Glutathione isn’t called the ‘master’ antioxidant for no reason. This is due to its ability to switch on and recycle other antioxidants such as vitamin C, and E, alpha lipoic acid and CoQ10 inside the body, more info on CoQ10 here. Glutathione is considered one of the most protective antioxidants and is found inside every single cell of the body and has a vast range of health benefits. Everyone needs sufficient levels of glutathione to stay healthy and with optimal levels, you’ve a greater chance of optimal health.
What is glutathione?
Glutathione is a very small protein composed of three amino acids: cysteine, glycine and glutamic acid (glutamate). There are two types of glutathione: reduced glutathione (GSH or L-glutathione) the active form and oxidised glutathione (GSSG) the inactive form. GSH does all the good work reducing oxidation in the body. Excessive oxidation causes inflammation, a prominent factor in all disease. After doing its work, the GSH form becomes oxidised itself. Fortunately it can be recycled back by the enzyme glutathione reductase. If the glutathione reductase has too much oxidised glutathione to recycle, it can become overwhelmed. It can’t do its job and the cells are susceptible to damage.
What else can glutathione do for our health?
Aside from its well-known antioxidant function, glutathione has important roles in the metabolism of nutrients, gene expression, DNA and protein synthesis, signal transduction, immune responses…the list goes on. In Pub Med alone, there are around 150,000 studies documenting the health benefits of this important molecule.
…can protect us from the ageing process. Those who live into their 80s and beyond have higher levels of glutathione in the body. The presence of glutathione ensures your cells and mitochondria, more on mitochondria here, are healthy and strong. Without healthy functioning mitochondria energy greatly diminishes.
…is a big player when it comes to detoxification, it binds with partially processed toxins (which can be more toxic than the unprocessed version) through a process known as conjugation, neutralises their toxic potential and makes them more water-soluble for elimination from the body.
…is important for energy production and protects the mitochondria from oxidation. Damaged mitochondria struggle to make ATP the energy currency of the body. When they struggle mitochondria themselves produce too many free radicals and a vicious cycle of less energy and damage continues.
…helps our immune system stay strong and ready to fight infections and primes our white blood cells ready for war. Through this mechanism it also increases and decreases inflammation as the body needs it.
…is great for skin health. It decreases the pigmentation of skin, the appearance of wrinkles and increases skin elasticity and the lightness of the skin.
What depletes our glutathione levels?
Natural ageing, chronic exposure to chemical toxins, cadmium exposure, alcohol use, smoking, pollution, poor diet, stress, certain medications, UV radiation exposure. Diseases such as heart disease, stroke, liver disease, cancer, hepatitis, Parkinson’s, diabetes, macular degeneration, COPD, sickle cell anaemia, AIDS/HIV and infertility.
How can we check our glutathione levels?
A standard liver test for glutamyl transferase (GGT) can tell you. GGT maintains the antioxidant balance by recycling extracellular glutathione and metabolizing toxins produced in the process. Elevated GGT is a sign of glutathione depletion. Clinically, GGT above 9 U/L in women and 14-20 U/L in men but still within the ‘normal’ reference ranges, is an indicator of depletion and is associated with chronic disease.
How can we increase our glutathione levels?
A glutathione-rich diet of asparagus, avocado, cabbage, brussel sprouts, spinach, broccoli, broccoli sprouts are packed with the stuff, see my article here. Garlic, chives, tomatoes, cucumber, almonds, walnuts. Cooking does deplete the content by 30-60%. Sulfurous foods can provide the building blocks to make glutathione inside the body: clean whey protein, garlic, onions, chives, scallions, shallots and leeks. Cruciferous foods such as cabbage, cauliflower, kale, collard greens, watercress and radishes. Foods rich in alpha lipoic acid can help to increase glutathione in the body: organ meats, beef (grass-fed), spinach, peas and tomatoes. Selenium-rich foods also provide the right building blocks: seafood, oysters, brazil nuts, eggs, mushrooms and whole grains. There is always the option of supplementation but do ensure you speak to your nutritional therapist to be recommended the best kind of supplementation for you.