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Only identified as recently as 1998, Glutathione is a vitally necessary ingredient for cellular health in all living things - plant and animal. It helps the immune system function normally.
Glutathione is a small protein composed of three amino acids; cysteine, glutamic acid, and glycine. Extracted and purified it looks like white powder, soluble in water and alcohol.
Glutathione is involved in detoxification. It binds to fat-soluble toxins, such as heavy metals, solvents, and pesticides, and transforms them into a water-soluble form that can be excreted in urine.
When vitamin C or E “scavenge” a free radical and supply the missing oxygen electron to it they in turn become a free radical, capable of causing lesser damage.
Glutathione is called the Master Antioxidant because it functions to return to active duty those vitamin C and E molecules that have scavenged a free radical. When vitamin C scavenges a free radical, it is converted into an ascorbyl radical, a free radical that is not very unstable but that can no longer function as a free radical scavenging agent. By Glutathione scavenging the extra electron of the ascorbyl radical and regenerating the ascorbyl radical into ascorbate, the C once again becomes a useful free radical scavenger.
If Glutathione is so important, why don’t we just take a supplement of it? Because the body cannot absorb it - it breaks down in the digestive tract before it reaches the cells - so it must make it. In fact, even of the glutathione in the food we eat, little of it makes it into the cells.
"Glutathione is a major antioxidant highly active in human lungs and many other organ systems and tissues. It has many reported uses. It has a critical role in protecting cells from oxidative stress and maintaining the immune system. Higher blood levels of glutathione have been associated with better health in elderly people.
“Supplements of vitamin C are more effective at increasing intracellular glutathione than taking oral glutathione supplements. Oral supplements of whey protein and of alpha-lipoic acid appear to help restore intracellular levels of glutathione.”
Glutathione is found primarily in fresh, raw foods - vegetables, fruit, meat and milk. Storage, even of milk, reduces glutathione levels. It is not found in cereals, processed foods, canned foods and cured meat.
Foods and herb high in glutathione or those that boost glutathione include:
- fresh and frozen fruits (blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, watermelon)
- garlic and onions
- meat (fresh), fish and poultry
- milk thistle
- vegetables (avocado, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, collards, cauliflower, kale and watercress)
- nuts (brazil nuts and walnuts)
- spices (cardamon, cinnamon and turmeric)
- whey protein concentrate
Cofactors (a contributing factor; a substance, especially a coenzyme or a metal, that must be present for an enzyme to function) include Vitamin A (Beta Carotene), Vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12 (in the form methylcobalim), Vitamin D3, Vitamin E, Folate (folic acid) and Selenium.
To boost the body’s production of Glutathione you can increase your consumption of foods containing selenium such as Brazil nuts, button, Reishi and shiitake mushrooms, tuna, shrimp and salmon.
Supplements and herbs known to increase glutathione levels include Transdermal and Oral Glutathione, Glutamine, N Acetyl Cysteine, Alpha Lipoic Acid, bilberry, grape extract, lipoic acid, melatonin, pine bark extract (pycnogenol), turmeric, vitamin C, bioactive whey protein and the herb milk thistle.
Glutathione has several components or precursors - Glutamine, Glutamin Acid, Cysteine and Glycine. Since the other two are more readily available, the manufacture of glutathione in cells is limited by the levels of its sulphur-containing precursor amino acid, cysteine.
Glutamine can be found in meat, fish, poultry, eggs, milk, undenatured whey protein, yoghurt, cottage cheese, beans, cabbage, parsley and spinach.
Cysteine is found in pork and poultry, eggs, milk, whey protein, yoghurt, cottage and ricotta cheese, broccoli, brussels sprouts, garlic, granola, leeks, onions, and wheat germ.
Glycine is in meat, fish, poultry, eggs, milk, whey protein, yoghurt, cottage and ricotta cheese, leafy green vegetables and legumes.
Some data from http://www.sozomax.com/docs/glutathione_study.pdf and some from an article by Sherrill Sellman ND.
Consuming foods rich in sulphur-containing amino acids can help boost glutathione levels. Here are some food sources and dietary supplements that help boost glutathione levels naturally.
It is derived from the amino acid L-Cysteine, and acts as a precursor of glutathione. NAC is quickly metabolized into glutathione once it enters the body. It has been proven in numerous scientific studies and clinical trials, to boost intracellular production of glutathione, and is approved by the FDA for treatment of accetaminophen overdose. Because of glutathione’s mucolytic action, NAC (brand name Mucomyst) is commonly used in the treatment of lung diseases like cystic fibrosis, bronchitis and asthma.
Milk Thistle, Silymarin
Milk thistle is a powerful antioxidant and supports the liver by preventing the depletion of glutathione. Silymarin is the active compound of milk thistle. It is a natural liver detoxifier and protects the liver from many industrial toxins such as carbon tetrachloride, and more common agents like alcohol.
Alpha Lipoic Acid
Made naturally in body cells as a by-product of energy release, ALA increases the levels of intra-cellular glutathione, and is a natural antioxidant with free radical scavenging abilities. It has the ability to regenerate oxidized antioxidants like Vitamin C and E and helps to make them more potent. ALA is also known for its ability to enhance glucose uptake and may help prevent the cellular damage accompanying the complications of diabetes. It also has a protective effect in the brain.
Natural Foods That Boost Glutathione Levels
Asparagus is a leading source of glutathione. Foods like broccoli, avocado and spinach are also known to boost glutathione levels. Raw eggs, garlic and fresh unprocessed meats contain high levels of sulphur-containing amino acids and help to maintain optimal glutathione levels.
Undenatured Whey Protein Isolate
Whey protein contains proteins like alpha-lactalbumin which is rich in sulphur-containing amino acids. Heating or pasteurization destroys the delicate disulphide bonds that give these proteins their bioactivity. Undenatured whey protein is a non-heated product that preserves bioactive amino acids like cystine. It has been shown in numerous scientific studies and clinical trials to optimize glutathione levels.
Treatment of brain cells called astrocytes, with the Indian curry spice, curcumin (turmeric) has been found to increase expression of the glutathione S-transferase and protect neurons exposed to oxidant stress.
Balloon Flower Root
Changkil saponins (CKS) isolated from the roots of the Chinese medicinal herb, Platycodon grandiflorum A. DC (Campanulaceae), commonly called Balloon Flower Root or Jie Geng, have been found to increase intracellular glutathione (GSH) content and significantly reduce oxidative injury to liver cells, minimise cell death and lipid peroxidation.
Selenium is a co-factor for the enzyme glutathione peroxidase. Selenium supplements have become popular because some studies suggest they may play a role in decreasing the risk of certain cancers, and in how the immune system and the thyroid gland function. However, too much selenium can cause some toxic effects including gastrointestinal upset, brittle nails, hair loss and mild nerve damage.
Catalase is a common enzyme found in nearly all living organisms, where it functions to catalyze the decomposition of hydrogen peroxide to water and oxygen. Catalase has one of the highest turnover rates of all enzymes; one molecule of catalase can convert millions of molecules of hydrogen peroxide to water and oxygen per second.
The optimum pH for catalase is approximately 7.
Superoxide Dismutase (SOD)
Superoxide dismutase (SOD) is an enzyme that removes the superoxide (O2-) radical. SOD is a master antioxidant. Since cancer cells produce more oxidants than normal cells, they can basically oxidize themselves to death. That is why SOD is a target protein — if SOD is inhibited in the cancer cell, the cancer cells are damaged, controlling growth.
Another glutathione booster is exercise. Daily exercise helps the body produce more glutathione. If you do not currently exercise, start gently and build up to some vigorous cardio each day and strength training 3 times a week.
These ingredients increase the production of Glutathione (the master antioxidant) by the body:
- barley grass
- brazil nuts
- buckwheat seeds
- chinese balloon flower root
- grape seed extract
- milk thistle
- pine bark extract
- reishi mushroom
- shiitake mushroom
- vitamin C
- wheat grass
- whey protein concentrate
- white mulberries