Dietary supplementation with nutrients enhancing immune function is beneficial in patients with surgical and critical illness. Malnutrition and immune dysfunction are common features in hospitalized patients. Specific nutrients with immunological and pharmacological effects, when consumed in amounts above the daily requirement, are referred to as immune-enhancing nutrients or immunonutrients. Supplementation of immunonutrients is important especially for patients with immunodeficiency, virus or overwhelming infections accompanied by a state of malnutrition. Representative immunonutrients are arginine, omega-3 fatty acids, glutamine, nucleotides, beta-carotene, and/or branched-chain amino acids. Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid and performs multiple roles in human body. However, glutamine is depleted from muscle stores during severe metabolic stress including sepsis and major surgery. Therefore it is considered conditionally essential under these conditions. This review discusses the physiological role of glutamine, mode and dose for glutamine administration, as well as improvement of certain disease state after glutamine supplementation. Even though immunonutrition has not been widely assimilated by clinicians other than nutritionists, immunonutrients including glutamine may exert beneficial influence on diverse patient populations.
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