Glutathione (GSH) is a tripeptide synthesized in the cells of the human body. It’s consisted of the amino acids cysteine, glutamic acid, and glycine. Glutathione is involved in many biological processes such as:
- Removal of active oxygen radicals (antioxidant)
- The detoxification of xenobiotics and the removal of heavy metals
- The regulation of the redox state of cells
- The regulation of the oxidative state of sulfhydryl groups of proteins
- The regulation of the function of the immune system.
Glutathione is found throughout the body, especially in the lungs, gastrointestinal tract, and liver. The body produces and stores the largest amounts of glutathione in the liver, where it is used to detoxify harmful compounds that can be removed from the body through the bile.
Plasma glutathione levels mainly represent production by the liver. Reduced GSH is the active form of the tripeptide while the oxidized form of GSH (GSSG) is formed after it has completed its reaction. Glutathione levels decrease with age and its deficiency has been shown to make the body more vulnerable to damage from reactive oxygen species, thus accelerating the body's oxidation and aging.
Low levels of glutathione are found in cardiovascular diseases, various forms of cancer, AIDS, autism spectrum disorders, alcoholism, and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. Low levels of glutathione are also seen during chronic exposure to potentially toxic elements such as mercury, lead, arsenic, cadmium, manganese, and iron (hemosiderosis), as well as with various chemicals and certain medications. Glutathione deficiency can have devastating effects on the nervous system, causing symptoms such as lack of balance and coordination, mental disorders, and tremors. Low glutathione levels have been linked to decreased dopamine production in neurons, which may justify its association with dopamine-based neurological disorders such as Parkinson's disease. Any illness (even a cold), chronic disorders such as asthma and rheumatoid arthritis, injuries, or severe exposure to pollutants, can cause glutathione deficiency. This is because the body uses more glutathione when white blood cells and liver cells need to be supported in order to rid the body of toxins.
The intracellular biosynthesis of glutathione can be regulated to higher levels as an antioxidant defense mechanism. Factors that result in elevated levels of glutathione biosynthesis include moderate alcohol consumption, regular physical activity, smoking, and acute exposure to toxic heavy metals. In these conditions, it is important to provide the body with the essential nutrients involved in the synthesis of glutathione in order to maintain proper levels. Magnesium and potassium are required for both enzymatic steps in the synthesis of glutathione as well as the amino acid cysteine. High glutathione levels have been linked to resistance to chemotherapy in treatments for certain cancers.
Who should check their glutathione levels?
The measurement of glutathione can help patients in the investigation and etiological treatment of pathological conditions such as:
- Oxidative stress
- Alzheimer's disease
- Parkinson's disease
- Cardiovascular diseases
- Removal of toxic heavy metals and chemicals
- People who care about their health and longevity
How can the body's glutathione levels increase?
Foods and supplements that have been shown to increase intracellular glutathione biosynthesis include dairy products, α-lipoic acid, curcumin, liposomal GSH, and to a lesser extent N-acetyl-L-cysteine. High levels of intracellular glutathione are important for the protection of cells and the promotion of overall health and longevity and contribute significantly to the safe and effective removal of toxic heavy metals.
Glutathione is found in almost all fruits and vegetables. Asparagus, avocado, melon, grapefruit, okra, orange, peach, potato, spinach, strawberries, tomato, watermelon, and zucchini are all very good sources of glutathione. Some vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, and parsley, not only provide glutathione but can also stimulate the body to produce even more. Cooking destroys a large percentage of the glutathione of fresh fruits and vegetables. Eating foods high in glutamine, such as lean meats, eggs, wheat germ, and whole grains, can also stimulate the liver to produce more glutathione.
Another way to increase glutathione levels is to take cysteine, glutamic acid, and glycine, the raw materials used by the body to produce glutathione. Fish oils, riboflavin (vitamin B2), vitamin C, and selenium also enhance the production and absorption of glutathione.