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The Benefits of Glutathione

Posted by Dr. Pamela Hughes on

Benefits of Glutathione


We use Glutathione in the office through IV therapies everyday, yet many have never have never heard of it, so let’s talk about it.  It's one of the most important molecules you need to stay healthy and prevent disease.

I'm talking about the mother of all antioxidants, the master detoxifier and hot shot of the immune system. The good news is that your body produces its own glutathione. The bad news is that poor dietpollutiontoxins, medications, stress, trauma, aging, infections and radiation all deplete your glutathione. This leaves you susceptible to unrestrained cell disintegration from oxidative stress, free radicals, infections and cancer. And your liver gets overloaded and damaged, making it unable to do its job of detoxification.

In treating chronically ill patients it is seen that glutathione deficiency is found in nearly all ill patients. These include people with chronic fatigue syndrome, heart diseasecancer, chronic infections, autoimmune disease, Diabetes, Autism, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, arthritisasthma, kidney problems, liver disease and more.

Our ability to produce and maintain a high level of glutathione is critical to recovery from nearly all chronic illness -- and to preventing disease and maintaining optimal health and performance. Glutathione has been studied and shown to be

What is Glutathione?

Glutathione is a very simple molecule that is produced naturally all the time in your body. It is a combination of three simple building blocks of protein or amino acids -- cysteine, glycine and glutamine. It is present in all human cells.

The secret of its power 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 which protect our cells.  If Glutathione is depleted in a cell, it will lead to cell death. It is also a cofactor in many bodily processes and is the foundation for the main detoxification pathway in the liver, kidneys, lungs, intestinal lining, and other organs.  Normally glutathione is recycled in the body -- except when the toxic load becomes too great, then we become the sinking ship.  Glutathione has been the subject of scientific research for many years. Studies have shown that levels of glutathione directly correspond to the health and function of cells.

Then there are the genes involved in producing enzymes that allow the body to create and recycle glutathione in the body. These genes have many names, such as GSTM1, GSTP1 and more.

These genes impaired in some people for a variety of important reasons. We humans evolved in a time before the 80,000 toxic industrial chemicals found in our environment today were introduced into our world, before electromagnetic radiation was everywhere and before we polluted our skies, lakes, rivers, oceans and teeth with mercury and lead.

That is why most people survived with the basic version of the genetic detoxification software encoded in our DNA, which is mediocre at ridding the body of toxins. At the time humans evolved we just didn't need more. Who knew we would be poisoning ourselves and eating a processed, nutrient-depleted diet thousands of years later?

Because most of us didn't require additional detoxification software, almost of half of the population now has a limited capacity to get rid of toxins. These people are missing GSTM1 function -- one of the most important genes needed in the process of creating and recycling glutathione in the body.

The one-third of our population that suffers from chronic disease is missing this essential gene. They are missing this critical gene and they descend into disease as a result. Let me explain how this happens...

The Importance of Glutathione in Protecting Against Chronic Illness

Glutathione is critical for one simple reason: It recycles antioxidants. You see, dealing with free radicals is like handing off a hot potato. They get passed around from vitamin C to vitamin E to lipoic acid and then finally to glutathione which cools off the free radicals and recycles other antioxidants. After this happens, the body can "reduce" or regenerate another protective glutathione molecule and we are back in business.

However, problems occur when we are overwhelmed with too much oxidative stress and too many toxins. Then the glutathione becomes depleted and we can no longer protect ourselves against free radicals, infections, or cancer and we can't get rid of toxins. This leads to further sickness and soon we are in the downward spiral of chronic illness. But that's not all. Glutathione is also critical in helping your immune system do its job of fighting infections and preventing cancer

Glutathione is also the most critical and integral part of your detoxification system. All the toxins stick onto glutathione, which then carries them into the bile and the stool -- and out of your body.

And lastly, it also helps us reach peak mental and physical function. Research has shown that raised glutathione levels decrease muscle damage, reduce recovery time, increase strength and endurance and shift metabolism from fat production to muscle development.

If you are sick, overwhelmed with total toxic burden, old, or are just not in peak shape, you likely have glutathione deficiency. In fact, the top British medical journal, the Lancet, found the highest glutathione levels in healthy young people, lower levels in healthy elderly, lower still in sick elderly and the lowest of all in the hospitalized elderly. Keeping yourself healthy, boosting your performance, preventing disease and aging well depends on keeping your glutathione levels high.

Parkinson’s Disease and Glutathione treatment

Many diseases are linked to glutathione deficiencies, including neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s is characterized by loss of dopamine in a specific part of the brain called the substantia nigra. Glutathione is significantly depleted in the substantia nigra in the preclinical stages of Parkinson’s disease as the earliest biochemical change. This deficiency causes increased free radicals that further the disease process. Mitochondrial cells, which produce energy, are the most vulnerable to low glutathione and can die when glutathione levels are below 70%. Mitochondrial failure has been specifically connected with Parkinson’s disease. Medical trials have shown that intravenous (IV) glutathione supplementation resulted in improvements in rigidity, posture, gait, speech, and hypokinesia (decreased body movement). At the Hughes Center for Functional Medicine we continue the Dr. Perlmutter Protocols and offer intravenous (IV) glutathione supplementation tailored to each patient’s specific needs. The dosing range depends on the individual patient, but usually is 2-3 grams of glutathione per infusion for the adjunctive treatment of Parkinson’s disease.

Other Uses for Supplementary Glutathione

Boosting the immune system in general, cancer, minimizing chemotherapy symptoms, many eye conditions, treating alchoholism, athma, heart disease, liver problems, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, anemia, coronary artery disease, peripheral arterial disease are all conditions shown to benefit from Glutathione.

Some people lack the enzymes to make glutathione because of the inherited genetic defect that may manifest with neurologic or hematologic (blood) problems later in life. Liver cirrhosis, viral hepatitis, and nonalcoholic liver disease can result in low glutathione in the blood. Lung diseases like COPD, asthma, fibrosis, and some acute conditions are associated with low glutathione. Elderly patients, people with gastritis, ulcers, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, and pancreatic inflammation often have altered glutathione levels. Overall, the aging process is associated with changes in the balance of glutathione. As research proves more disease states manifesting glutathione deficiency, glutathione repletion therapy will continue to be a helpful therapeutic strategy.  

9 Tips to Optimize your Glutathione Levels

The good news is that you can do many things to increase this natural and critical molecule in your body. You can eat glutathione-boosting foods. You can exercise. And you can take glutathione-boosting supplements. Let's review more specifics about each.

  1. Consume sulfur-rich foods. These include garlic, onions and the cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, kale, collards, cabbage, cauliflower, watercress, etc.).
  2. Bioactive whey protein. This is great source of cysteine and the amino acid building blocks for glutathione synthesis. For Non-Dairy patients: the whey protein MUST be bioactive and made from non-denatured proteins ("denaturing" refers to the breakdown of the normal protein structure). Choose non-pasteurized and non-industrially produced milk that contains no pesticides, hormones, or antibiotics..
  3. Exercise boosts your glutathione levels and thereby helps boost your immune system, improve detoxification and enhance your body's own antioxidant defenses. Start slow and build up to 30 minutes a day of vigorous aerobic exercise like walking or jogging, or play various sports. Strength training for 20 minutes 3 times a week is also helpful. One would think it would be easy just to take glutathione as a pill, but the body digests protein -- so you wouldn't get the benefits if you did it this way. However, the production and recycling of glutathione in the body requires many different nutrients and you CAN take these. Here are the main supplements that need to be taken consistently to boost glutathione. Besides taking a multivitamin and fish oil, supporting glutathione levels with these supplements is the most important thing we can do every day for our personal health.
  4. N-acetyl-cysteine.  A modified amino acid, it may increase levels of Glutathione in our body.  This has been used for years to help treat asthma and lung disease and to treat people with life-threatening liver failure from Tylenol overdose. In fact, I first learned about it in medical school while working in the emergency room. It is even given to prevent kidney damage from dyes used during x-ray studies.
  5. Alpha lipoic acid. This is a close second to glutathione in importance in our cells and is involved in energy productionblood sugar controlbrain health and detoxification. The body usually makes it, but given all the stresses we are under, we often become depleted.
  6. Methylation nutrients (folate and vitamins B6 and B12). These are perhaps the most critical to keep the body producing glutathione. Methylation and the production and recycling of glutathione are the two most important biochemical functions in your body. Take folate (especially in the active form of 5 methyltetrahydrofolate), B6 (in active form of P5P) and B12 (in the active form of methylcobalamin).
  7. Selenium. This important mineral helps the body recycle and produce more glutathione.
  8. A family of antioxidants including vitamins C and E (in the form of mixed tocopherols), work together to recycle glutathione.
  9. Milk thistle (silymarin) has long been used in liver disease and helps boost glutathione levels.

A Functional Medicine Physician can review these supplements with you to ensure they are correct for you and appropriate dosing. 

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