All About Glutathione and Why It's Such an Important Antioxidant
What Is Glutathione and What Does It Do?
Glutathione is best known as a powerful antioxidant. It's one that we make in our own bodies and it's made in all of our cells. We make it from the amino acids cysteine, glycine and glutamic acid. We also need sulfur for its production. Glutathione helps to prevent free radical damage in our cells and DNA by "lending" an electron to stabilize free radical molecules. It can also help to recycle other antioxidants like vitamin C and vitamin E as they do their antioxidant work.
Glutathione is important in these systems:
In the immune system glutathione helps increase our immune cells and aids in healing from inflammation that occurs when we're fighting a pathogen.
In the liver it helps with detoxification by breaking down harmful molecules, making them less harmful and getting them ready to be eliminated by the body.
Red blood cells that carry oxygen and mitochondria that use oxygen to make energy rely on glutathione to help them handle free radical damage caused by oxygen.
Our lungs have high levels of glutathione to protect us from microbes and toxins in the air we breathe.
How We Recycle Glutathione
One great thing about glutathione is that it can be regenerated as it's being used up. This is an important step for us to do because it's such an important antioxidant. When glutathione stops a free radical it converts to a potentially harmful oxidized form, but fortunately, it can be regenerated back into the helpful antioxidant that we need. This process uses enzymes that need selenium and riboflavin (B2).
Who Can Benefit from Glutathione
Glutathione can drop off as we age especially in those who are in their 40s and beyond. By this time in our lives we've been exposed to a multitude of harmful substances and probably developed some unhealthy diet and lifestyle habits. Our bodies have been exposed to a lot!
We can all benefit from glutathione support but it's especially important in those who live or work in places where they're regularly exposed to harmful chemicals, poor air quality, heavy metals or pesticides.
Glutathione is also important for chronically ill people because their cellular health and mitochondria become compromised over time. Chronic illnesses can include cardiovascular disease, diabetes or autoimmune diseases.
How Do You Support Glutathione?
Glutathione is a large molecule and it's not until recently that oral supplementation has improved to make it useable in this form. A benefit to using it in its complete form is that it's immediately useable by your body.
You can also consume the building blocks for it:
Cysteine: eggs, whey protein, nuts, grains
Glycine: legumes, fish, dairy products, animal protein
Glutamic acid: animal protein, eggs, dairy products
Other ways to support glutathione include:
N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) helps to make and recycle glutathione and is useful for liver support and detoxification
Antioxidants like vitamin C, zinc, and selenium that help to recycle glutathione
Liver support with foods and herbs like dandelion, cruciferous vegetables, artichoke, and milk thistle
Avocado, spinach and asparagus are food sources of glutathione
You can take the load off glutathione by reducing exposure to toxins in your daily life or helping your body detox with sauna, sweating, moderate exercise and getting good sleep.
Glutathione is considered safe and there are no significant concerns but always discuss supplementation with your healthcare provider.
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Anderson, Paul. “Mitochondria: Function, Damage and Repair.” https://www.consultdranderson.com/courses/08-mitochondria-function-damage-and-repair/.
Anderson, Paul. “Redox and Inflammation Cell Damage and Therapies.” https://www.consultdranderson.com/product/09-redox-and-inflammation-cell-damage-and-therapies/
Gazella, Karolyn. “Deep Dive into Glutathione: A Conversation with Heather Moday, MD.” Natural Medicine Journal, 17 May 2023.