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Glutamine And Peripheral Neuropathy Caused By Chemotherapy

Nonessential Amino Acid Protects Nerves From Damage

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Updated September 08, 2011

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

A plain white powder from your local health food store can help reduce and prevent chemo-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN).  It's called glutamine or L-glutamine, and is easy to use.  This tasteless powder can be dissolved in a drink of water or juice and taken before, during, and after chemotherapy treatments.  No prescription is required, but be sure to discuss this with your oncologist before starting to use glutamine for neuropathy.

Chemo Can Cause Peripheral Neuropathy

Some chemotherapy drugs can cause peripheral neuropathy – numbness, tingling and sometimes a burning sensation in your hands and feet.  This side effect happens because chemo can cause nerve damage in your arms, hands, and fingers, as well as your legs, feet and toes.

If nerves in your digestive tract are damaged, you may experience constipation, diarrhea or bladder problems. If your neuropathy becomes bad enough, it can affect your quality of life and interfere with your treatment, requiring you to take a lower dose of chemotherapy. 

Glutamine Protects Your Nerves

L-Glutamine powder is available in health food stores and from naturopath shops.  Taken in juice or water before an infusion, L-Glutamine has been shown to have a protective effect on nerves. It may form a cover on nerves in your hands, feet, and digestive tract, reducing or deflecting damage that could be caused by chemotherapy.  Glutamine is a nonessential amino acid that will not interfere with your chemotherapy drugs, nor will it affect your chances of cancer survival.

How To Use Glutamine For Neuropathy

The amount of L-Glutamine powder to be used will vary depending on your chemo dose and the type of drug being used.  A typical dose would be 10 grams taken three times a day on the day of chemo, the same dose for the following five days, and then 10 grams twice a day for a week.

For low-dose chemo, you could try one scant tablespoon of L-Glutamine powder about 30 minutes before your infusion, then take the same dose daily for one week. If numbness and tingling recur when you stop taking L-Glutamine, try taking it for a few more days as your symptoms taper off.

Benefits Of Glutamine

L-Glutamine powder is not expensive, but its value in preventing peripheral neuropathy is priceless.  Taking glutamine can improve your quality of life during chemo, but it might not work for every patient.  There are also prescription medications available to help with pain and inflammation related to neuropathy.

Before taking any nutritional supplement or substance like L-Glutamine powder during your treatment for breast cancer, talk it over with your oncologist.  Work together with your health care team to protect and improve your overall health.

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Sources:

Glutamine as a Neuroprotective Agent in High-dose Paclitaxel-induced Peripheral Neuropathy: A Clinical and Electrophysiologic Study. M.D. Stubblefield, L.T. Vahdat, C.M. Balmaceda, A.B. Troxel, C.S. Hesdorffer and C.L. Gooch. Clinical Oncology, Volume 17, Issue 4, June 2005, Pages 271-276.

Oral glutamine is effective for preventing oxaliplatin-induced neuropathy in colorectal cancer patients. Wang WS, Lin JK, Lin TC, Chen WS, Jiang JK, Wang HS, Chiou TJ, Liu JH, Yen CC, Chen PM. Oncologist. 2007 Mar;12(3):312-9.

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