Glutamine may be an essential amino acid in patients with catabolic disease, as it has been demonstrated that circulating glutamine levels drop during critical illness and following major surgery; this may result in an increase in secondary infection risk, recovery time and mortality rates. However, there is much discrepancy in the literature with regards to randomized controlled studies, and therefore, the present study is an umbrella review of published meta-analyses, conducted to examine the effectiveness of glutamine's role as a therapeutic agent. A search using PubMed, Cochrane Library and CINAHL from January 1st, 1980 to December 31st, 2016 was conducted using the following strategy: 'Glutamine AND (meta-analysis OR systematic review)' and publications were retrieved, which provided quantitative statistical analysis of pooled treatment effects on the relative risks of infectious complications, mortality and length of stay in hospital. A total of 22 meta-analyses were entered into the current umbrella review. As displayed in Tables I, II and III, these analyses are split into three groups, based on different parameters. Of the 19 meta-analyses investigating the effects of infectious complications, 15 identified statistically significant reductions in complications, with relative risks ranging between 0.42 and 0.93. In addition, 12 of the 18 meta-analyses analyzing the length of hospital stays presented statistically significant reductions in the length of stay, with reductions ranging between 0.19 to 4.73 days. Only 4 of the 15 meta-analyses studying mortality effects identified statistically significant reductions in mortality with relative risks ranging between 0.64 and 1.28. Statistically significant heterogeneity was observed in 16 of 22 meta-analyses, and publication bias was observed in five of 11 meta-analyses. Glutamine supplementation for critically ill or surgical patients through parenteral or enteral routes appears to reduce the rate of hospital acquired infectious complications and shortening of the length of stay in hospital. Furthermore, glutamine supplementation appeared to reduce the rate of in-patient mortality, but the majority of meta-analyses did not reach statistical significance. However, researchers must appreciate the positive results with caution in light of the fact that there exists statistically significant heterogeneity for the majority of meta-analyses, and statistically significant publication bias in almost half.
Keywords: critically ill patients; glutamine; infections; meta-analysis; surgery patients.