Currently 80,000 toxic chemicals and heavy metals lurk in our water, air and food supply – including, electromagnetic pollution which bombards us on all sides. In addition to these toxic exposures, most people suffer from nutritional deficiencies, like low levels of glutathione – which increase the risk of chronic disease.
Generally speaking, our body is designed to produce disease-fighting substances like glutathione to protect us from harm. Unfortunately, many people suffer from dangerously low levels of health-protective nutrients – which should NOT be ignored.
What is glutathione and what does it do for us?
Glutathione, a nutrient vital to health, is a mixture of three amino acids: glycine, glutamine, and cysteine. It exists in every cell – with particularly large amounts in the liver – and is endogenous, meaning it is created naturally within the body.
Glutathione is the body’s most important antioxidant, protecting cells from damage, amplifying the immune system and assisting with DNA repair. It also helps shift metabolism from fat production to muscle growth.
How does glutathione work to support health and thwart disease?
Probably glutathione’s most important function is the role it plays in binding to, and neutralizing, dangerous free radicals — which otherwise can create the oxidative stress that destroys tissue and sets the stage for disease.
The body handles free radicals by recycling them. Like a master juggler, it passes them down a protective chain that extends from vitamin C to vitamin E to lipoic acid to glutathione – which then carries them into the bile and the stool.
High glutathione levels are vital in preventing serious disease
Unfortunately, a rogue’s gallery of culprits is waiting to rob you of your supply of glutathione. Common threats to glutathione levels include environmental toxins and pollution, pharmaceutical and over-the-counter medications, poor diet, trauma, infection and stress.
Keep in mind, glutathione naturally declines with age – in some cases falling so low that the body is left with only about half the glutathione it needs to maintain health.
So, it’s not surprising that depleted glutathione levels set the body up for a cascade of damaging conditions. Without sufficient glutathione to fight free radicals, you are at risk for cell destruction from oxidative stress, heart problems, infections and cancer – to name just a few.
How a nutrient deficiency can trigger a heart attack
In a study of 636 patients with suspected coronary artery disease published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that those with low glutathione levels were 30 percent more likely to have a heart attack than those with healthy levels of the antioxidant.
Dr. Mark Hyman, the Medical Director at Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine, notes that virtually all patients with chronic degenerative disease – whether it be cancer, heart disease, autoimmune disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease or arthritis – have glutathione deficiencies.
To be clear: low levels of glutathione are virtually universal among patients with chronic serious disease – a disturbing link, and one which points to the necessity of producing enough of this indispensable antioxidant.
Low glutathione levels in the brain increase the risk of dementia
A recent study of brain chemicals in Alzheimer’s patients confirmed they had greatly reduced glutathione levels in the hippocampus, the section of the brain responsible for learning and memory – and one of the first regions affected by the disease.
The frontal cortices, typically affected later in the development of Alzheimer’s, also showed drops in glutathione as the disease progressed. However, the decreases weren’t yet seen in the cortices of patients with only the mild cognitive impairment that precedes Alzheimer’s.
This intriguing research demonstrated that glutathione levels can reflect and even foreshadow the development of the disease, serving as a valuable biomarker and predictor.
How do I raise natural stores of glutathione?
Although you should ideally obtain about 250 milligrams a day of glutathione from diet, most people consume closer to 35 milligrams – a dismally low amount, and insufficient for optimal health.
Natural health experts advise against visiting a health food store for “glutathione in a bottle,” warning that most brands are poorly absorbed by the body in this low-quality form and would provide little benefit.
A better strategy is to eat natural, organic foods that contain glutathione – or the amino acids your body needs to make it. Foods rich in glutathione include melons, grapefruit and peaches. Glutathione is also found in leafy greens such as spinach.
Cruciferous vegetables – such as cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and kale – and members of the allium family – including garlic, onions, leeks and chives – are rich sources of sulfur-containing compounds, important in the production of cysteine.
Another great food to boost cysteine production is a high-quality whey protein, made from denatured proteins from non-pasteurized and non-industrially-processed milk.
And don’t forget to eat foods rich in antioxidant vitamin C – such as citrus fruits, red bell peppers and strawberries. These can assist in the recycling of glutathione in the body.
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Get a glutathione-boosting assist from high quality supplements
N-acetyl-cysteine, or NAC, is a glutathione precursor supplement. Derived from cysteine, NAC combats allergies, cognitive and memory deficits, and Parkinson’s disease. In a study published in European Journal of Clinical Investigation in 2000, researchers found that NAC significantly replenished stores of glutathione in patients with HIV.
Alpha-lipoic acid, another powerful endogenous antioxidant, increases glutathione production in the body, as does the sleep hormone melatonin – which stimulates production of the antioxidant enzyme glutathione peroxidase.
Other supplements that can help increase glutathione are milk thistle and the mineral selenium.
Vitamins that don’t actively contribute to making glutathione — but help optimize and recycle it in the body – include the antioxidant vitamins C and E, folic acid, vitamin B-12 and vitamin B-6.
As always, discuss supplementation with a trusted naturopathic doctor, who can help tailor a regimen that is right for you.