By: Cat Ebeling, RN, MSN-PHN, co-author of the best-sellers: The Fat Burning Kitchen, The Top 101 Foods that Fight Aging & The Diabetes Fix
This antioxidant is so important it is considered the “Master Antioxidant” in the body.
This “master” antioxidant protects the human body like few others. This antioxidant is called glutathione. If your levels of glutathione are low, you are at a much higher risk for strokes, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s diseases, cancer, dangerous infections and even severe complications of Covid19.
Glutathione also boosts and recycles other antioxidants in the body including vitamin C, vitamin E, alpha lipoic acid and CoQ10. This antioxidant is made up these three amino acids: cysteine, glycine, glutamic acid (or glutamate).
When these three amino acids come together to form glutathione, they have the power to detoxify and get rid of dangerous free radicals, toxic drugs, and heavy metals such as lead and mercury. This mechanism is incredibly important to protect your entire body from dysfunction and disease.
Glutathione also protects the mitochondria in the cells—which is the power plant of the cell–ensuring your cells are able to make the energy your body needs. Each and every cell in the body contains mitochondria that convert glucose, amino acids, and fats from the foods you eat into energy. Our mitochondria need to be protected, and the primary protector is glutathione to guard our source of energy.
At first glance, glutathione is similar to other well-known antioxidants such as vitamin C and vitamin E. However, unlike most antioxidants like resveratrol and quercetin – your body can make its own glutathione. It just needs the right building blocks.
In fact, your body needs to make glutathione in order for you to live a healthy life. Scientists have even suggested its levels as a great predictor of one’s lifespan. Certain health conditions and lifestyle factors can lower one’s glutathione levels. People with diabetes, hepatitis, cancer, heavy alcohol consumption, HIV, Parkinson’s COPD, and cigarette smokers have low glutathione—although it is not known if low glutathione levels brought on the disease or if the disease actually depletes glutathione levels.
Other factors that deplete glutathione levels include:
• Diets high in processed foods and preservatives including nitrates, artificial sweeteners, dyes, and preservatives
• Chlorinated water
• Strenuous exercise
• Aging—levels go down after the age of twenty
• Pollution from car exhaust, second-hand smoke and industrial pollutants
• Pesticides, herbicides, solvents, fuels and fuel byproducts
• Household products such as laundry soap, fabric softeners, air fresheners, bleach, lawn and garden supplies
• Certain medications, including Tylenol
• Chronic stress, anxiety, depression
• Physical trauma
• Too much sun exposure, X-rays and electromagnetic fields (EMF’s)
Even though glutathione is naturally created in your cells, your body’s levels of it still naturally decrease with age. And glutathione also does not act alone in your body — it needs coenzymes to perform its various enzymatic roles.
The role of glutathione in necessary bodily functions is of primary importance. Healthy levels of glutathione are a major factor to good health and fighting disease.
The following health benefits largely relate to glutathione’s role in these vital bodily processes:
Antioxidants are one of the body’s biggest protectors of aging and disease. They go after free radicals and oxidative damage. Free radicals are highly reactive forms of oxygen produced in the body. When free radicals come into contact with normal molecules, they steal an electron, damaging the healthy cell and its DNA.
Just ‘living’ produces free radicals, and exercise, toxins in the environment and even lack of sleep increase that load. In fact, some estimates show that the DNA in your cells take 10,000 oxidative hits daily. Antioxidants work to counteract that damage caused by free radicals.
Glutathione directly binds to oxidative compounds that damage the cells and energy production. It goes after a wide range of oxidants, including superoxide, nitric oxide, carbon radicals, hydroperoxides, peroxynitrites, and lipid peroxides. Glutathione offers all-around antioxidant defense better than any other antioxidant.
Glutathione is equally important to boost the power of antioxidants your body needs, such as vitamin C and E. It increases overall antioxidant levels, something that could not be accomplished just with one substance.
High levels of inflammation are present in virtually every chronic illness including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. However, inflammation can, and should be, a healthy and necessary reaction to fight infectious invaders. The problem comes when you cannot shut down an excessive inflammatory reaction.
Glutathione can block production of most inflammatory cytokines. Cytokines are a product of our immune system. If you suffer from chronic health issues, cytokines contribute to a state of constant low-grade inflammation. While cytokines can be very beneficial, people with high levels of inflammation can have harmful levels of cytokines.
A number of airway and lung diseases including COPD, tuberculosis, pneumonia and asthma result in excessive inflammation, but they can improve when healthy glutathione levels are increased.
The highly contagious virus, SARS-CoV-2, also incites an inflammatory reaction in the lungs of some people, which can become deadly. This is often a result of a ‘cytokine’ storm which causes an excessive amount of fluid and inflammation to build up in the lungs. Glutathione helps to modulate the immune reaction and lower the inflammatory response in this viral illness.
Injuries also create an inflammatory response. Whether you are talking about trauma, infection, toxins, or allergies, your immune system answers the same.
When an injury occurs, blood and lymph vessels release fluids and this creates the physical manifestations of redness, pain, stiffness, and swelling. After the infection or injury is repaired the acute inflammatory response normally subsides and goes away.
Unfortunately for many, environmental toxins, diet, chronic stress, and other lifestyle issues can cause inflammation that does not go away as it is meant to. As a result, many people suffer from chronic, systemic inflammation.
Rebalancing glutathione levels reduces chronic inflammation and restores a balanced immune function.
Glutathione helps your immune system stay strong and always ready to fight infections—without overreacting as in the case of autoimmune disease or allergies—or in the case of Covid19, glutathione helps protect against the cytokine storm. While vitamin C gets most of the attention for an antioxidant that boosts immunity, glutathione should be center stage.
According to a 2013 study, glutathione helps fight microbial, viral and parasitic infections while enhancing the functional activity of immune cells and improving both your innate (your first line of defense) and adaptive (antibody specific) immunity.
Studies show that active glutathione powers up natural killer (NK) and T cells, your body’s innate immune system’s front-line infection fighters. T cells enhanced with glutathione are able to produce more natural infection-fighting substances, making them more effective fighting both bacterial and viral infections.
This study found that glutathione doubled natural killer cells’ ability to kill off invaders after six months of use. Glutathione also has a very potent antibacterial effect as it helps immune cells called macrophages fight the bacterium that causes tuberculosis, Mycobacterium tuberculosis.
In another study, researchers found that glutathione modulates the behavior of many immune system cells that affect adaptive immunity and protect against microbial, viral and parasitic infections.
Many chronic infections such as Epstein-Barr virus, hepatitis, herpes viruses and Lyme disease—to name a few—deregulate and suppress the immune system. Glutathione can modulate and reverse this suppression.
Autoimmune disease—which is characterized by an overactive immune system that attacks the body—is also hallmarked by imbalanced glutathione levels. Taking supplemental glutathione for autoimmune disease helps lower inflammation and modulate the immune system.
Our brains need glutathione to function effectively. In fact there is a clear link between low glutathione levels and decreased brain health.
As we age, it’s not uncommon to experience a bit of forgetfulness or difficulty concentrating. These are just two examples of neurodegeneration, a process by which the neurons in our brains become damaged and may even die. Aging can actually cause brains to ‘shrink’ and not function at full capacity. While this process is unavoidable as we age, it can be slowed, or even reversed, and glutathione plays an important role.
Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease are both linked to oxidative stress and low levels of glutathione. Increasing the amount of this antioxidant can help slow the progression of these neurodegenerative disorders.
Alzheimer’s disease is also at least partly, caused by oxidative stress. The buildup of toxic proteins in Alzheimer’s further lowers glutathione levels, making the patients more likely to be deficient. Antioxidants have shown great promise to prevent and/or slow the disease.
Several clinical studies showed that antioxidants supplements slowed the progression Alzheimer’s. In mice with Alzheimer’s, increasing glutathione could boost memory, reduce plaque buildup, and improve overall symptoms. Other neurological illnesses such as Lyme disease, ADHD, autism, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and anxiety and depression improve with higher levels of glutathione.
Helps the Liver Detoxify
The role of glutathione in your body’s detoxification system is vital and necessary. But your natural processes sometimes need a boost from increased glutathione from your diet or supplements.
The detoxification process begins in the cells. Toxins and other materials are partially processed by special proteins inside the cells. If this process does not work perfectly, the toxins can turn into dangerous free radicals at this point. Glutathione steps in to assist here and neutralizes these toxins, which are then sent to the liver to be further broken down.
As a detoxifier, glutathione is unparalleled. It binds metals and other toxins and transforms them into compounds that can be excreted in bile or urine. Once bound, these toxins become water-soluble and can be transported out of cells.
However, the binding of toxins to glutathione creates a demand on the body to make new glutathione. Deficiency results when a tissue or system cannot keep pace with the demand.
Because it is the primary organ of detoxification, the liver manages the body’s largest stores of glutathione, which play a major role in detoxifying environmental pollutants, radiation, drugs, carcinogenic chemicals, and heavy metals.
When there is a deficiency in antioxidants, cell death in the liver can occur, leading to liver damage and the progression of fatty liver disease. Glutathione has been shown to improve protein, enzyme, and bilirubin levels in the blood of individuals with alcoholic and nonalcoholic chronic fatty liver disease. (NAFLD can be caused by a poor diet and high levels of sugar and high fructose corn syrup.)
Glutathione Improves Athletic Performance
Glutathione can boost athletic performance and is a proven exercise enhancer. In one study of eight men receiving glutathione before a workout, the glutathione group performed better, felt less fatigued, and had lower levels of lactic acid. Lactic acid buildup is thought to result in muscle fatigue and burning feeling while working out. Lactic acid buildup can also cause low blood pressure, muscle aches post-workout and loss of performance.
Glutathione is also key to boost nitric oxide, a key performance enhancer for exercise. Nitric oxide is well known to dilate blood vessels improving blood flow and oxygen delivery to muscles and tissues. This improves both power and endurance.
Glutathione and Vitamin D Utilization
Vitamin D3 is a very hot topic these days, especially because it controls and modulates the immune system. When glutathione levels are low, the body has a hard time utilizing vitamin D.
In fact, low vitamin D3 levels are connected with simultaneous glutathione deficiency. Researchers found that supplementing with vitamin D3 and glutathione actually restored glutathione levels along with increasing the bioavailability of the vitamin D3. The two also effectively lowered inflammation.
Scientists confirm that consuming vitamin D supplements “are unlikely to be successful unless the glutathione levels are also corrected.” In other words, simply taking vitamin D isn’t enough. You need to be sure you have adequate glutathione levels to make sure that your vitamin D3 is working as it should.
Glutathione in Heart Health, Diabetes, Skin Health, Kidney Disease, and Fighting Aging
Glutathione lowers inflammation, help protecting the heart and blood vessels from cardiovascular disease. Those with diabetes, especially type 2 diabetes often have low glutathione levels which leads to more oxidative stress, inflammation and tissue damage. Increasing glutathione levels aids in protecting the body against damage from high blood sugar.
Glutathione helps reduce the effects of aging on the skin, improving appearance and skin elasticity. It also helps manage psoriasis, a chronic inflammatory skin disease. Glutathione lightens skin tones, removes ‘age’ spots (or hyperpigmentation) in the skin as well.
Research shows that glutathione may help increase the levels of red blood cells in in patients who are suffering from chronic renal failure and undergoing hemodialysis, making it a useful compound for the treatment and management of anemia a common side effect of kidney patients.
How to Raise Your Levels of Glutathione
Plenty of foods will also help your body to boost production of glutathione, especially those that contain high amounts of sulphur, such cruciferous vegetables.
Glutathione is found in raw asparagus, almonds, spinach, broccoli, walnuts, garlic, tomatoes, cucumber, watercress and chives. However, there is great variability in how much glutathione is absorbed from these dietary sources. Cooking, storage and farming methods can change the amount of glutathione in foods.
You can also maximize your body’s ability to create glutathione by eating foods that are rich in it’s the building blocks for glutathione. These foods include:
1. Whey protein powder provides all the correct amino acids that your body needs to produce glutathione. Plus, it contains a unique ingredient known as glutamylcysteine, which is highly bioactive in its affinity for converting to glutathione.
When buying whey protein powder, make sure that you choose a cold-pressed product that comes from organically raised grass fed cows to be sure that it’s free from harmful chemicals, hormones. Also check the label to be sure the product is not full of sugar or artificial sweetener—except for stevia, which is a natural sweetener.
2. Allium and cruciferous vegetables—Vegetables such as garlic, onions, leeks and chives contain allium. Cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, arugula and brussels sprouts, have high amounts of sulfur-containing amino acids that are essential for glutathione production.
3. Grass fed meat and pastured eggs are also excellent sources of sulfur-containing amino acids to aid the body in creating glutathione.
4. Foods containing selenium—Selenium plays an important role in the formation of glutathione, so consuming foods rich in this nutrient will also boost your glutathione. In addition, selenium is important for optimal thyroid function, as well being valuable for the immune system. Some dietary sources of selenium include Brazil nuts, wild-caught seafood and organ meats.
Glutathione in supplements
Glutathione comes in capsules or liquid, liposomal form. The active form of glutathione in supplements is called “Reduced Glutathione” or “L-glutathione”.
Plain glutathione is an extremely fragile molecule which is easily degraded and destroyed by bile and stomach acid, which is why taking the powdered capsule form may not be the most bioavailable way to take glutathione.
Liposomal glutathione is made of the exact same building blocks as our own cell membranes. Liposomes are microscopic, fat-soluble spheres with glutathione intentionally trapped inside the water-soluble center. When ingested, the liposomes pass through the stomach intact and can then easily attach to the cell membrane in the small intestines. Once attached, the liposomes ‘fuse’ with your cells, releasing the glutathione content into the circulation.
Eliminating sugar, grains and processed foods from your diet is a great way to lessen oxidative stress that uses up glutathione. Be sure to also get a decent amount of appropriate exercise to increase your body’s ability to produce glutathione. Managing your stress and getting enough sleep also help inhibit the damaging effects of free radicals. And be sure to get outside in the sunshine around noon every day to build up your body’s levels of vitamin D, which functions much better in the company of glutathione.
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