Punch the word glutathione (GSH) into any scholarly journal search engine will result in over 100,000 peer-reviewed scientific papers, but your Doctor has probably never mentioned it to you. So why do I stress this point? Well, glutathione is one of the most potent and powerful antioxidants in the human body. Here is the good and the bad: the good is our body has the ability to produce glutathione, the bad is due to our current lifestyle and environment most of us are deficient and an estimate 55% of us were genetically pre-programmed to be poor producers.
What’s the big deal?
First, let me explain what an antioxidant is. Antioxidants are molecules that stop oxidation and free radical damage. Oxidative damage comes from daily life- living and breathing causes a normalamount of stress on the body (much like car exhaust) but a diet poor in antioxidants or an environment full of toxins, GMOs food stuffs, medications, and stress cause a build up of this damage causing cell destruction/inflammation which leads to conditions like chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, heart disease, cancer even Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s Disease. Common antioxidants are vitamin A, C and E. At first, I thought give someone a good organic green drink and some extra vitamin C and we should be all set. It wasn’t until I started sifting through the science I realized in todays current industrialized health climate we are set up for failure due to the very basics of our detoxification pathways. For instance acetaminophen becomes highly toxic when GSH is depleted in the body.
What is Glutathione?
Day in and day out we get exposed to toxins- they are unavoidable- driving to work with the car in front of you, the plastic container you store your lunch in right down to the perfume your co-worker wears in the cubby next to you. Intuitively our bodies are set up to remove these toxins. The main pathways of detoxification are sweating, urination, defecation and hair growth. As mentioned above, GSH is non-essential meaning the body makes it own but it is often used up rapidly. Glutathione is an antioxidant and made from the amino acids, L-glutamine, L-cysteine, and glycine which are derived from our diet but dependent on proper digestive processes- such as stomach pH and secretion of digestive enzymes. Anyone on proton pump inhibitors or anti-acids will be fundamentally deficient in GSH precursors making them GSH deficient.
In my practice we begin by testing the patient for blood and urine markers that give us a clue into the production of glutathione like the MTHFR, GSTM1, GSTP1, and organic acids. This gives us an idea of how well you can manufacture your own glutathione. From there we will look at detoxification patterns and overall oxidative stress. Commonly 3 patterns arise: Pattern 1 (non-producers) these patients have one or multiple genetic defects that do not allow the proper production of GSH; Pattern 2 (over consumers) these patients do not have the genetic defect but they encounter or produce too many free radicals for the GSH to keep up, systemic yeast is a common denominator in these patients as yeast are both toxins and consumers of GSH. Pattern 3 (nutrient deficient) these patients do not have the proper balanced intake or digestive processes to form their own GSH.
GSH, by itself, is responsible for clearing or neutralizing free radicals and oxidative damage. GSH also has the unique ability to recycle or maintain other antioxidants vitamins A, C, E, CoQ10, and alpha lipoic acid. It is responsible for protecting the delicate process of DNA synthesis and repair. It is involved directly or indirectly in all organ systems of the body, mostly notably the immune system, nervous system, gastro-intestinal system, and in many enzymatic reactions.
The more I continue to see chronic conditions in my office such as: cancer, autoimmune disease, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes I can’t help but think of GSH deficiency and how often it is over looked both in the medical and natural communities. It is important that your Doctor test you for the proper chemistries markers for GSH deficiency. Why? The current statistic is that 45-55% of the American populations has a genetic defect in their methylation pathway; this is the major pathway for GSH production.
Glutathione and its role in detoxification.
GSH is a major player in detoxification. I often get the question: “Hey Doc, how often should I detox?”. My answer is, “You should detox as much as you re-tox”. No matter your lifestyle it is important to understand that we are exposed to toxins everyday- whether it’s our drive to work, the processed lunch we had, or the industrialized air we breathe. Making sure your GSH status is proper can help you detoxify 24/7!
GSH contains sulfur. Sulfur helps to bind or conjugate toxins to pull them out of our system. I deal with a lot of female hormone issues in my practice and see an overwhelming amount of estrogen dominance (check out my other blog on this subject matter: “Swimming in a sea of Estrogen”) and the being treatment is to increase GSH and detoxification pathways because extra estrogens can be moved out of the symptoms through these mechanisms thus lowering the overall effects of estrogen such as tender breasts, PMS and feminizing cancers.
Glutathione and brain health
GSH is being sought after in neurologic research especially with the rise in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Researchers examined brains of those individuals diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease (PD) vs. those who did not. They noted that those diagnosed with PD had up to a 40% decrease in GSH within the substantia nigra, the area of the brain that makes dopamine. Low dopamine levels in a hallmark sign of PD. The low GSH within that part of the brain leads to tremendous oxidative damage which inhibits the brains ability to make dopamine.
Other research indicates a substantially lower amount of GSH in the red blood cell in those human males with Alzheimer’s disease compared to otherwise healthy individuals. We also see GSH deficiency in disease like cardiovascular disease. Research that was published in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that individuals that had lower GSH in their blood had a 30% greater risk of heart attack than those with higher GSH levels.
The more physicians I talk to, the more concerned I become that glutathione deficiency is being overlooked. Our current medical model has no room for glutathione and its importance is rarely taught in schools or seminars yet it is impetrative to life and vitality. We need to stop concentrating on the symptoms and start to look at the processes that led up to these end events. The named disease, patient’s often look for, is just the last few dominos in the cascade of a many. What we should be trying to do is keep the very first domino from tipping which in turn will NEVER trigger the cascade of silent events, which eventually leads to what we know as disease.
What can you do?
First find a Doctor who is willing to search for the cause of your condition. This is a team effort and ultimately begins with the patient asking for this level of investigation. You should also begin by incorporating some of the tips below to aid in GSH production and ask your Doctor about some of the genetic testing available to see if you fall into the “non-production” category.
Things we can do to increase GSH.
Glutathione may be found in some foods such as asparagus, spinach, avocado and squash. Broccoli and cruciferous veggies are also important to replenish GSH.
Whey protein- Whey protein isolate can be high in cysteine, glutamine and glyciene (the pre-cursor amino acid to GSH production) as well as pre-formed glutathione. Look for cold-processed whey as it is the stable form of the protein and minimally processed.
Supplement NAC- this is my favorite way to increase GSH. NAC is not only the basis to glutathione production but it on its own processes powerful antioxidant properties as well.
Pre-formed GSH is a much debated topic. The biggest argument is that pre-formed GSH taken orally does not get absorbed well through the GI tract. Although there may be truth to this it is important that the cells in the intestines are exposed as this can help eliminate some of those toxins that leak through the walls which cause more oxidative damage in the body. GSH can also begin to tighten the gap junctions in the intestines to fortify their integrity and stop these harmful substances from crossing into the blood.
Other antioxidants: Resveratrol, catechins from Green tea, and curcumin can help to produce GSH as well as protect its function.
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