Glutathione, produced from three amino acids, is the most abundant antioxidant in humans. Many refer to it as the master antioxidant, and for good reason — lacking proper levels of glutathione puts a person at risk for several serious medical conditions including Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, fatty liver disease, and heart disease.
What Is Glutathione?
Glutathione (also known as gamma-glutamylcysteinylglycine or GSH is a tripeptide — a small protein molecule composed of three amino acids: cysteine, glycine, and glutamate (also known as glutamic acid).
Glutathione (pronounced gloota-thigh-own) is present in every cell of the human body, though its highest concentration is found in the liver. The largest organ in the body, the liver plays key roles in detoxification (eliminating toxins), synthesis (metabolism of carbohydrates, fat and proteins) and storage (vitamins A, D, E, and K, and carbohydrates for energy). Liver health is important to overall health (and anti-aging), and sufficient levels of glutathione is important in keeping the liver healthy.
Bacteria, radiation, some medications, heavy metal toxicity, viruses, and the basic, normal process of aging all bring about free radical damage to healthy cells and deplete glutathione stores. Glutathione depletion lowers immune function and increases chances of infection because of the liver’s lowered ability to detoxify.
The body produces its own glutathione, but the amount it produces diminishes due to a number of factors, including trauma, medications, infection, stress, poor diet, and exposure to toxins, pollution and radiation. Additionally, glutathione levels deplete with age, starting as young as the age of 25. By the age of 60 a person likely produces only about half the glutathione as they did at the age of 20.
A problem with traditional glutathione supplements is its bioavailability. Bioavailability is the proportion of a substance which enters into circulation when introduced into the body. Ideally you want high bioavailability of a nutritional supplement — you want the body to make as much use of the supplement so it delivers its intended effect.
The form of glutathione found in traditional supplements is ineffective because up to 90 percent of it is destroyed at the digestive level, so most of the glutathione never makes it into the bloodstream. Fortunately there is now a more readily absorbable and highly stable form of glutathione on the market — S-acetyl glutathione. S-acetyl glutathione has an acetyl group attached to the glutathione molecule. This acetyl group protects the glutathione from breaking down in the gastrointestinal tract, which means its bioavailability is very high — the glutathione molecules gets absorbed, intact, by cells.
There’s a second form of glutathione that, like the S-acetyl glutathione form, has excellent bioavailability — liposmal gluthathione. Liposomes are microscopic spheres made of the same material as cell membranes. As shown in studies, liposomes encapsulate the glutathione in order to avoid the digestive process that would otherwise degrade glutathione absorption. Liposmal gluthathione is sold in liquid form — you take a few drops in your mouth and hold it under your tongue for about 20 seconds before swallowing it.
Recommendation: If you’re going to take glutathione supplements (and just about anyone will benefit from doing so), opt for either an S-acetyl glutathione supplement or liposomal glutathione supplement for maximum bioavailability (maximum effect). S-acetyl glutathione supplements are sold as pills while or liposomal glutathione is sold as a liquid.
Glutathione and Mitochondria
Mitochondria are small, specialized structures within a cell. They carry out a variety of functions, the most important of which is converting fats, carbohydrates and proteins into adenosine triphosphate, or ATP. ATP provides the energy to carry out the processes in cells (including tasks key to healthy aging). Every cell has mitochondria — some types of cells have hundreds of mitochondria per cell. So important is the mitochondria to cell health that they are often described as the power plants of cells.
Healthy mitochondria are important, and they need to be protected. The main substance that is this protector is glutathione. Keeping mitochondria healthy is essential to cell function and structure. When cells are healthy, the tissues they are a part of are healthy. And healthy tissue means overall health. A lack of mitochondria health means cell damage, and cell damage leads to age-related disorders including autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, and neuro-degenerative diseases such as multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease.
Glutathione Health and Anti-Aging Benefits
Free radicals are oxygen-containing molecules that have an odd number of electrons. Being in this unstable state makes allows these molecules to easily react with other molecules. Too easily. Free radicals “stealing” electrons from other, stable, molecules leads to wholesale chemical chain reactions called oxidation. The process of oxidation leads to the damaging of the cells the free radicals interact with. Antioxidants are molecules that have the ability to donate an electron to a free radical without making themselves unstable. Antioxidants put a stop to the runaway train of oxidation.
Oxidative stress is an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in your body. Oxidative stress is one of the leading causes of sickness and disease — in other words, aging. Oxidation is free radicals damaging cells, and antioxidants stop this damage. Cell damage is a leading cause of aging, which is why antioxidants are so important in the fight against aging.
Countless studies confirm that no other antioxidant is as important to general, overall health as glutathione. It regulates and regenerates immune cells, making it the most powerful detoxifying agent in the human body.
Oxidation cell damage is cumulative, and it is this accumulated damage that is thought to be the primary cause of the health issues that, collectively, are what we consider aging. Research tells us that there is a direct correlation between aging and decreased levels of glutathione. Optimal levels of glutathione are essential for protecting cells from free radical damage, detoxifying the liver, supporting a healthy immune system and minimizing chronic diseases.
Being a powerful antioxidant that fights free radicals and the cellular damage they cause is the overall, general anti-aging benefit of glutathione. But there are several other more specific health benefits made possible by adequate levels of glutathione.
Significant levels of inflammation are found in just about every chronic illness, including heart disease, cancer and diabetes. However, inflammation is also necessary and healthy — in short bursts — to fight against infections. Whether toxins, infection or trauma, the immune system reacts in the same way — with an inflammatory response that expands blood vessels to allow healing compounds to quickly reach the injured area.
This inflammatory response is triggered when it’s needed, and subsides once healing is complete. However, factors such as stress, diet and environmental toxins interfere with the balance of this system and inflammation may not always diminish and end when it should. The result can be chronic, systemic inflammation.
Glutathione plays a key role in controlling when inflammation increases or decreases by instructing and influencing white blood cells. This is a completely different system than glutathione’s role as an antioxidant.
Supports Immune Function
When it comes to a healthy immune system, vitamin C gets all the credit. Glutathione belongs right up there with the popular and powerful vitamin.
Research demonstrates that glutathione boosts white blood cell and T-cell (lymphocytes) production — the body’s primary infection fighters.
T-cells in particular are central to a well functioning immune system, as they adjust the system’s response to bacterial and viral infections as well as anything a cell deems invasive.
Enhances Athletic Performance
Glutathione can boost athletic performance when used before workouts. Glutathione lowers blood lactic acid levels when exercising, which is beneficial as increased lactic acid results in fatigue, lowered blood pressure and muscle aches.
Glutathione also increases nitric oxide (NO) production which dilates blood vessels to improve blood flow and oxygen delivery to muscles and tissues.
As well as playing major roles in your feeling good, glutathione may help in your looking good.
Hydrogen peroxide contributes to graying hair. Here we’re not talking about an external application, but rather the internal production of hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide interferes with melanin, the pigment responsible for the coloring of both hair and skin. If hydrogen peroxide can be quickly converted to other substances it no longer damages cells and tissues. Glutathione converts damaging hydrogen peroxide to neutral, non-damaging water.
Glutathione has also been found to decrease wrinkles, increase skin elasticity and even out skin tone. You’ve read here that free radicals cause all sorts of cell and tissue damage, and that glutathione plays a big role in fighting free radicals. Among the many negative results of cell and tissue damage are wrinkles and hyperpigmentation. Glutathione has been shown to reduce wrinkles and lighten skin dark spots.
Glutathione is an extremely powerful protein and antioxidant that’s produced from three amino acids: cysteine, glycine, and glutamate. A cell’s mitochondria are important as they produce ATP, the energy the cell needs to function, and glutathione serves as the protector of mitochondria. Adequate levels of glutathione means healthy mitochondria, healthy cells, and healthy tissue and organs.
Glutathione provides numerous health benefits, including several that fight aging. Glutathione decreases inflammation, supports immune function, enhances athletic performance, and even plays a role in healthy skin.
The best forms of supplementation are either in pill form as S-acetyl glutathione or as the liquid liposomal glutathione.