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Should I Avoid Glutamine If I Have Cancer?


Thomas Seyfried completed a study in 2019 that found greater survival and slower tumor growth in mice who were given a medication that inhibited uptake of glutamine into cancer cells.[1] In other words, he found that cancer appears to be able to live off of glutamine and it may be helpful to remove its food source. This leads to another common question - if someone were to implement a low glutamine diet would this be beneficial? The simple answer is - no. Nearly every food in existence contains glutamine - and many of the healthiest most important foods that have been shown to help reduce cancer rates have higher amounts of glutamine - such as soy, nuts and seeds.


While limiting cancer’s intake of glutamine may seem promising, paradoxically the opposite appears to apply as well: directly supplying glutamine to tumors may be helpful. In a 2023 study scientists at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital found that immune and tumor cells compete over glutamine.[2] When cancer cells completely monopolize glutamine, they prevent the immune cells from destroying cancer because the immunity cannot function well without glutamine. In their study supplementing enough glutamine to the tumor actually led to slowed tumor growth because this left more glutamine in the body available for the immune system. So while this technically may have given the cancer more fuel, there was a simultaneous stronger increase in the anti-cancer response of the immune system. This allowed the immunity to kill off cancer cells faster.


One approach involves inhibiting the cancer’s uptake of glutamine, to leave more glutamine for the body, and the other approach involves giving the cancer additional glutamine, so that it does not steal glutamine from the rest of the body. While these approaches seem opposing at first glance, they both share one common goal: to build up the body’s (and immune system’s) store of glutamine to allow the body to mount a strong attack against the cancer.


Before taking any supplements, it's important to speak with a naturopath or health care professional. Consider booking with one of our naturopaths if you are interested in natural therapies. Read more about L glutamine here or about one of our main therapies, mistletoe  here.


[1] Therapeutic benefit of combining calorie-restricted ketogenic diet and glutamine targeting in late-stage experimental glioblastoma

Purna Mukherjee, Zachary M. Augur, Mingyi Li, Collin Hill, Bennett Greenwood, Marek A. Domin, Gramoz Kondakci, Niven R. Narain, Michael A. Kiebish, Roderick T. Bronson, Gabriel Arismendi-Morillo, Christos Chinopoulos & Thomas N. Seyfried

Communications Biology volume 2, Article number: 200 (2019) Link

[2] SLC38A2 and glutamine signalling in cDC1s dictate anti-tumour immunity

Chuansheng Guo, Zhiyuan You, Hao Shi, Yu Sun, Xingrong Du, Gustavo Palacios, Cliff Guy, Sujing Yuan, Nicole M. Chapman, Seon Ah Lim, Xiang Sun, Jordy Saravia, Sherri Rankin, Yogesh Dhungana & Hongbo Chi

Nature volume 620, pages200–208 (2023) Link News Link

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