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Autistic Adventures with Glutamine


Closeness by Donna Williams www.donnawilliams.net Clearing up poor autism related information about Glutamine – by Donna Williams

Someone wrote:

I read somewhere Donna Williams wrote about a glutamate concoction she said made her feel better. Are you familiar with this? I ask because of a recent NIH study that talked about glutamate neurons role in autism. The study was published in the journal Nature Genetics in March and is considered a break through in the genetic mapping of ASD. I would really like to find out more about this.

My reply…

No, not glutaMATE, glutaMINE.
Glutamate in excess damages the brain.

Many people with autism have excess glutamate and low glutamine or they may have low levels of each.
Glutamine counter-balances glutamate and reduces excess ammonia which harms the brain.

Glutamine has nothing to do with gluten and contains no gluten.

I was on 2000mg L-Glutamine for over 15 years, longer than anyone else with autism who I know has used it.

I was already on dietary interventions since the 1990s and was first put on nutritional supplements- Vitamin C, zinc, multi-vitamins – around 1972-1975 when I was 9-12 years old. I was one of the first known people with autism in the world whose parents trialled the use of nutritional supplements. I have mentioned this in Nobody Nowhere and some of my other works and lectures and attribute this intervention to improved health and language processing at that time and coincided with my transition from echolalia and stored strings into interpretive (meaning based) language between age 9-11 (two sided communication took longer to emerge).

Glutamine is considered an important ‘brain-food’. Whilst it is traditionally a sports medicine, Glutamine is used as a growth factor, used to raise T-cell count (immunity), used as an anti inflammatory (its the building block of glucosamine which is made from glutamine+glucose), as a natural anti-depressant and anti-anxiety supplement, used in difficult to treat diabetes, used in recovery from gut surgeries and in inflammatory bowel conditions, used to treat alcoholism, used in the management of schizophrenia and dementia and as a ‘smart drug’ by those with learning and developmental disabilities. It is used in the management of systemic inflammation including that of the gut and blood brain barrier.

It is NOT suitable for ALL people with autism nor is it effective for ALL people with autism but a 30 day trial usually tells whether it will be helpful or not.
It is not suitable for those who also have muscle wasting diseases.
IF you have concerns, then a naturopath can oversee a 30 day trail of glutamine to ensure it suits the person. Low or homeopathic doses of glutamine do not seem effective. Doses should also not be exceeded.

The advised adult dose by the company who makes it, was generally around 2000mg (though body builders regularly take 5000mg daily). I have known of children aged 9+ generally trial around 1,500mg, and younger children from as young as 3 years old have trialled around 1000mg. It is generally not recommended for use by those under 15. Glutamine changes the chemical structure of the brain whilst on it.

As a consultant over 3 years at a school where a significant number of the children trialled glutamine, I saw children with autism on glutamine who were undersized then grow taller over a year of taking it. I also saw significant developmental and communication improvements in those children whose parents felt it was beneficial to them. This does not mean glutamine would cause the same improvement for all children with autism. My view is that a 30 day trial will at least show if it might suit a particular person and open their mind up to what they may actually be capable of. If that was successful then this could be extended to a 3 or 6 month trial to see what developmental leaps the person might make on this supplement. Beyond 6 months, the main thing to weigh up is that it is a growth factor so on that basis is not usually for children under the age of 15.

It is a supplement on the treatment protocol of Paul Shattock, a world leading expert in nutritional factors in autism and who is a pharmacologist.
I have been on 2000mg glutamine powder (the powder is cheaper than capsules by the way) for 15 years. It is purchased from GNC stores in the UK, USA, Australia but probably available through most health food stores.

More interesting points about Glutamine:

* L-Glutamine is the only amino acid that crosses the blood brain barrier
* It is the only brain nutrient found to directly improve connections and brain function in those with brain injury
* It is a detoxer, it reduces harmful ammonia levels in the brain (including reducing ‘brain fog’), it is an immune booster, blood sugar leveler so may reduce salicylate related toxicity levels, reduce bugs and duration of bugs, regulate mood and stabilise info processing through resulting blood sugar levels
* It raises GABA/serotonin which combats anxiety and depression so may reduce tendencies toward social anxiety/phobia/ selective mutism/withdrawal and tend to expand interests, motivation, self challenging, communication.
* Glutamine improves the integrity of the blood brain barrier, improving the protection of the brain from bugs and undigested proteins crossing into the brain and setting off the brain chemistry imbalances that cause co-morbid mood, anxiety, compulsive disorders (and Quinolinic Acid which contributes to brain injury/disability).
* Glutamine relines the digestive tract, reducing leaky gut and improving nutrition levels
* It is widely used in the brain injury, Downs, Autism, LD, Dyslexia communities as a ‘smart drug’ for its ability to improve information processing… as well as students cramming for exams. Hence L-Glutamine is not taken just by those deficient in Glutamine, just those whose brains require some help.
* Its ability to improve info processing may mean less information overload, staying ‘online’ in one’s processing and diminish associated behavioural issues.
* It occurs naturally in raw fish, raw eggs, raw meat (yuk).
* It can be mixed into dairy free margarine, rice milk or other foods but is destroyed by cooking.
* It is one of three amino acids which make the essential chelation/immune boosting supplement, glutathione (the others being glycine and cysteine)
* Its impact on improving brain function shows in 7-30 days with full effect at 30 days, as such the loss of this effect will also be seen in 7-30 days after stopping it.
* Its ability to improve connections in the in brain injury will take longer than just its effect on improving information processing
* Supplementing with some amino acids requires supervision by a naturopath as excesses in one can cause deficiencies in others. Glutamine is one of the amino acids that can be taken in isolation to other amino acids though supervision by a naturopath can be helpful.
* Identity in those with autism will take time to adjust to altered information processing levels. The older a child is when they begin to transition into being ‘less autistic’, the less likely they will be to keep pushing themselves once support is removed as they revert to ‘their own world’ because its more deeply entrenched in identity terms. Hence if glutamine improves their abilities, identity will take around a year later to really adjust to these new levels so that if the glutamine is removed the person will continue to expect of themselves the new levels they have come to identify with.

In those for whom glutamine proved beneficial in a 30 day trial, the improvements which may occur within 3 months of starting glutamine may be those associated with improved gut function, improved brain health in reducing toxins crossing into the brain through improving the blood-brain barrier, improved brain health in reducing ammonia accumulation in the brain which causes ‘brain fog’, improved functioning associated with reduction of anxiety and raising mood.

Naturopaths train for up to 4 years in the study of nutritional and natural medicine on health and development. Pharmacologists are specialists in chemistry. GPs and most medical doctors who have not done further training in nutritional medicine often have only got a few weeks of study in nutritional medicine. A dietitian is also not a naturopath unless they have also studied naturopathy. Ideally, a qualified medical doctor who also has a formal qualification in naturopathy is an ideal person to discuss nutritional health or nutritional interventions with. These are rare. Most GPs and doctors with no formal training in naturopathy do not believe in the use of natural medicine. Many still do not believe in any relationship between dietary interventions and management of mood, anxiety, behaviour or information processing in those autism unless they are specifically given and read peer reviewed medical journal studies proving such relationships such as those published in publications like The Lancet. Drug companies fund most medical research, and as such there are more published studies in such journals on the relationship between drugs and autism than there is on nutrition or supplements on autism. Drug companies are also often in direct financial competition with the companies which make nutritional supplements, including Glutamine.

To learn more about my use of Glutamine within a wider treatment protocol, read Everyday Heaven, Autism; An Inside Out Approach, The Jumbled Jigsaw or watch the DVD, The Dietary Wheelchair. You can find information on all of these on www.donnawilliams.net

I hope this helps clear up the poor information floating about.

NOTE: Glutamine may be highly helpful to the immune system and in protecting the brain and gut lining but there are recent studies showing that cancer cells feed off glutamine. This doesn’t mean glutamine causes cancer but it does mean glutamine supplementation, including in Glutathione, should be reviewed if someone does develop cancer.


Donna Williams
autistic author, artist, composer, screenwriter

posted under Autism, Donna Williams