What is glutamic acid?
Glutamic acid primarily helps in bio synthesizing proteins and acts as a neurotransmitter that helps in transmitting information from the brain to certain cells of the body and vice versa. It also stimulates the production of another type of neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which helps in reducing anxiety. It’s a non-essential amino acid meaning that the body naturally produces them. Some of us might not even be aware that we also consume them daily through our diet. This is because it’s found in most food and the main component of MSG (monosodium glutamate).
Glutamic acid has the same function as glutamate. Thus, scientists often used them interchangeably. The only dissimilarity between the two is their chemical composition. In fact, the suffix “ate” of glutamate means an acid that has a diminished hydrogen atom. This happens when the glutamic acid losses hydrogen in its chemical structure. Thus, the process turns it into glutamate (CH2H2COO). Doctors Charles Grisham and Reginald Garrett explained in their book titled “Biochemistry” that the condition inside the human body is excellent for glutamate and glutamic acid to prosper because it favors hydrogen atom loss from glutamic acid.
It’s thought that about four pounds of glutamate can be found in the body. And most of them are stored in the muscle tissues, liver, kidneys, and other parts of the body. Glutamic acid is also the primary responsibility for the production of glutamine. This is a well-known amino acid especially to people with active lifestyles because it’s believed to replenish energy.
Some might also confuse glutamic acid with glutamine. Though they sounded alike and classified under the same amino acid group, these amino acids are different. Glutamine is a well-known component in most performance enhancer supplements. On the other hand, glutamic acid is well-known as the main compound that makes up the entire structure of monosodium glutamate (MSG).
Brief historical background
The existence of glutamic acid was identified and confirmed in 1866 by a German chemist named Karl Heinrich Ritthausen. He isolated the chemical compound by treating gluten found in wheat with sulfuric acid. But its chemical composition was not determined until 1908 by Kikunae Ikeda—a Japanese scientist for the Tokyo Imperial University. He was able to conclude its composition through the brown crystals that have formed after the evaporation of Kombu broth. He also observed that the compound has a distinct taste and later termed the flavor umami. It was eventually mass-produced and sold in the market—it’s what’s known today as monosodium glutamate (MSG).
What causes glutamic acid deficiency?
In general, glutamic acid supplementation is not necessary because the body naturally produces them. In case glutamic acid deficiency occurs, we can easily get them through food sources.
Glutamic acid insufficiency occurs in individuals with immune system disorders and those suffering from malnourishment. Also, glutamine level in the body goes down when a person is under stress. Either that stress is the result of intense physical activity, mental pressures, or ailment.
Symptoms of low levels of glutamic acid may include one of the following:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Frequent feelings of tiredness
These symptoms are observed to be caused by the accumulation of excessive ammonia in the body resulting from glutamic acid deficiency.
What is the purpose of glutamic acid supplements?
Glutamic acid in glutamine supplement form is necessary for strengthening the immune system. It also improves the function of muscle cells and the digestive system. Cells located in the intestines depend on glutamine to aid the treatment of gastrointestinal problems such as gastritis. It also helps people recover from illness or surgeries.
Since glutamic acid is known to increase neural activities, there are studies that suggest it may enhance cognitive functions. In fact, it’s one of the most abundant neurotransmitters in the nervous system. It’s thought that it may improve mental clarity, concentration, mood, and alertness.
This amino acid is also used by some in treating alcoholism, muscular dystrophy, cognitive retardation, fatigue, and Parkinson’s disease. This particular claim, however, is scientifically unproven and medical conditions may become adverse if treatment was solely dependent on glutamic acid.
Since physical workouts usually drain off glutamine consistently, dietary supplements with glutamine are often recommended for athletes and people with active lifestyles. Aside from replenishing depleted glutamine, it can also boost athletes’ performance.
Another benefit an athlete can get from glutamic acid is its capability to detoxify cells located in the muscle tissues. For instance, intense workouts increase the amounts of ammonia in the muscle cells, which impedes recovery time. The glutamic acid converts ammonia into glutamine to speed up recovery in between and after workouts. It’s also important in metabolizing carbohydrates and plays an important role in Krebs’s cycle.
In general, amino acid supplements are sold either as a single compound or in combination with other amino acids. They may also come as part of the ingredients of dietary supplements and multi-vitamins. It may be sold in powder, fluid, or tablet forms.
There are no official regulations on glutamic acid supplement doses. But the dosage suggests by the Medical Center of the University of Pittsburgh is between 3 to 30g a day. In addition to dietary supplements, the individual may also add foods rich in glutamic acid that includes dairy products, eggs, poultry meat, red meat, fish, and legumes. Fruits and vegetables contain fewer amounts of glutamic acid among other food groups.
Potential health risks
Unless you’re an athlete or if you’re a fairly healthy person, it’s best to refrain from using glutamic acid supplements. In general, the glutamic amino acid is safe for consumption. However, it may cause side effects if taken in excess. Since it stimulates nervous system activity, it may cause side effects such as fatigue and headache. Its overconsumption may also trigger neurological conditions such as ALS or epilepsy.
If you have kidney disease, neurological disorder, and liver problems, it’s highly advisable to talk to your doctor first before using glutamic acid supplements. It’s also not recommended if the person is taking anti-epileptic medications because it might interfere with the drug.