by Josh Hodnik
When browsing the Immunity Section at most vitamin and supplement stores, the shelves are usually lined with products like echinacea, zinc lozenges, and an assortment of other herbs and vitamins that are thought to boost the immune system. If a tub of creatine or glutamine was found in this section, most people would think it was put there by mistake. Billions of dollars are spent every year on a variety of sports supplements to increase performance, stamina, and to pack on more muscle. Even though the sports supplement consumer is buying these products to enhance their physique or athletic performance, they are often getting the added benefit of a very potent immune booster.
Glutamine is an amino acid that is often found in pre-workout and post-workout supplements. This amino acid is the most abundant found in the body, and is considered non-essential since the body has the ability to produce it on its own. Glutamine consists of 19 percent nitrogen, making it the primary transporter of nitrogen into the muscle cells. This amino acid can minimize muscle breakdown while increasing protein synthesis. Glutamine is a staple for most bodybuilders and athletes for its ability to increase growth hormone and enhance recovery.
There is another side to glutamine, and that being its ability to increase immune function. The immune system includes cells, tissues, and organs that protect the body against bacteria, parasites, fungi, and viruses that can could invade the body and cause serious illness. Glutamine supports the division of immune cells when the body is challenged with anything that could cause illness. It also helps white blood cells produce compounds that fight pathogens. Stress can cause an increase in cortisol, and cortisol can lower stored glutamine, which impairs immune function. Stress can come in many forms, whether it is physical or mental. It can be stress from having to hit a deadline at work, or stress from hard work at the gym. Regardless of the root of the stress that is causing cortisol to flood the system, supplementing with glutamine can definitely give the immune system a boost. 5-10 grams of glutamine is recommended daily.
Taurine, which is a derivative of the sulfur containing amino acid cysteine, is found throughout the body, especially in muscle and nerve tissue. It helps regulate heartbeat and muscle contractions. Like glutamine, taurine is considered a non-essential amino acid. The body does make this amino acid, but it does need vitamin B-6 to convert cysteine and methionine to taurine. During times of physical exertion, injury, or disease, the body may not be able to make enough taurine to meet demands. Bodybuilders have supplemented with taurine for years for its ability to increase endurance and control water balance. Most of the very popular energy drinks that are found in every corner store in America, list taurine as one of the main ingredients. Taurine goes beyond endurance and can help support the immune system. This substance is a membrane stabilizer and regulates calcium flux, thereby controlling cell stability. Studies were performed on cats, in which taurine is an essential nutrient, due to an inability to synthesize the compound. In cats deprived of taurine, substantial impairment of immune function occurs. This immune impairment was reversed when taurine was added back into the diet. In mice, the administration of taurine prevented the decline in T-cell number that occurs with aging and enhanced the proliferative responses of T-cells in both young and old mice. Not much information is available on the effects of taurine on immune function in humans. It is known that a sufficient supply of sulfur amino acids (such as taurine) from diet and tissue breakdown is necessary for the synthesis of a myriad of proteins and peptides involved in normal functioning of the immune system. Even though this supplement has been regarded mainly as a sports supplement, it has the potential to greatly improve immune function when taken at 2-4 grams daily.
Studies have been conducted on whey protein in regards to its ability to boost glutathione, which acts as a cell protector against pesticides, plastic, benzene, and carbon tetrachloride. It also protects against the toxic effects from smog, cigarette smoke, heavy metals, solvents, dyes, phenols, and nitrates. Glutathione works to slow or stop the formation of free radicals. It possesses a unique ability to slow the aging process, and since it aids in the protection of cells and membranes, it is able to enhance immune system cells. It has been shown that when supplementing with whey protein, there is an increase in glutathione, and white blood cells. The immune boosting ability of whey could definitely play a role in preventing overtraining.
These three supplements are usually taken to increase muscle, enhance endurance, and to speed up recovery, but they could also have a positive impact on the immune system.