treatment may be most beneficial if treatment is begun prior to the initiation of radiation therapy.
Ward, E., Smith, M., Henderson, M., Reid, U., Lewis, I., Kinsey, S., et al. (2009). The effect of high-dose enteral glutamine on the incidence and severity of mucositis in paediatric oncology patients. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 63(1), 134-140.
To determine if 0.65 g/kg enteral glutamine daily for 7 days is effective in reducing the incidence and severity of mucositis in pediatric oncology patients when given with chemotherapy
Patients received one course of chemotherapy with glutamine and an identical course without. Alternate patients were given glutamine with course 1 or with course 2.
The study was conducted at a single site at Yorkshire Regional Centre for Pediatric Oncology and Hematology in the United Kingdom.
Patients were undergoing the active treatment phase of care.
This was a randomized study using the patients as their own controls.
No difference was found between the five symptoms or for the total number of children with each symptom.
Oral glutamine did not improve the nutritional status of patients in the study. Even though subjective toxicity scores showed more problems if glutamine was not used, because of the small sample size, the difference was not significant. In addition, 62% took glutamine via enteral feeding tube, therefore eliminating the local effect on the oral mucosa.
Further study into what factors resulted in the decreased use of TPN could be of benefit. Further studies are needed to investigate the use of oral glutamine using larger and more diverse populations.