Glutathione is one of the most important molecular structures your body uses to maintain proper liver health and cell function. Without it your liver’s two detoxification systems would be severely effected resulting in liver dysfunction. Additionally, the health of every cell in your body is dependent upon glutathione. Your body uses this molecule to repair damage caused by stress, pollution, radiation, infection, drugs, poor diet, aging, injury, trauma, and burns. Yet most people have never heard of this tri-peptide.
Design and Function
Whether you believe we were created or evolved, most people agree that our bodies are amazing in design and function. For example, nitric oxide which is an environmental pollutant is the master signaling molecule for the cardiovascular system. Your cardiovascular system could not function properly without nitric oxide. It impacts brain and heart health, sexual health, blood pressure, diabetes and a host of other bodily functions.
Another environmental molecule that you could not live without is oxygen. Yet while oxygen is completely necessary for life, it produces free radicals that will literally destroy your body if left unchecked. Most of your energy is produced in the mitochondria of your cells through aerobic respiration. This process creates free radicals (unstable molecules) that will steal electrons from the cell walls and structures causing tissue damage unless antioxidants are present. Antioxidants are a class of molecules that freely give up their electrons to return free radicals to stable molecules. The master antioxidant that is present in all cells is glutathione.
Glutathione is a small molecule called a tri-peptide because it is made up of three amino acids. It is not considered an essential nutrient since it can be synthesized in the body from three of the twenty two amino acids which comprise the building blocks of all proteins. These essential amino acids are L-cysteine, L-glutamate and glycine. In most cases this molecule must be created within the cell from these three essential amino acids before it can effectively help the body.
AID Your Health!
AID is not some secret spy organization that James Bond or Get Smart would fight. Rather, it is an acronym that best describes how glutathione works in your body to improve your health. AID stands for Antioxidant, Immune System and Detoxification. Let’s look at each one of these functions:
A – Antioxidant. Antioxidants are critical to the health of every cell in your body. Without them your body would be destroyed by free radicals from cellular respiration, environmental pollutants, and natural oxidative processes that we are constantly exposed to. All you have to do is cut an apple in half and leave it sitting on your counter. Come back in an hour and it will already be turning brown. Come back in a day and it will be brown and shriveled. However, if you keep it coated with lemon juice then it will stay fresh and healthy. The antioxidants in the lemon juice counter the damaging effects of oxidative free radicals in the air to keep your apple from being destroyed.
Glutathione (GSH) is your body’s master antioxidant. Not only is it your body’s most powerful antioxidant but it also helps many other antioxidants work more effectively. The strong antioxidant effect of this powerful molecule helps keep all of your body’s cells running smoothly. Parris M. Kidd, Ph.D. noted that “the antioxidant defense system is sophisticated and adaptive, and GSH (glutathione) is a central constituent of this system.” According to Jeremy Appleton, ND and chairman of the department of nutrition at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Ore., “If you look in a hospital situation at people who have cancer, AIDS, or other very serious diseases, almost invariably they are depleted in glutathione. The reasons for this are not completely understood, but we do know that glutathione is extremely important for maintaining intracellular health.”
I – Immune System. Your immune system is designed to keep your body safe from viruses, microorganisms, and bacteria that would seek to cause you illness. One of the ways the cells of your immune system destroy these foreign organisms is through oxy-radicals (highly destructive free radicals). This requires higher concentrations of antioxidants to protect the immune system cells from being destroyed themselves. GSH plays a critical role in fulfilling this requirement while aiding other antioxidants in improving their performance.
Additionally, the growth and differentiation of immune cells is dependent on glutathione. In numerous experimental studies, when this molecule is purposely depleted there is a marked reduction in immune cell function. This, combined with other important findings, clearly shows that intracellular levels of GSH play a central role in the functioning of your immune system. Two examples of immune system disorders that seem to have a correlation with low glutathione levels are lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
D – Detoxification. Glutathione is absolutely critical to your liver in helping to detoxify your body. It plays a central role in both liver detoxification pathways as outlined in the article “A Healthy Liver is Key to Effective Aging!” Please read this article for a more in depth discussion of this critical role.
GSH also plays an indirect role in helping your body detoxify itself from homocysteine which is a byproduct in the metabolism of the essential amino acid methionine. If left unchecked, homocysteine will accumulate in the body. This damages cell membranes and blood vessels while increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease especially atherosclerosis. To prevent this, your body will break homecysteine down into the amino acid cysteine. Cysteine is one of the three essential amino acids needed by the cells to make intracellular glutathione. If your body does not convert homocysteine to cysteine then the intracellular conversion of GHS will not properly occur.
The rapid conversion of homocysteine requires adequate amounts of vitamins B6, B12, and B9 (folic acid). As a person ages the enzymes needed to metabolize B6, B12, and B9 will be depleted so the need to supplement through good nutrition increases proportionally. If you refer to my article “14 Steps for Liver Support and Cleansing!” you will note that Step 5 talks about the need for a good vitamin supply through food or supplementation so that all the B vitamins are included. Additionally, vitamin E and selenium are important in the proper use of cysteine which is talked about in Steps 5 and 6 from the above article.
WARNING: Stay away from supplements that promote L-cysteine. By itself, cysteine is easily oxidized into toxic products that can negatively affect your brain, retina, and other areas of the body.
In 1978 it was clearly shown that glutathione has a profound role in cellular homeostasis and these diverse cellular functions:
With all the roles that GSH plays in helping your cells function properly, there are substances that will deplete your body of this much needed molecule. Here is a list of some very common external stresses that can directly and indirectly affect GSH levels leading to chronic disease and shorter lifespan:
As you can see there are multiple ways that external stressors can affect your glutathione levels. You have control over some of these stressors. Others you have no control over. All these external stressors will deplete your GSH levels leaving your cells susceptible to cellular damage and dysfunction.
Optimal Health thru Glutathione!
There are many keys to optimal health. One of them is glutathione which is critical for proper cell function. In the article, “Glutathione Benefits – Disease Prevention” I discuss how the levels of this molecule affects several common health issues. Additionally, I examine the most effective ways you can increase your GSH levels. This is important since your glutathione levels will naturally decrease at a rate of approximately 10 to 12 percent per decade after you reach your 20s.
The natural decline of your GSH levels, combined with the increased eternal stressors that rob your body of this critically molecule, makes it extremely important that you take a proactive approach to supplementing your glutathione levels.
Until next time, may we both age youthfully!
P.S. As a convenience, I’ve also included links to the following liver articles:
The information contained in this website and posted articles are for general information purposes only and never as a substitute for professional medical advice or medical exam. The information contained in this website and posted articles has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease without the supervision of a qualified medical doctor.