In a separate article taking an overall look at free radicals, oxidization and antioxidants, I mentioned a substance that’s been described as ‘the most important molecule you need to stay healthy.’ One doctor has gone so far as to call it “The Mother of all Antioxidants,” yet, it’s a detoxifying, youth preserving compound that remains somewhat unknown by many people – Glutathione (GSH).
Pronounced “gloota-thigh-own,” GSH is a peptide combining three building blocks of amino acids – glutamate, cysteine and glycine. Longevity researchers contend that GSH is so crucial to our overall health that the level in our cells is a predictor of how long we’ll live!
Importance of Glutathione
So what makes GSH so important? Dr. Gustavo Bounous, retired professor of surgery at McGill University in Montreal, says, “It’s the [body’s] most important antioxidant because it’s within the cell.” The belief is that GSH has the staggering ability to repair damage caused by pollution, radiation, infection, stress, poor diet, aging, burns and more!
One of the most interesting areas of GSH analysis examines the role it plays in fighting cancer. A 2004 study found “Elevated levels of glutathione in tumor cells are able to protect such cells in bone marrow, breast, colon, larynx and lung cancers.”
If you are interested in youth preservation and expanding your healthy lifespan, you probably already know the importance of regular exercise. GSH is an integral part of helping us to reach peak mental and physical function. Raised glutathione levels decrease muscle damage, increase strength and endurance, reduce recovery time and focus metabolism away from fat production to muscle development.
GSH vs. Toxins
Dr. Mark Hyman, Director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine, believes the secret to GSH is the sulfur chemical group it contains, which acts like fly paper, sticking bad things to it, such as free radicals and toxins like mercury. These toxins are then carried out of your system through the usual bodily functions. GSH is normally recycled in the body – except when the toxic load becomes too great. You see, your body can only do so much self-repair and maintenance and if you load it up with toxins from a poor diet, environmental pollution, the effects of stress and more, the abundance of free radicals and oxidative stress will be more than the antioxidants in your body can handle.
Other factors can also have an impact on GSH production within our cells. As people age or experience disease, GSH levels in the blood decrease, causing a reduction in this youth preserving antioxidant. Dietary and alternative sources of glutathione are therefore necessary to avoid losses and restore healthy levels.
Ways to Boost Glutathione
When sulfur amino acid intake is inadequate, glutathione concentrations in the lungs and liver decrease. Eating sulfur-rich garlic, onions and cruciferous vegetables like kale, broccoli, cauliflower, turnip, cabbage, etc. will boost these levels. To get the most GSH from cruciferous vegetables, it is important to eat them fresh, not cooked or processed, as this decreases the bioavailability of glutathione in these foods.
Milk thistle is a natural herb used for centuries by traditional folk medicine practitioners worldwide and has been celebrated as a remedy for immune dysfunction. Milk thistle is an excellent source of the antioxidant compound silymarin, which helps to prevent GSH depletion in the liver. Scientists have shown that silymarin can boost GSH levels in ethanol-induced rats, protecting the liver from alcohol toxicity, a well-known cause of glutathione depletion.
Methylation Nutrients (folate and vitamins B6 and B12)
According to Dr. Hyman, methylation nutrients, “are perhaps the most critical to keep the body producing glutathione.” Make sure to include folate-rich foods in your balanced diet if you want to keep your methylation ingredients at peak levels. Lentils, asparagus, liver, spinach and broccoli are all in the top-ten list of foods packed full of water soluble folate, helping the body to make new cells and prevent anemia.
Alpha-Lipoic Acid Supplements
Many foods contain alpha-lipoic acid in low amounts, including potatoes, tomatoes, carrots and red meat. It is an antioxidant involved in energy production, brain health and detoxification and can help restore GSH levels after immune system depletion. There is evidence to suggest that taking alpha-lipoic acid supplements can also help with type 2 diabetes and improve insulin resistance.
The key to whey protein’s GSH replenishing benefits is tied to the boosting of the amino acid cysteine. Studies have shown that whey protein is an ideal supplement to help naturally augment glutathione for increasing metabolism and reducing appetite, as well as strengthening the immune system and fighting cancer. Be careful when selecting your whey protein supplements. Choose non-pasteurized and non-industrially produced milk that contains no pesticides, antibiotics or hormones. Look for grass-fed whey or goat whey, and make sure to buy organic when possible. Read labels!