4 min|Dr. Maya Kuczma
Glutathione: What Is It and Why Do You Need It?Health, Gut Health
What is Glutathione?
Glutathione (GSH) is a peptide composed of three amino acids: cysteine, glycine, glutamate. Often referred to as the ‘master antioxidant’, glutathione is found in virtually every cell of the human body, playing a large role in detoxification, immune modulation, and reducing oxidative stress and inflammation. Glutathione is so important to our health it is believed that levels of glutathione may be predictive of aging. (1)
Luckily, our own body produces glutathione, with the highest concentration found in the liver. However, due to the high toxic and inflammatory load we are exposed to, our natural reserve of glutathione can be depleted, leaving us with insufficient protection against toxins, oxidative damage, and infections.
Why Do We Need Glutathione?
Glutathione plays a significant role in controlling our response to oxidative damage. It acts as a potent antioxidant, neutralizing free radicals that would otherwise be damaging to cells and tissue. Powerful sulfur chemical groups within the glutathione bind to harmful compounds, directly quenching toxins, heavy metals, and free radicals, providing essential protection to many areas of the body such as the skin, eyes, and brain. (2,3,4)
In the liver, glutathione is a key player in Phase II (hyperlink to first detox article), combining with medications and toxic substances to neutralize them, preparing them for excretion. Glutathione also appears to play a role in anti-porter activity, proteins responsible for Phase III detoxification.(5)
Within our immune system, glutathione helps to defend us against viruses, bacteria, and sepsis. (6,7) It appears to exert this affect by enhancing activity of lymphocytes, natural killer cells, and cytotoxic T cells, all of which are contribute to immune defense.(8,9)
How do we make glutathione?
Our body synthesizes glutathione. Once it has been ‘used’, we recycle it. This process requires sufficient amino acids, sulfur, and specific enzymes that catalyze glutathione synthesis and recycling; certain genes code for these enzymes.
Unfortunately, many of us have impaired enzyme activity, due to genetic alterations. If this is the case, when we are exposed to toxins, we process them inadequately and they build up in our system. In order to make glutathione, we need certain building blocks; without sufficient intake of the amino acids it is composed of, we cannot make glutathione. Furthermore, there are many factors in modern life that deplete our glutathione levels.
What depletes glutathione?
- Medications such as acetaminophen, certain antibiotics (10,11)
- Alcohol (12)
- Aging (13)
- X-rays, radiation (14)
- Heavy metals
- Poor diet
- Pollution (15)
- Trauma, stress
Most of us are exposed to a variety of these factors over a lifetime. Depletion of glutathione can outpace synthesis, especially in a toxic environment, leading us more susceptible to the damaging effects of toxins, oxidative stress, and infections.
How Do You Increase Glutathione Levels?
Consume Glutathione Supportive Nutrients
There are many foods that support glutathione synthesis, such as sulfur-rich foods like onion, garlic, broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower. Bioactive whey protein provides the amino acids required to synthesize glutathione. Be careful of the quality of whey you choose - ensure that it is denatured, organic, and hormone and antibiotic-free. At Integrative, we sell Immunocal, as we have found it to be the highest quality bioactive whey on the market.
Supplement with Nutrients to Boost Glutathione
N-acetyl-cysteine is a precursor to glutathione and plays a key role in the maintenance of glutathione levels. Silybum marianum (milk thistle) enhances and maintains glutathione levels.(16) Vitamin C has been shown to increase glutathione levels in the blood, improving overall antioxidant activity.(17) These nutrients can be utilized to boost glutathione production in your body.
Break a Sweat
In addition to the many other health benefits of exercise, it also can boost your glutathione levels.(18) Engage in regular exercise to improve detoxification, strengthen your immune system, improve cardiovascular health, promote fat loss, and help to manage stress.
Consume Glutathione Directly
Unfortunately, simply taking a pill of glutathione is not an effective way to boost your glutathione levels; the digestive tract breaks down glutathione before it can be absorbed. However, there are a couple ways to deliver glutathione directly into the bloodstream. Liposomal glutathione, glutathione encapsulated in a lipid bilayer, can be used to increase absorption and utilization.
Liposomal glutathione can be helpful in cases of impaired detoxification but is also a helpful addition to supporting the immune system and increasing our ability to manage stress and our environment. Physica and NanoNutra both have high-quality liposomal glutathione.Additionally, glutathione can be administered intravenously by medical professionals, including naturopaths. We use intravenous glutathione in our lab to support detoxification, during post-concussive treatment, and as a component of our healthy aging protocols. It is a simple and effective method of ensuring glutathione reaches the cells that need it most.