Is there really just one master nutrient that controls aging, disease, and health? 89,000 medical articles point to the fact that Glutathione is the body’s master antioxidant and detoxifier.
This journal article from Experimental Gerontology suggests that aging and cancer may be related to low and declining levels of glutathione as we age.
Glutathione deficiency may not be just a problem for those in their later years.
We’re likely all deficient in glutathione because our modern lifestyle is working against us. As we’ve talked about forever at Primalhacker, modern life is not designed for optimal health. The fast pace of life, increased exposure to toxins and non-native EMF among other things make it harder to detox our body.
We know of one functional medicine professional who says her recent cancer diagnosis was almost certainly due to her almost non-existent glutathione levels. She just happened to check her glutathione levels before being diagnosed with cancer and they were at rock bottom. She says her rock bottom glutathione was a major contributor to her cancer.
It’s likely many of us have low glutathione and don’t even know it.
We’re going to tell you how to increase your glutathione stores and take advantage of this uber-important antioxidant.
Glutathione is nothing new to the science world as it was isolated in 1921 by Sir Frederick Gowland Hopkins, who was an English biochemist and Nobel Prize award winner. Since 1921 glutathione has been studied significantly with tens of thousands of medical articles investigating its role within our cells. Glutathione was discovered long ago, why is it just now getting the limelight – could it be due to the rapid changes in our environment that our body has not had the chance to adapt to?
WHAT IS GLUTATHIONE AND WHAT DOES IT DO?
Glutathione “is the most important low molecular weight antioxidant synthesized in cells”[r].
While glutathione has multiple functions, it is often referred to as the master antioxidant. Arguably the most important roles and focus of this article is glutathione’s capacity to serve as a powerful antioxidant as well as a carrier of xenobiotics (a neat way of saying compounds that are not native to human nutrition and physiology) and heavy metals out of the body.
Glutathione is produced naturally in nearly all the cells of your body, with some of the highest concentrations in the liver.
That’s right, in an ideal world your body makes and recycles all the glutathione you need.
Glutathione is built in your body from three amino acids – cysteine, glutamine, and glycine attached to a sulfur group. The sulfur group contains a sulfur attached to a hydrogen. This hydrogen and sulfur group is often represented as the letters G (Glutathione), S (Sulfur), H (Hydrogen), indicative of why you often see glutathione abbreviated as GSH.
Below are a few other important roles of glutathione:
- Regulation of cell growth and division
- Recycling of other antioxidants
- Enhance immune function
- Mitigate damage caused by radiation
So what exactly is an antioxidant
To understand why antioxidants like glutathione are important, we first need to understand what an antioxidant is.
Antioxidants are both produced naturally in the body (Glutathione) and come from outside sources (vitamin C from lemons). Antioxidants help put out the fire of inflammation in our cells and keep us from going over the edge into a nightmare of too many toxins in our cells leading to cell death.
Inflammation and toxicity in our cells come from many places, but free radicals are one of the biggest sources. Our body naturally produces free radicals in the body, and always has. Just through breathing, we create free radicals.
Our modern lifestyle creates even more free radicals than ever before. Our water is contaminated with glyphosate, the air is filled with particulates and smog, and the products we use every day – our cars, beds, couches and more are filled with flame retardants and other unnatural chemicals.
Through normal physiological processes (i.e. aerobic respiration, normal metabolic reactions, inflammation, etc.) as well as external environmental factors (i.e. excess stress, pollution, smoking, etc.), free radicals (compounds with unpaired electrons causing them to be highly reactive) are produced in the body, of which if not addressed can cause cell damage and even cell death. As a part of our evolutionary biology, we are equipped with compounds produced endogenously and consumed through dietary intake that will help neutralize these free radicals. Antioxidants block the process of oxidation by neutralizing free radicals through a process of donating electron(s).
Let’s face it. In today’s society, even living like a caveman won’t save you from being exposed to more toxins and synthetic chemicals than our ancestors ever were!
HOW DOES GLUTATHIONE ADDRESS XENOBIOTICS AND HEAVY METALS
Xenobiotic is a cool new term that addresses substances that are not natural to our bodies and are not expected to be in our bodies. These are things like plasticizers, BPA, formaldehyde from your couch, flame retardants that your car is soaked in and more. Carcinogens, drugs, pollutants, food additives, and pesticides all fall into the category of xenobiotics.
We want to detox these things out of our bodies.
Dr. Mark Hyman does a great job of describing the process by which glutathione works its magic for detox: “The secret of glutathione is the sulfur (SH) chemical groups it contains. Sulfur is a sticky, smelly molecule. It acts like fly paper and all the bad things in the body stick onto it, including free radicals and toxins like mercury and other heavy metals.”
While the sticky fly paper analogy is an oversimplification, it helps to understand how glutathione aids our body in removing harmful compounds.
WHAT NEGATIVELY AFFECTS GLUTATHIONE LEVELS
There are many internal and environmental factors that deplete glutathione levels. From an ancestral perspective, modern living has introduced a multitude of chemicals, lifestyle habits, environments, etc that the human body has not had an opportunity to evolve in conjunction with. Below are a few examples:
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and other pharmaceuticals
- Poor diet
- Acetone, solvents, paint removers
- Chronic depression and anxiety
- Fuels and fuel by-products
- Chronic stress – both mental and physical
- Heavy metals
- Pesticides and herbicides
- Nitrates and other food preservatives of chemical origin
- Tobacco smoke
- Non-native EMF (electromagnetic fields)
If you avoid alcohol and don’t pop painkillers as a vocation, you’re still likely exposed to microwave radiation from cell towers, stress, and toxins in the air and water.
We’ve heard of people checking glutathione levels in their blood and finding lower than normal levels. We aren’t sure why their bodies aren’t able to produce enough, but likely modern society is exposing the body to more stress and toxins than it was designed to handle.
Glutathione has been shown to be protective against oxidative stress, alcohol, and toxic heavy metals like mercury (r)
WHAT HAPPENS IF MY GLUTATHIONE IS TOO LOW?
If your body is unable to produce enough glutathione to keep up with all the heavy metals and free radical build up in cells you have a problem.
Studies have shown that glutathione deficiency can:
- Make it harder to remove heavy metals
- Disable DNA repair functions
- Weaken cell membranes
- Make it harder to detoxify the body
In fact, literature has shown that the following Diseases are Associated with Glutathione Depletion [r]:
Research has shown that almost all chronic conditions are characterized by glutathione deficiency: HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer’s, asthma, all cancers, cataracts, macular degeneration, glaucoma (open angle only), chronic fatigue syndrome, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, all diseases of liver, kidneys, lungs, heart, and digestive system, fibromyalgia, flu and colds, peripheral neuropathy, hepatitis, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, skin disorders, seizures, tumors, autism spectrum disorders and more, as well as non-chronic conditions, such as burns, physical trauma and any type of surgery.
Glutathione Deficiency Warning Signs:
Low glutathione may translate to any of the following
- weakness/lack of energy
- brain “fog”
- joint pain
- dry skin
- sleep disorders
- frequent colds
- onset of a more serious health condition
GLUTATHIONE FOR ATHLETES
Intense exercise increases oxidative stress in cells. When oxidative stress is high, recovery and performance are decreased. It has been suggested that increasing glutathione levels may improve recovery and athletic performance. In addition, this study suggests that glutathione may help improve the redox potential of cells and poor cellular redox, according to the study many diseases such as cancer, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s are related to poor redox.[r]
This study suggests that faster recovery time, less soreness and improved performance may be possible from increased glutathione [r]
HOW CAN I BOOST GLUTATHIONE
Since glutathione is comprised of three amino acids, it is important to ensure the diet is comprised of complete protein sources - meaning they contain the full spectrum of essential amino acids. Since cysteine can often act as the bottleneck for glutathione production, whey protein is an excellent complete protein, considering it has favorable cysteine levels.
Sulfur-rich foods are also important constituents for your diet when looking to optimize glutathione – remember one of the components of glutathione is sulfur. When shopping in the grocery store, make sure to put some sulfur-rich foods like eggs, allium vegetables (i.e. garlic, onions, leeks, etc) and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage) in the cart.
It is also a good idea to focus on eating foods rich in selenium, as well as foods that encourage liver health. For a little extra dietary insurance, while you are shopping the PERIMETER of the grocery store, it wouldn’t hurt to throw in some other foods that are rated highly on the ORAC scale.
**All foods should ideally be organic and locally sourced so as to minimize exposure to harmful contaminants and maximize nutritionally profile**
There’s not much to say here. We all know we should be exercising for optimal health. Just don’t overdo it. Looking like a Greek God on the outside while filling your body with free radicals and breaking yourself down is no way to secure your place in the longest-lived hall of fame.
Exercise has been shown to boost your immune system and increase levels of glutathione. [r]
Just don’t overdo it because intense training can have the opposite effect.
Meditators have been shown to have 20% higher levels of glutathione (practitioners have 20% higher levels of glutathione. [r]
Alcohol has been shown to deplete glutathione. If you do drink, take precautions and do what you can to mitigate the damage.
There are a few supplements that have been shown to increase glutathione production, specifically NAC, Alpha Lipoic Acid, and the reduced form of glutathione.[r]
NAC (N-acetylcysteine) is a glutathione precursor that is used for multiple medical interventions associated with cognition and the brain. Many people supplement NAC in the pursuit of boosting glutathione levels, which makes sense considering cysteine is often the limiting factor in endogenous glutathione production, but it is not the most effective tool. Supplementation with NAC relies on the body to build glutathione form available raw materials, but this ability may diminish with age and liver function.
Since NAC is not the best bet, what is?
The most expensive and well-supported method of increasing glutathione levels from adding glutathione to the body is through an IV. Intravenous glutathione supplementation has been shown to work. [r] Intranasal ingestion and nebulized glutathione have also been shown to increase levels. [r,r]
But as mentioned these forms are expensive and hard to access. As a long-term strategy, it has its downsides unless you happen to have a functional medicine doctor as your neighbor and a good wholesale account.
How about a bioavailable form of glutathione you can take at home and even bring with you when you travel! With multiple forms of glutathione available to consumers, it is important to spend your hard-earned money on something that will work. Most forms of glutathione are destroyed by the digestive tract before being properly metabolized.
Researchers suggest that GSH is poorly absorbed by oral route mainly due to the action of an intestinal enzyme, the γ-glutamyl transpeptidase (GGT) which degrades GSH. [r] There is a solution - liposomal Glutathione.
Liposomal supplementation has taken hold in the industry recently and for good reason. If you want a compound to survive intact through the digestive system and make it into the bloodstream you can surround the compound with fat to ensure it more easily reaches its destination.
Supplementation via IV is often times considered the gold standard of administration, but it’s not something you will do often or at home. However, liposomal glutathione can go in your backpack for traveling, and be taken every day. The Liposomal glutathione we use is designed to protect the glutathione molecule from degradation in the digestive tract and because we add lactoferrin, we believe the glutathione is shuttled into the bloodstream easier and released over time. The lactoferrin is a patented delivery system that increases the bioavailability of the ingredients and allows better absorption.
There is plenty of information regarding glutathione that was not covered in this article, and for that reason, I would encourage readers that are interested to continue their research. The purpose here was to ensure that anyone interested in glutathione, could gain a basic understanding of such an amazing supplement.
Based on the myriad of things that can affect glutathione levels mentioned in this article, almost everyone can benefit from dietary and/or supplementation strategy targeting glutathione. Remember, it is not just one thing that will maintain health, but instead a multifaceted methodical approach to overall wellbeing. So head over to your local farmers market or health food store to stock up on organic local foods, get outside in the sun barefoot, and for full optimization make sure to grab some Optimized Glutathione.