Glutathione is like the loyal bodyguard who will sacrifice everything to
jump in front of a bullet to save the life of the person he or she
protects. When there is enough of the right kind of glutathione in the
body to take the hit, no inflammatory response occurs. However, when
glutathione becomes depleted it triggers a destructive inflammatory
process. Toxic chemicals and pollutants drain glutathione from the body.
exists in two basic forms. The antioxidant form or “reduced
glutathione” tripeptide is conventionally called “glutathione” and
abbreviated as “GSH.” The oxidized form is a sulfur-sulfur linked
compound known as glutathione disulfide (GSSG).
It is everywhere
in animals, plants and microorganisms and being water-soluble is found
mainly in cells. This antioxidant is one of the most highly concentrated
antioxidants inside of cells.
Which Form Is the Best?
Reduced glutathione, or GSH, is the bodyguard who “takes the hit” from free radicals that damage cells. Free radicals are the bullets, molecules that are unstable because they have unpaired electrons and are looking for another electron to steal in order to become stable. They steal electrons from the mitochondria, thus destroying them and causing inflammation and degeneration.
However when there’s plenty of GSH in the cell, the GSH sacrifice themselves to the free radicals—throwing themselves in front of the bullets — in order to protect the mitochondria (the engine that drives your cells and produces energy).
What happens is, the GSH ends up with an unpaired electron and becomes unstable, at which point it becomes GSSG, or oxidized glutathione, which is technically a free radical (bullet) itself.
GSSG Can Be Dangerous, But Isn’t Always
When there is sufficient GSH in the cell, the unstable GSSG naturally pairs with available glutathione in the cell with the help of an enzyme called glutathione reductase, returning back to its reduced glutathione state so it’s ready for action once again.
Glutathione is controlled, both inside the cell and outside by enzymes. Enzyme systems synthesize it, utilize it, and regenerate it. It is most concentrated in the liver, where certain enzymes require it to convert fat-soluble substances into ones that are water-soluble in order to allow them to be excreted by the body. Cells in the liver also export glutathione to the outside, where it works it’s magic.
2 Key Enzymes
The key thing to remember is that two enzymes play important roles in these processes:
Glutathione peroxidase triggers the reaction of GSH to GSSG, which is when glutathione “takes the hit” to spare the cell
Glutathione reductase triggers the conversion of GSSG back to useable GSH.
These enzymes come into consideration when we look at how to support the glutathione system nutritionally.
The consequences of sustained glutathione depletion are not good. As cellular glutathione is depleted, first individual cells die in those areas most affected. Then zones of tissue damage begin to appear. The damage spreads across the tissue like a wave and keeps expanding, growing and causing more problems.
Studies show a direct correlation between a breakdown in the glutathione system and autoimmune disease. The ability to constantly take the oxidized form and recycle it back to the reduced form is critical for managing a healthy immune system.
Fortunately studies also show various herbs, nutritional compounds, and their cofactors have been shown to activate glutathione reductase and the synthesis of reduced glutathione. By boosting this enzyme and supplementing its levels we can increase GSH levels and recycling to calm down inflammation once it starts, or, even better, to prevent inflammation in the first place.
Proper GSH activity not only helps protect cells, research shows it also balances cell growth and immunity, and helps tissues recover from damage.
What’s This All Mean?
If you don’t have enough glutathione:
*Your body can’t deal with stress
*You get attacked by more free radicals (bullets)
*Your immune system becomes hyperactive, sometimes resulting in autoimmune disease
*All of this threatens the health of your cells (when cells are unhealthy they are at risk for dangerous mutations = cancer)
There is a good amount of literature showing that glutathione levels (in the blood), as well as levels inside the cells, are directly related to outcome in diseases such as chronic hepatitis, HIV infections, various malignancies and malnutrition.
Supporting Glutathione Recycling
It is very important to keep this system working properly. To do this you need to do 2 things.
1. Get enough GSH in the system and
2. Keep it there (don’t over deplete it).
Just like your old aluminum cans, you want to reuse and recycle as much of it as you can.
So how do we support glutathione recycling? The first thing is to reduce the things depleting this vital system. Four things are critical: balancing blood sugar, addressing food intolerances, restoring gut health, and managing adrenal function.Other considerations are neurotransmitter imbalances and hormonal imbalances, which may require specialized guidance from a qualified health care practitioner.
And of course making any lifestyle changes you can, such as getting enough sleep, paring down an overactive schedule, making exercise a priority each day, creating time to do things you love, and so on.
Once you have addressed these factors (which for many people can actually take care of the problem) and if you still have problems with your immune system, then boosting glutathione recycling may be necessary. Here are the basic herbs and nutritional compounds researchers have found support glutathione recycling pathways.
N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC): NAC is a key compound to glutathione activity. It is rapidly metabolized into intracellular glutathione.
Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA): ALA directly recycles and extends the metabolic life spans of vitamin C, glutathione, and coenzyme Q10, and it indirectly renews vitamin E, all of which are necessary for glutathione recycling.
L-glutamine: Research has shown that l-glutamine is important for the generation of glutathione. It is transported into the cell, converted to glutamate, and readily available to intracellular glutathione synthesis.
Selenium: Selenium is a trace element nutrient that serves as the essential cofactor for the enzyme glutathione peroxidase, which converts GSH to GSSG so glutathione can “take the hit” by free radicals to spare cells.
Cordyceps: Cordyceps has been shown to activate both glutathione and peroxidase synthesis in the body. It has also been shown to protect cells by engaging the glutathione enzyme cycle.
Gotu kola (Centella Asiatica): Research has clearly demonstrated that oral intake of gotu kola rapidly and dramatically increases the activity and amount of glutathione peroxidase and the quantity of GSH.
Milk thistle (Silybum marianum): Milk thistle has been shown to significantly increase glutathione, increase superoxide dismutase (another powerful antioxidant) activity, and positively influence the ratios of reduced and oxidized GSH.
Taken together these herbs and compounds activate the glutathione peroxidase and reductase enzymes that promote a healthy recycling system.
Something Else to Consider
Good recycling of this antioxidant helps tame immune problems in another way. One thing we have found universal in all our autoimmune patients is a problem with their intestines called leaky gut.
People with immune system problems and autoimmune disease all suffer from some degree of leaky gut and repairing the gut is vital to the recovery process. Studies show glutathione may play an important role in gut barrier function and the prevention of intestinal inflammation.
More importantly, a glutathione recycling system that isn’t working properly can cause more problems with the intestines — an example of this is the person with multiple food sensitivities and a gut that never heals.
Although repairing a leaky gut is vital to taming an autoimmune response, we can see now proper recycling is another vital piece to the puzzle of restoring gut health.
For people with severe leaky gut issues I suggest they take these compounds as they work on repairing leaky gut. Also, it’s important to use these together with a liposomal cream that helps introduce more glutathione to the system.
These compounds work more on recycling than boosting overall levels. This way what you do take, whether through a cream, an IV, a nasal spray, or other method is assured to stay in your body longer and get inside your cells where it can do its best work.
Why Should You Care?
Promoting glutathione recycling helps protect cell mitochondria, promote tissue recovery, modulate imbalances between different parts of the immune system, and boost immune system regulation. The overall effect is to calm both the autoimmune reaction and damage to body tissue.
It also helps body tissue and the intestinal tract regenerate and recover. Keeping overall glutathione levels up by supporting glutathione levels and recycling it helps protect the body’s cells from the many things that attack it every day.
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