The good news is that your body produces its own glutathione. The bad news is that processed foods, pollution, prescription drugs, stress, trauma, aging, infections, and radiation all deplete glutathione levels.
Low glutathione levels leave you susceptible to unrestrained cell damage from oxidation caused by free radicals, which is associated with chronic infections, cancer, and other chronic diseases. The good news is that we are learning more about glutathione all the time.
What Makes Glutathione So Special?
Glutathione chemistry has been around for a long time. First discovered in 1888, it got a lot of attention in the 1920s when there was a burst of research activity on glutathione for eye diseases. But glutathione proved unstable in the lab. It is very sensitive to the effects of air, sunlight, and heat. This causes oxidization that’s so fast it’s hard to measure the therapeutic value of glutathione before it degrades.
Virtually every plant and animal on earth contains glutathione. Scientists speculate that it may have been one of the first antioxidants. It’s synthesized in the body from the amino acids L-cysteine, L-glutamic acid, and glycine. Of the three, cysteine is the most important, because it’s not commonly found in foods.
Dairy products contain the most cysteine, so those consuming dairy-free diets are more susceptible to glutathione deficiency. Raw goat whey is an excellent source of cysteine. Vegetable sources include garlic and onions, and foods in the cabbage family.
The Many Functions of Glutathione:
- Major antioxidant produced by all cells.
- Helps maintain dietary antioxidants like vitamins C and E.
- Regulates the nitric oxide cycle.
- It is used in metabolic and biochemical reactions including DNA synthesis and protein repair.
- It has a vital function in iron metabolism.
- Plays a role in immune function, the nervous system, breathing, and digestion.
- Involved in liver detoxification reactions.
Healthy glutathione levels are required for optimal liver function. As your liver gets overloaded and damaged from poor diet and chemicals in the environment, it’s unable to do its job of detoxification.
Glutathione depletion in the liver also makes this organ more susceptible to damage from prescription drugs like acetaminophen. Without a well-performing liver, your body cannot keep up with the results of chemicals and pollutants in the environment.
Special genes like GSTM1 and GSTP1 are necessary to produce enzymes that allow the body to create and recycle glutathione. Abnormal gene expression associated with glutathione metabolism is linked to asthma, allergies, high blood pressure, male infertility, and some types of cancer. GSTT1 and GSTM1 testing is available, but still too expensive for standard screening.
Aging and Glutathione
Glutathione levels tend to fall with aging. Researchers suspect that all eye diseases are linked to depleted levels of glutathione, especially those that occur during aging like cataracts and glaucoma. In animal studies, high glutathione levels were found to increase longevity. The same seems to hold true for humans. People with low glutathione levels age faster than those with high levels of glutathione.
Since glutathione is such an important molecule, why isn’t it checked in routine blood tests? One reason doctors don’t test for glutathione is that it turns over so fast that levels vary too much to get an accurate average level.
Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp test glutathione in whole blood.
There are no established optimal levels, but I recommend levels in the upper third of the reference range are desirable. Since all cells contain glutathione and consistently low levels are associated with chronic disease, it’s important to get your level higher.
Oral glutathione supplements are not readily absorbed. Therefore, taking glutathione supplements, even those with reduced glutathione that is supposedly better absorbed, only helps a little, if any.
You can raise glutathione indirectly by taking N-acetyl-cysteine, lipoic acid, selenium, vitamins E and C, and melatonin. Foods help too, including cruciferous vegetables and fresh fruits. Herbs and super foods including grape seed and pine bark extract, milk thistle, bilberry, and turmeric also help get glutathione levels higher.
To significantly raise glutathione levels in the blood, intravenous or intramuscular injections are necessary.
In our integrative medical center, we treat hundreds of patients every month with nutrient intravenous therapy. From my clinical experience, the one nutrient that provides the most patients with the greatest benefit is glutathione.
Intravenous glutathione helps patients with severe heavy metal toxicity, poor liver function, central nervous system damage, kidney disease, cardiovascular disease, and chronic infections like Lyme disease.
Conditions that Improve with Intravenous Glutathione:
- Anemia in patients with kidney disease undergoing hemodialysis
- Cataracts and glaucoma
- Chronic viral disease including hepatitis C and HIV
- Lyme Disease
- Male infertility
- Nonalcoholic liver disease
- Preventing toxic side-effects of chemotherapy for cancer
- Prevention of kidney disease after heart bypass surgery
- Toxicity due to heavy metal or drug poisoning
For those who can’t get intravenous therapy, consider intramuscular injections or inhaling glutathione in a nebulizer. These treatments are not as powerful as intravenous glutathione, but they complement a good diet and nutritional supplements.
Glutathione is nature’s first antioxidant. It is your body’s master detoxifier. Boost your glutathione levels with broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale, garlic and onions. Get enough N-acetly-cysteine, alpha lipoic acid, and vitamin C. And, if you have a chronic disease, consider intravenous glutathione therapy, and make sure you get tested before you start treatment.