Hello everyone and welcome to our blog! Today we are going to talk about one of the very few things I believe is a must for anyone trying to achieve health. That one thing is a small protein called glutathione. This amazing protein is absolutely vital no matter your health problem. This wonder antioxidant helps with hypothyroidism, adrenal fatigue, hormone imbalances, chemical toxicity, heavy metals, obesity, arthritis, heart disease, dementia, and the list could go on. It is extra important for anyone with an autoimmune disease, which I hope to elaborate on later in this article. Since roughly 80% of my practice centers around patients with autoimmune diseases, this molecule plays an extremely important role in helping my patients regain their health. On the flip side, when your body is low on glutathione you are set up for disaster. You are a playing football without pads, a police officer in a gun fight without a bullet-proof vest, or a NASCAR driver who is not wearing a seat belt. It is dangerous to walk around without glutathione.
What Is This Protein and How Does It Function in the Body?
Glutathione is a very small protein composed of only 3 amino acids (Glutamate, Glycine, and Cysteine). As it turns out, the cysteine amino acid is the rate limiting step on the construction of the glutathione molecule under most circumstances. For this reason many supplements meant to boost glutathione contain a form a cysteine such as N-acetyl cysteine (more on that later). The cysteine is one of the few amino acids that contains a sulfur group. It is the sulfur group that allows glutathione to act as a free radical scavenger and interact on an electron level in so many different ways in the body. In our picture to the left the sulfur is the big yellow ball and you’ll notice that there is only one. Before I give anyone flashbacks to high school chemistry class let’s move on to the function of glutathione.
1. Glutathione is the Chief Anti-oxidant Protecting Us from Inflammatory Diseases.
Glutathione is the final anti-oxidant in your system. It is constantly being reduced (gaining electrons) and then oxidized (losing electrons) over and over again as it quenches free radicals everywhere in our body. While a certain amount of free radicals are normal, chronic diseases and cell damage (especially important in autoimmune diseases) greatly increase the rate at which our bodies make free radicals. A study published in 1999 found glutathione to protect against lipid oxidation suffered from radiation exposure[i]. Another study found environmental toxicity (from metals) only showed destruction after glutathione was depleted[ii]. This means if you are chemically sensitive to metals, perfumes, radiation, or other free radical producers, this can only happen after glutathione levels have been depleted. If a person has the glutathione around to meet the increased demand, then the damage is minimized. If there is not enough glutathione around, then the body is going to get wrecked.
2. Critical in Helping Immune System Function Fighting Infections and Autoimmune Diseases
Glutathione greatly aids the immune system in its proper function[iii],[iv]. When I have someone suffering from an immune system that is out of control, glutathione is often a molecule I am worried about. How do you know if your immune system is out of control? If you suffer from an autoimmune disease, allergies, asthma, rashes, chronic infections, or chemical sensitivity then you have inappropriate immune system activation and glutathione can help[v],[vi]. Glutathione supports the TH3 wing of the immune system and the “Tregulator” cell. I affectionately call this cell the “mom” of the immune system. She helps the rest of the immune system to behave. The safest way to help the immune system is to help the Treg’s to work more efficiently and is a safe way to support a patient with an autoimmune disease. This is vital because “boosting” or doing other “anti-inflammatories” can make some autoimmune patients worse! Glutathione helps in a way that does not tip a touchy immune system into accidentally making an autoimmune patient worse. This is so important because when we have a patient with MS we can’t do risky interventions that may increase the attack on his/her nerves! Doctor’s take a Hippocratic oath to “Do No Harm” to our patients. Glutathione is a great place to start supporting with an extremely low risk of doing harm in very difficult autoimmune cases.
Glutathione is part of both my protocols to aid the immune system kick out an invader (usually a chronic viral infection) and my immune regulating protocols for inflammation and autoimmunity. Glutathione is an important part of the support in patients suffering from chronic infections such as EBV (Epstein Barr Virus). It creates a shield around the DNA which protects it from the viral attack. For more information on chronic viral challenges see our blog article HERE.
3. Part of Your Detoxification (Bio-transformation) System in the Liver
Besides being a free radical scavenger, glutathione actually helps with the detoxification of harmful chemicals that enter into our system[vii]. Glutathione is really the chief way we support patients in my office going through mercury detoxification, and many other chemical pollutant overloads. In fact, nearly 80% of all chemicals are processed through the sulfur and glutathione pathways. It helps the liver to transform these harmful chemicals through both phase 1 and phase 2 pathways. Detoxification (also called bio-transformation) is simply the neutralization of the harmful chemicals entering your body. The liver will conjugate (join) together the chemical with a glutathione peptide and then the combination of the two is water soluble and easily excreted out of the body. Glutathione is your own physiological chelation agent and can help pull harmful chemicals out of your body. No detoxification protocol is complete without proper glutathione. (As a disclaimer it is NOT the chief pathway for processing estrogen in the body. Most hormonal based detoxification systems emphasize the Methylation pathway. I think of glutathione as support for non-hormone based detoxification.)
4. Aids Reaching Peak Mental and Physical Function and Slow Aging!
It should not be a surprise that the brain is a huge user of glutathione. The high activity levels of your entire nervous system means it is one of the highest natural producers of free radicals that require glutathione to neutralize them[viii]. This is one of the reasons glutathione depletion has been linked to several neurological disorders including Alzheimer’s, ALS, and Parkinson’s[ix],[x]. Proper brain function requires glutathione produced by the astrocytes. These astrocytes are cells that support and take care of their more famous partners, the neurons. Proper neuron function is dependent on the astrocytes giving them glutathione! It is a core part of protecting the brain in nearly all of our neuro based patients. A review published in 2011 found Glutathione to be a “promising therapeutic target” for patients suffering with mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s Disease(xx).
Glutathione also is vitally important for our body after a workout. During activity we generate high levels of free radicals and damage to our system which deplete glutathione[xi]. It is the repair and rejuvenation after the workout that strengthens us and glutathione is part of that repair/minimize damage process.
5. Glutathione and Anti-Aging
Depletion of glutathione has been implicated with aging and increasing the expression of glutathione may even prolong the lifespan[xii]! A study published in the prestigious journal The Lancet in 1998 found glutathione activity to decrease in elderly people that suffer from health problems. [xiii] How does it help us age gracefully? It does this by protecting us from free radical activation, aiding in normal immune system activation, and helping us to detoxify from the constant barrage of chemicals we encounter every day. As a DNA protector it helps keep our genes working properly as we age.
How do I get Glutathione?
Now that we have learned about all the terrific things glutathione does in your body, we want to know how to get it! There 2-3 different ways we get patients glutathione at my clinic. I frequently find patients taking oral glutathione like a vitamin. Unfortunately this is not the best use of your money because glutathione is not easily absorbed in the intestines[xiv]. To get around this you can do a couple things.
- Liposomal Glutathione (Either in liquid or a cream): We use “Trizomal Glutathione” from Apex Energetics which is a liquid liposomal delivery. Trizomal glutathione has 3 ways it increases glutathione (thus the “tri” in the name). It combines reduced glutathione, acetyl glutathione, and the precurser NAC to help raise glutathione levels. We have found this product to be the best we have ever tested at increasing glutathione levels in before and after testing!
- The other liposomal glutathione form we have used is a liposomal cream put topically on the body. We use the trizomal in about 90% of our cases now, but we still use this on select patients specifically if there is a specific area of the body (like a joint or the thyroid). This is a very efficient way of getting glutathione directly into the blood and the rest of the body[xv].
- Precursers and cofactors: While taking glutathione directly is often necessary, the long-term health of your glutathione lies in your body’s ability to make and recycle its own glutathione. The enzymes that work with glutathione are selenium based, so selenium can greatly aid your body in regenerating its own glutathione at a dose of 200mcg per day[xvii],[xviii]. Also, supplementing with N-acetyl-cysteine(NAC) at about 2,000mg per day provides the body with the amino acid cysteine which is so vital for the production of glutathione[xix].
As we finish up here I just want to remind everyone that depletion of glutathione is dangerous. It leaves you without armor, without your body guards, without your pads. Any hits you take or damage to you becomes more serious when glutathione levels are low. This is especially important for anyone who suffers from an autoimmune disease as glutathione can reduce the damage happening from that disease or the lack of glutathione can let that disease run wild. Without glutathione you will age rapidly, and your body and brain will break down prematurely. If you are to spend any money on your health, this is an issue I put up very high on the list. For me it is right along fish oils and vitamin D as a fundamental and extremely important part of almost any patients care.
[i] Devi PU, Ganasoundari A. Modulation of glutathione and antioxidant enzymes by Ocimum sanctum and its role in protection against radiation injury. Indian Journal of Experimental Biology. 1999, 37(3):262-268.
[viii] Clarke, D.D. & Sokoloff, L. (1999) Circulation and energy metabolism of the brain. Basic Neurochemistry: Molecular, Cellular, and Medical Aspects. Lippincott-Raven, Philadelphia 1999. Pp. 637-669.
[x] Aksenov M, Markesbery W. Changes in thiol content and expression of glutathione redox system genes in the hippocampus and cerebellum in Alzheimer’s disease. Neuroscience Letters. April 2001; 302(2-3): 141-145.
[xi] Mariotti F, Simbelie K, Makarios-Lahham L, et al. Acute Ingestion of Dietary Proteins Improves Post-Exercise Liver Glutathione in Rats in a Dose-Dependent Relationship with their Cysteine Content. The Journal of Nutrition. Jan 2004; 134(1): 128-131.
[xvi] Okun J, Sauer S, Bahr S, et al. S-acetylglutathione normalizes intracellular glutathione contentin cultured fibroblasts from patients with glutathione synthase deficiency. J Inhert Metab Dis. 27(2004) 783-786.
[xviii]Wilke B, Vidailhet M, Favier A, et al. Selenium, glutathione peroxidase (GSH-Px) and lipid peroxidation products before and after selenium supplementation. Clinica Chimica Acta. 1992 Apr;207(1-2):137-142
[xix] Dringen R. Gutterer J. Hirrlinger J. Glutathione metabolism in brain: metabolic intereaction between astrocytes and neurons in the defense against reactive oxygen species. European Journal of Biochemistry Aug 2000; 267(16): 4912-4916.
[xx] Chava B, Pocernich, D Allen Butterfield. Elevation of glutathione as a therapeutic strategy in Alzheimer’s Disease. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta 1822 (2012) 625–630.