Glutathione

Boost your natural protector

Plenty of colorful vegetables put together, next to each other. There is no seen background because of the plants. There tomatoes, red, green, and yellow peppers, cherry tomatoes, red cabbage cut in half in few places, potatoes, radish, yellow pumpkins, lettuce, leeks. All of the vegetables and fruits are high in non-nutritional compounds that have properties to stimulate directly or indirectly glutathione synthesis or its metabolism. Some of them are a source of vitamin C, that works together with glutathione. The more colorful diet is, the higher diversity of the diet is then the higher diversity of gut microbiota is, and healthier the body is.

Glutathione is one of the most often studied and mentioned compounds in science when talking about health and diseases. If you type glutathione in PubMed, a science library you’ll find thousands of publications that come out each year.

It is not possible to read or cite all of them. It has a reason – glutathione is the most important compound that your body produces. It can be made from nutrients that you provide from the diet. However, the point is, that we often lack those nutrients or minerals and vitamins that are necessary for glutathione production or metabolism.

Moreover, because glutathione plays many roles – it easy to get a deficit status. There are simple changes you can make to keep it at a high level. And believe, it is worth to do it both by healthy and sick people.

Highlights

  • Glutathione – known as the “master antioxidant” of the cell. Protects the cell from oxidative damage and death,
  • It conjugates toxins in the liver which with it is excreted in the urine or poo,
  • It’s naturally produced, but you need to provide substrates for that,
  • It is a “marker of youth” – the younger you are, the higher it is. If you get sick, glutathione level decreases, if you have a low status of it, your risk of disease development or infection is increased,
  • You can support glutathione metabolism by providing the nutrients necessary for its production.

Glutathione is a key to keep you healthy

Glutathione (GSH) is a molecule that is produced in every cell in your body. You can find it in the food as well, but it doesn’t increase the level much because it’s degraded in the gastrointestinal tract. The good fact is that you still can do a lot about how much you have it.

But before we get to that, let me tell you a bit about this marker of youth and disease. Most diseases. It is central for feeling and looking good. When depleted, either physically or psychologically you can’t be well.

It doesn’t matter if we are talking about Hashimoto’s disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, neurodegenerative disease, inflammatory bowel disease, asthma, allergy, or even cancer – they all have been related to suboptimal or deficient GSH status.

The maintenance of optimal GSH concentration is critical for maintaining health, preventing diseases and their treatment. Even a small decrease can impair cellular and immune function and increase body susceptibility to toxins, infection, and oxidative damage.

Even permanent, mild stress of Western lifestyle generates oxidative stress and systemic inflammation. Stressful life, malnutrition, increased toxic burden (eg. smoking, drinking, environmental contaminants from work like welding), and taking medications increases your need for glutathione. This is definitely a compound you want to keep high in your body.

Glutathione protects you from oxidative stress

Glutathione (GSH) is higher in young people compared to older ones and in healthy people compared to the sick one. Its function is related to diseases and its reduced concentration precedes disease or is a result of it. It is a master of defense of the immune system and concomitantly modulates its functions. It protects cells, organs, tissues, and whole body from toxins and harmful oxidants.

Taking anti-oxidants it’s not a simple solution as it might be thought. In fact, many studies have been conducted with mixed results of their use. The firm conclusion is that the metabolism of anti-oxidants is complex and it’s hard to say at which concentration or dose they became prooxidants. Yes – those “beneficial” substances can’t be taken freely because they can do harm too. It is all about the dose and state you are in.

Surprisingly, glutathione can stimulate oxidation stress either. In “repairing” inadequate level of GSH it is more about balance rather than getting excess of it. You don’t have to take supplements to achieve that, though you could consider some if you have diabetes, liver disease or any other related to its low concentration. However, by nutritive food and by keeping oxidative stress and inflammatory processes in balance you won’t have to take them.

Glutathione is a key compound detoxifying toxins

If you were taking any supplements or were on a detox diet to “detoxify” your blood, joints, liver or whatever – they don’t work, but yes, it is profitable to claim that they are. There are a few that might improve liver work like curcumin, but by supplementing it you are also taking a risk of liver damage by pollutions that are being found in dietary supplements.

The liver is the main organ responsible for detoxifing processes. Glutathione conjugates toxins so they can be excreted from the body through urine or poop.

Glutathione functions & properties

  • It regenerates other antioxidants like vitamin C or E to their active form,
  • Controls inflammatory processes – It blocks the activity of the most important inflammatory stimulating compound NF-kB,
  • It slows down aging processes,
  • It is essential for the activity of some proteins,
  • It improves metabolism – if you are obese, diabetic or a patient with chronic disease, GSH counteracts oxidative stress and inflammatory processes that are associated with insulin resistance. A condition that is associated with diabetes,
  • It protects your nervous system from degeneration caused by toxins, oxidative stress or as a result of disease, thus protects you from development neurodegenerative diseases,
  • It protects you from depression and helps in the treatment of it as well as other nervous system diseases like Schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease, and others,
  • Its depletion is related to many diseases like obesity, skin problems (acne vulgaris), autoimmune diseases such as HT, Rheumatoid Arthritis and others, diabetes, asthma, sleep apnea,
  • It protects your body from infection,
  • It regulates genes activity and when decreased, some of the body proteins might not be produced properly,
  • It might be helpful in the treatment of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) – kids with ASD often have low GSH level,
  • It protects your liver and gut from destruction – guts are said to be the root of many diseases. This is being said because you have plenty of beneficial (or not…) bacteria over there that cooperate with your immune system. If you have inflamed gut, disrupted gut’s microbiota your disease risk development is increased and chances for recovery when you are sick, much decreased.

The most important note for you is that GSH protects cells and tissues from oxidative destruction and has anti-inflammatory properties. Both are important in health and disease.

Signs of glutathione depletion

As you see there are many processes in which GSH plays an important or crucial role. Thus, if you are depleted of glutathione, there are some signs that you should be aware of:

  • Asthma – There are many diseases associated with GSH depletion. If you got any inflammatory based disease or chronic disease you probably lack it. Asthma is a great example of one. There is a great work published by Fitzpatrick from Emory University in USA describing glutathione’s way of work and how it is related to the disease. The main conclusion is as you might already know: the lower GSH level, the more severe are your asthma symptoms,
  • Fatigue – if you feel tired all the time, when having no motivation to do the job or work – you might have oxidative stress in your body, low vitamin D level and decreased glutathione status,
  • Hearing and eye problems – the loss of hearing and eyes problems might be a result of GSH depletion. Crystalline, one of the most abundant proteins in your eye is getting yellow when oxidized. GSH protects eye’s proteins from oxidative degradation and keeps them healthy,
  • Often infections and difficulties with their treatment,
  • Migraines – the GSH depletion might be a one or main reason for migraines,
  • Fertility problems, often miscarriages – do you know that fertility problems in many cases are a result of oxidative stress?
  • Early graying and skin color changes (brown marks called “old marks”),
  • Allergy for many chemical substances – GSH replenishment might improve your immune system reactions and decrease or even eliminate your allergy symptoms.

What are the possible reasons for glutathione depletion?

  • Poor diet quality – low vegetables and fruit intakes, low protein and sulfur intake, GSH building amino-acids like glycine and cysteine, low vitamin B2, B6 intake, low selenium, and zinc intake,
  • Environmental stress – even mild stress decreases your GSH status if chronic. There is even a probability, that you need more psychological support than dietetic. Stress generates oxidative stress and consumes glutathione – that is a reason why some people after strong stress gets their hairs gray,
  • Poor sleep quality – either shallow sleep and sleep deprivation decreases GSH regeneration and increases the body’s susceptibility for oxidative stress,
  • Disrupted circadian rhythms (mainly sleep quality), artificial light exposition especially in evening and night,
  • Hypothyroidism – decreased level of thyroid hormone caused by disturbed thyroid metabolism, increased autoimmune processes, and thyroid gland loss,
  • Alcohol consumption – either low chronic intake as well as acute consumption deplete GSH,
  • Drug intake, toxins exposition.

Glutathione synthesis

An important factor influencing glutathione status is the genetic individual’s capacity in producing it. Some of the genes mutations are related to its low level or disrupt metabolism and thus are associated with an increased risk of developing certain diseases. This risk obviously increases with environmental risk factors of the disease. But don’t be one of those who puts effort aside claiming that they can’t change their genes. In most cases, it is only an excuse from responsibility.

If you are sick, you probably have a lower level of glutathione because of malnutrition and oxidative stress generated by poor food choices. You can as well improve GSH metabolism and production by nutrients.

Glutathione synthesis is a two-step process. Both processes are enzymatically catalyzed. The first step conjugates amino acids: cysteine with glutamate generating glutamylcysteine. The second step is catalyzed by glutathione synthase, which adds glycine to produce the final product: glutamylcysteinylglycine called glutathione.

As it is not a problem for glutamate, cysteine is the most often mentioned limiting compound of GSH synthesis. However, in some people, glycine might limit production or both glycine and cysteine. Its deficiency directly blunts glutathione synthesis and be the cause of health problems.

Foods to boost glutathione

Despite that glutathione from food is poorly absorbable if at all, there is still a group of products that supports GSH metabolism and increases its concentration. One of the probably most important issue for you as a reader and HT patients is to increase vegetables and fruit intake. World Health Organisation recommends eating at least 400g of them daily.

This means, no less than 400g and higher intake, eg. 800g and more are also good. Plant food, including legumes, nuts, and some oils (like olive oil, avocado oil) is a great source of anti-oxidant molecules. When absorbed into the body, they interact with other antioxidants supporting their functions and maintain the GSH level.

GSH when oxidated by oxidants, can be regenerated by other anti-oxidants and still do its basic functions. So anti-oxidants work in different ways. They neutralize oxidants, thus GSH can be spared and regenerate oxidated GSH.

Plant foods, as well as offal and other nutritive products, are a source of vitamin and minerals that are essential for the activity of proteins related to glutathione metabolism.

Sulfur compounds containing food products are great supporters. Mushrooms are one of them. It contains a protein called ergothioneine which is build up from cysteine. It is believed that it has some role in the human body because cells contain special transporter’s that allows to pass cell membrane and be absorbed into the cell, eg. by red blood cells, kidney, and liver. Other food products high in ergothioneine are red and black beans, oat bran, liver, and kidney.

Great interest is put on allium vegetables which are onion, garlic, leeks, chives, and shallots. Garlic is in a special position because of its cardioprotective, antihypertensive, antiarrhythmic, antiatherosclerotic, and immune improving properties. It has a beneficial impact on disturbed lipid metabolism: lowers the concentration of triglycerides, low-density lipoprotein (cholesterol LDL) and increases high-density lipoprotein (HDL). In a view of cardiovascular health, it lowers homocysteine levels, oxidative stress, and inflammation.

To achieve most benefits from garlic, you should chop or crush the gloves to allow the enzymatic transformation of alline into allicin. A compound that is responsible for many of the beneficial properties of garlic. It is such simple, crush garlic gloves ten minutes before adding it to the meal or scrambled eggs. There will be much more of allicin, thus, many more benefits.

In studies, there is also, as called “aged garlic extract” with a much higher bioavailability and thus, stronger properties. It is sliced and soaked garlic cloves in an aqueous ethanol solution aged up to 20 months. That higher bioavailability is caused by alcohol that extracts organosulfur compounds. Though it’s wise to eat all Allium vegetables daily.

It is true that GSH can be found in some raw food plants like asparagus, avocado, cantaloupe, spinach, broccoli, nuts, tomatoes, cucumber, watercress, chives, and others. However, it is not well-absorbed and doesn’t seem to improve GSH status. Moreover, storage, food processing, and cooking degrade a significant portion of GSH in the food. Although those products are still worth eating because of their antioxidative-support.

To boost glutathione production:

  • Eat products that are rich in sulfur: garlic, leeks, radish, onion, chive and cruciferous vegetables (those are cauliflower, cabbage, kale, garden cress, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, etc.),
  • Eat vegetables and fruit: They are a source of antioxidants. GSH helps recycle other antioxidants like vitamin C, E, alpha-lipoic acid etd., and thus maximize their function and lifetime, they do the same with glutathione.
  • Eat selenium-containing products: nuts (brazil nuts), offal, eggs, seafood (sardines, halibut, wild-caught salmon, tuna), shellfish, sunflower seeds, meat (turkey, chicken), pinto and navy beans, oats. Selenium builds up selenoproteins which are very important antioxidants.
  • Eat glucose-metabolism and fat-metabolism friendly food (you’ll find more about it yet),
  • Don’t overeat – calories surplus are inflammatory and oxidative stress generating,
  • Drink enough water – choose mineral water and drink that much to not feel thirst. It is the first sign of dehydration and you should feel it. Water is necessary for any cell to work properly and to remove toxins from your body. Keep yourself hydrated and remember that fruit, vegetables, cream soup, and other food products are water source too,
  • Be friendly with your gut bacteria – the microbes living in your gut got deserved calls like “A separate organ inside the body(…)” or “neglected endocrine organ”. Endocrine means able to produce hormones. They produce compounds that influence liver or immune system work, thus are highly related to body inflammation status, oxidative stress or nervous system work. Your immune system won’t work the way you want if you both don’t feed for your beneficial bacteria and care for your gut’s health,
  • Eat good quality protein – Proteins are a source of amino-acids and two of them are of best interest. They are cysteine and methionine and contain sulfur in their structure. Methionine is also a sulfur amino-acid and cysteine is related to sulfur intake. However, most people eat processed meat and methionine from it. I would recommend increasing glycine intake instead of poor quality protein from processed food products. Sulfur-containing compounds metabolisms like glutathione, cysteine, or homocysteine are all connected together. Among them, cysteine is a key driver. Its deficiency directly blunts GSH synthesis and be the cause of health problems. A good source of cysteine is whey protein (good if you are a physically active or older person), eggs, chicken, beef, and fish proteins. Remember about glycine, another necessary substrate for GSH synthesis. You will find it mainly in the skin, tendons, and bone broth. It is a constituent of collagen. So if you like jelly, go for it. Bone broth is a great source of glycine. It is a natural source of collagen. It is cheap, easy to make and you can make other soups and cream soups from it. In this way, you can easily increase vegetable intake by making cream soups on bone broth.
  • Take care for vitamin B2 level: You can find it in the liver, milk, and natural yogurt, mushrooms, spinach, nuts (almond nuts), eggs, wild-caught salmon, lentils,
  • Take care for vitamin B6 level: you can find it in the turkey and chicken breast, chicken liver, beef, salmon, tuna, milk, eggs, plant food like avocado, bananas, spinach, carrots, sweet potato, chickpeas, pinto beans, pistachios, seeds like sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, cereals.

Non-nutritional ways to boost glutathione

As you read there are different reasons for low GSH status beyond nutrition. Some of them are still under our control like sleep habits or daily physical activity. Thus there are still more that you could do:

  • Keep yourself active every day, even just by slow-walking if you are obese or gentle jogging if you are fit enough. Any sport would be beneficial. Exercise boosts your GSH level,
  • Keep your sleeping habits at bay – buy yourself blue-light (and green light) blocking glasses and wear them in the evening before going sleep to avoid sleep hormone release suppression,
  • Sauna bathing – might be well helpful, along with other benefits inflammatory processes reduction including. Sauna is great for older people or people who are unable to be physically active as thermic conditioning is comparable to mild intensive exercise,
  • Keep your thyroid gland health – thyroid hormones are responsible for antioxidant properties of your body too,
  • Relax, meditate, go do yoga – do something with your daily stress. It is often a matter of own thoughts generating a big part of stress, work on your relationship with ownself.

Conclusion

Glutathione is the most important sulfur compound with various properties, antioxidative including. Its low level increases the risk of disease development and its low level is associated with various pathological conditions.

Protein surplus is the most important as it provides cysteine and glycine – two rate-limiting substrates for glutathione synthesis. Non-processed meat, eggs, milk and whey protein are a good source of cysteine while skin, tendons or bone broth contains high amounts of glycine.

Besides that glutathione metabolism requires vitamins (Vitamin B2 and B6), antioxidants and sulfur. All of which can be found in nutritive food like vegetables, offals, whole-cereal grains and good quality meat, eggs and fish.

Sources & References

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