Glutamine and its use in selected oncology settings

  • Reinette Tydeman-Edwards Port Elizabeth Provincial Hospital Department of Health
Keywords: cancer, glutamine, mucositis, oncology


This review summarises the latest evidence for the use of glutamine (GLN) in oncology taking cognisance of current systematic reviews and available guidelines. Various studies in adults suggest that GLN supplementation suppresses tumour growth, by restoring the function of natural killer cells; improves protein metabolism; and, possibly enhances the effect of cancer therapy. There is insufficient data on whether GLN supplementation reduces the incidence of infection, although a trend exists towards such a reduction. GLN-supplemented enteral nutrition was superior in improving immune function, whilst oral GLN alone appeared to have no effect on: mortality; infections; time to neutrophil recovery; or, relapse. GLN significantly reduces the duration of diarrhoea, but had no effect on its prevention. Oral GLN may reduce the duration and severity of mucositis, with fewer days on opioid therapy. Oral GLN, but not intravenous GLN (IV-GLN), may decrease mucositis and graft-versus-host disease in adult bone marrow transplant patients. Currently, the evidence for reduction of severe mucositis or infection rate in children is not statistically significant, but GLN does significantly reduce parenteral nutrition use, reflecting a possible improvement in lower gut mucositis. Nevertheless, too few studies exist to either support or refute that GLN supplementation either reduces the duration of, or prevents the progression to, severe mucositis. In children, there is no significant evidence that IV-GLN supplementation reduces infection rates, hospital length of stay (LOS), graft-versus-host disease, or mortality. Children with solid tumours on chemotherapy receiving oral GLN supplementation showed significant improvements in some nutritional and immunological parameters, as well as the severity of stomatitis and need for antibiotic therapy. Caution is recommended when considering provision of IV-GLN to oncology patients who have hepatic or renal insufficiency or failure. Monitoring of hepatic and renal function is recommended. Further studies are needed specifically on the use of glutamine in an oncology setting. Larger, multicentre, randomised placebo-controlled studies are needed in both adult and paediatric oncology populations. (Full text available online at South Afr J Clin Nutr 2017; DOI: 10.1080/16070658.2017.1371467

Author Biography

Reinette Tydeman-Edwards, Port Elizabeth Provincial Hospital Department of Health
MS RD(SA) Chief Dietician Port Elizabeth Provincial Hospital South Africa
How to Cite
Tydeman-Edwards, R. (2017). Glutamine and its use in selected oncology settings. South African Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 30(4), 29. Retrieved from
Review Articles