Glutathione: Your Ultimate Health Super-Hero!

by Alan Hewitt on April 14, 2012

March 14, 2012

If biochemistry were the stuff of comic books; antioxidants would be the super-heroes, with glutathione (gloota-thigh-own) being no less than a cross between Superman and Underdog.

As the most powerful antioxidant in the body, glutathione works around the clock to fend off nefarious characters and give every cell in the body the energy they need to enable you to work and play. And yet, few people recognise its importance.

Glutathione is likely to get more attention in the near future, as experts begin to connect the dots between depleted stores of the antioxidant and the likelihood of chronic disease and low energy levels.
“If you haven’t heard of glutathione yet, you will,” says Mark Hyman, MD, founder of The UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Mass., and a pioneer in the field of functional medicine. “In terms of slaying healthy, it is one of the most important molecules in the body.”

Glutathione is a triple threat to toxins. It neutralises free radicals, enhances the immune system and detoxifies the liver. But some worry that it has met its match. The trappings of modern life — everything from refined foods to over-the-counter painkillers to stress – rob the body of this vital antioxidant.

And, even if you’re doing everything right, ageing takes a bite. Around age 20, our glutathione levels start to slip. Ultimately, those levels can dip as much as 50 percent below optimal as we age.

Some scientists are now wondering if low glutathione levels aren’t partly to blame for the free-radical-induced illnesses so common in middle age and later, such as Alzheimer’s, cancer and heart disease.

Indeed, research published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that, among people with heart disease, those with the least amount of glutathione in their blood, were 30 percent more likely lo have a heart attack than those with the most glutathione.

Hyman didn’t understand the full ramifications of a glutathione deficiency until his own health was in peril. In the mid 1990s, he was besieged by muscle pain, brain fog and “bone-numbing” exhaustion. “I went from feeling really healthy one day to really sick the next,” he says.

After months of medical sleuthing, he discovered he had mercury poisoning probably due to eating contaminated fish and breathing tainted air while working in China. He suspects that the burden of detoxifying the mercury depleted his glutathione levels, leading his body to break down under the strain. ”

As you detoxify, your body uses up more and more of your glutathione stores until it’s gone,” he says. “That’s when you end up with toxic overload.”

In exploring what went wrong, Hyman discovered he lacked a gene, called GSTMl, crucial to making and recycling glutathione. He estimates that roughly half of people in western countries are missing one or more of the genes necessary to produce enough of the antioxidant.

The percentage climbs even higher among his critically ill patients, the vast majority of whom have rock bottom glutathione levels. “At first I thought, it was just a coincidence.” he says, “but I’ve come to realise that making and keeping a high level of glutathione is critical to preventing disease.”

Gloota-what?

Found in every cell in the body, glutathione protects the cell’s engine, called the mitochondria, from bacteria and viruses as well as toxins. It’s considered “the mother of all antioxidants,” as Hyman calls it, because all other antioxidants, including vitamin C and Vitamin E, rely on it to give them a second life.

The average antioxidant has a short life span, sacrificing itself whenever it wipes out a free radical. But glutathione carries enough extra zip to not only bring spent antioxidants back from the dead but also to recharge itself, explains Leslie Fuller, ND, an educator at the National College of Natural Medicine and practitioner at the Nature Cures Clinic, both in Portland, Oregon.

Most glutathione is made inside the body from three amino acids: glutamic acid, cysteine and glycine. In addition, some foods, particularly asparagus, spinach, avocado and squash, are high in a plant version of glutathione that the body converts to replenish its supply.

Under healthy conditions, and in a healthy environment, our bodies would be able to churn out, plenty of glutathione to meet our daily needs. But cigarettes, alcohol, caffeine, processed foods and certain medications deplete the body’s stash. So does stress.

And as Hyman discovered, toxic surroundings may pose an even bigger threat to our body’s glutathione supply.

Radical Riff-Raff

To fully appreciate glutathione, it helps to know a little more about its nemesis: free radicals. Free radicals are unstable oxygen molecules created by our metabolism. The instability stems from a missing electron. In a mad attempt to find balance, the misfit molecules rip electrons from their neighbours.

As a result, those molecules also turn into free radicals. This damage can eventually snowball and disrupt a cell’s integrity, causing it to behave abnormally.

“Almost every chronic illness known to humankind has been linked in some measure to free-radical-induced tissue damage,” says Lise Alschuler, ND, FABNO, coauthor of The Definitive Guide to Cancer: An Integrative Approach to Prevention, Treatment, and Healing, ‘Third Edition (Celestial Arts, 2010).

That’s not to say the goal is zero emissions. Indeed, some free-radical damage is natural. Every breath inhaled, every kilojoule burned, every muscle contracted leaves a wisp of free radicals in its wake.

“Even if we lived in a pristine environment, our bodies would still make free radicals,” says Alschuler. And, as she explains, some free-radical damage is a good thing because a damaged cell is triggered to be either repaired or destroyed.

By sparking either a renovation or a demolition, free-radical damage gets the body’s attention, and, if the body is healthy enough and the free-radical damage is not overly extensive, free radicals may play a role in preventing diseases like heart disease and cancer.

Unfortunately, our bodies must contend with an ever-growing onslaught of free radicals in the environment. Free radicals hitchhike into the body on the backs of chemicals in the air, the water supply and the food chain.

The cumulative load is called oxidative stress. Corrosion caused by oxidative stress (or oxidation) inside the body is often compared to the slow rusting of metal when it’s exposed to the elements.

Protecting cells from oxidation is where antioxidants, particularly glutathione, come into play. All antioxidants retard oxidative stress, but because glutathione recharges its allies, it plays a particularly important role in helping the body keep up with our accelerated modern-day demands.

“We are in a situation where our manufacturing and our recycling of glutathione is maxed out,” says David Perlmutter, MD, FACN, ABIHM, author of Power Up Your Brain: The Neuroscience of Enlightenment (Hay House, 2011). “We just can’t detoxify fast enough.”

Cleanup Crew

Found throughout the body, glutathione is concentrated in the liver. The body’s primary detox organ, the liver is charged with giving nutrients the nod to be absorbed and giving toxins the boot. But expelling a toxin isn’t easy.

In phase one, liver enzymes must convert the toxin into a compound that can be flushed. In phase two, glutathione is used to grab hold of the toxin and escort it out of the body via urine or bile. If there isn’t enough glutathione on hand, the toxins stack up like so many cars in a traffic jam.

Glutathione owes much of its detoxifying prowess to cysteine. A sulfur-rich amino acid, cysteine is contained in eggs, garlic and whey protein.

“Sulfur is a sticky, smelly molecule that acts like flypaper trapping toxins in the body,” explains Hyman. This is why vegetables high in sulfur, including garlic and onions, have been at the heart of detoxification diets for years.

Another plant substance, called cyanohydroxybutene (found in broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage) helps restock the body’s glutathione supply.

“We’ve always been taught that broccoli and other cruciferous veggies are important to the detox protocol, but we didn’t fully understand why,” says Perlmutter. “Now we know that it’s because they enhance glutathione production.”

Unfortunately taking glutathione itself via powder or pills doesn’t work because it is broken down in the digestive process and the molecule is also too big to penetrate the cell wall into the cell which is where it is most needed.

The only effective way to significantly boost glutathione levels within the cells is by providing the pre-cursor nutrients in such as a way that the body can actually absorb and use them for glutathione production. Only recently have supplements that do just that come on to the market.

Logically, if more glutathione means better detoxification, people with the highest levels of the stuff should live the longest. That was the theory that drove Danish researchers to enroll 41 centenarians in a study of glutathione levels.

Their results published in the journal Age and Ageing, found that glutathione levels were highest in the healthiest seniors. Additionally, they discovered that the centenarians had higher levels of glutathione than people 20 to 40 years younger, hinting that glutathione may be one reason why their subjects had lived to such a ripe age.

To discover the best way to boost your glutathione levels, click here now.

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{ 2 comments }

Mango March 14, 2012 at 2:28 AM

This is a great article, however I have a query. Is Glutathione and L-Glutathione the same thing? If not, what is the difference between the two. Thanks, Mango.

Alan Hewitt March 14, 2012 at 4:49 AM

No, there’s no difference but if you are looking at buying glutathione itself, be aware that almost all of it will be broken down in the digestive tract and any that does get through will be too large to go through cell walls to where it is needed most. Only pre-cursor nutrients delivered the right way like Cellgevity does will give a significant increase in intracellular glutathione.

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