Our body produces glutathione, which is a protein that protects every cell, tissue and organ against the free radicals and diseases. Glutathione is made up by three amino acids: glycine, glutamate and cysteine.
- 1. Main functions
- 2. Glutathione for the organism
- 3. Foods with glutathione
- 4. Benefits of glutathione
- 5. Free radicals
- 6. How does glutathione work?
- 7. NAC as glutathione precursors
- 8. Not all the free radicals are harmful
- 9. Properties of glutathione
- 10. Glutathione intake
- 11. Who can benefit from glutathione?
- 12. Glutathione deficiency
- 13. Side effects of glutathione
- 14. Conclusions
- 15. Bibliography
- 16. Related Entries:
- Supporting the immune system
- Detoxifying the organism
- Protecting against radiation: it can help to repair those cells damaged by stress, radiation, pollution and some diseases.
Its most renowned function is its detoxifying effect, specially on the liver and kidneys. It performs this task by gathering all the waste products in order to excrete them. Moreover, due to its chemical structure, it helps to reduce the number of oxidizing agents by donating an electron, which is why it is a great antioxidant.
On the other hand, its role on the immune system is very important. It regulates the lymphocyte response against strange substances. Consequently, it increases the production of cytokines, improving our defenses.
Glutathione for the organism
Every day, our body is exposed to many factors that can reduce the glutathione reserves: stress, pollution, radiation, infections, bacteria, injuries, medicines, a bad diet, aging, exercise…
All these factors reduce the amount of glutathione produced endogenously by our body. Therefore, we are more susceptible to cell damage, aging, and several diseases in the long term.
We can also enhance the glutathione synthesis endogenously by taking N-acetylcysteine or N-acetyl-L-cysteine supplements. This is due to the fact that it is its main precursor.
Studies and Research
Until recently, scientists believed that the body could not absorb glutathione properly. So the best way of increasing its levels was taking precursors like N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) and substances like alpha lipoic acid.
Recent studies show how our body can actually absorb significant doses of glutathione. Therefore, supplements are a good alternative that will increase its levels in the cells.
Foods with glutathione
- Vegetables: asparagus are a great source of glutathione. Pumpkin provides 14mg, broccoli 8mg, potato 13mg and tomatoes 11mg, all this per 100g.
- Fruits: Among fruits, watermelon is one of the best sources. It has 28mg every 100g. Strawberries provide 12mg, grapefruit 15mg, oranges 11mg and peach 7mg per 100g. Avocado also provides 31mg per 100g.
- Nuts: Walnuts provide 15mg every 100g.
- Fish, poultry, red meat: they provide around 10mg per 100g.
Benefits of glutathione
- Slowing down aging.
- Protecting the cells against the damage of the free radicals.
- Performing an hepatic function.
- Preventing cancer.
- Improving the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
- Detoxifying the liver.
- Increasing the energy in order to improve the performance.
- Enhancing the cognitive functions and focus.
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The free radicals are free chemical structures that have one or more unpaired electrons. In other words, they are chemical substances that react to cell or tissue compounds very easily. As we mentioned in the previous paragraph, the free radicals can come either from the outside or from our own body.
Types of free radicals
Some of the exogenous free radicals are:
- Cigarette smoke
- Atmospheric pollution
- Radiation (ionizing, UV, particles)
- Medicines (anesthesic, antimicrobial, anticancer)
- Diet rich in PUFA
While the endogenous free radicals are:
- Small cytosolic molecules: catecholamines (adrenaline, noradrenaline), flavin, tetrahydropterin, quinone, thiol and diphenol
- Hemoglobin and myoglobin
- Enzymatic proteins (MAO, aldehyde oxidase, cyclooxygenase)
- Peroxisomes: organelles that make up H2 O2 because they have many oxidases
- Mitochondrial electron transport chain
To sum up, this would be the mechanism:
Free radical production (active oxygen species)
Interaction with proteins, lipids, nucleic acids and carbohydrates
Cell metabolism alteration. Subcellular damage
Cell homeostasis alteration
Aging and diseases
Most of age-related problems are due to the exposure to free radicals
Example of free radical damage
- α-1-antiprotease counters the proteolytic activity of elastase and protects the lung tissue from the elastin destruction.
- The free radicals from smoke inhibit the α-1-antiprotease, which could trigger lung emphysema. This is very important for smokers, since the smoke increases the free radicals. Consequently, if we add the substances from cigarettes, it increases the risk of mutagenesis and cancer.
- Another disease that is partly due to the free radicals is rheumatoid arthrosis. In fact, the presence of said free radicals depolymerize hyaluronic acid, losing its lubricating effect.
How does glutathione work?
Glutathione reduces the free radicals and neutralizes them, mostly thanks to its thiol group (-SH) for its sulfur.
However, as we will see later on, not all the free radicals are bad
The problem arises because we are constantly subjected to a high amount of free radicals. For instance: pesticides, smoke, stress, a bad diet, pollution… Moreover, it tends to get worse as we age, since our glutathione levels and defenses start to drop . Therefore, those who have low levels (AIDS) can benefit from glutathione supplementation . In fact, it opens the opportunity to ↓glutathione related diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, hepatitis, hepatic cirrhosis, septic shock and diabetes.
NAC as glutathione precursors
One of the substances that helps to increase its levels is n-acetylcysteine (NAC). Although it has proven to be helpful to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder too .
NAC is known for being used as treatment against certain lung diseases related to the mucosity. On the other hand, it is believed that it can increase the testosterone production when combined with selenium.
Or even increase the amount of spermatozoa.
Another study  assessed people who took more cysteine (amino acid that transforms into glutathione) and theanine. The results were that their natural killers increased, which are a group of immune cells that destroy damaged or infected cells.
Not all the free radicals are harmful
However, as I said in the beginning, not all the free radicals are harmful for our body. Physical exercise stimulates the free radicals but their effect is good since they contribute to the recovery and muscle adaptation.
Some studies have shown how antioxidants like vitamin C or E reduce this positive environment created by exercise itself . Although there are no studies about glutathione and its properties for sport, they would be very similar to other antioxidants, since it uses the same mediators (UCP proteins).
However, it was interesting seeing how some groups who did HIIT lost a 60% more fat due to the antioxidant supply:
Graphic from Dr.Andro
This could be due to a better mitochondrial function. Let’s not forget that the mitochondria is the cell “oven” that produces energy. Nevertheless, we do not suggest reducing the IL-6 levels (which does not happen with antioxidants). This is mainly due to the fact that they produce interesting effects on the adipose tissue. For instance, it increases the adiponectin levels, stimulating the use of fat, allowing more metabolic flexibility.
Properties of glutathione
It plays a very important role in defending the organism against oxidative stress.
It has the ability to capture reactive particles before they can damage the DNA, RNA, proteins or membranes.
Reduced glutathione neutralizes most free radicals and oxygen reactive particles such as: hydroxyl radical, superoxide and fatty acid radicals.
Moreover, it has the ability to “recycle other antioxidants”. Therefore, it can activate oxidized forms from vitamin C, E, alpha lipoic acid and coenzyme Q10. Thanks to glutathione, our body can use these antioxidants once again.
Glutathione detoxifies xenobiotic substances. Moreover, it can bind to fat soluble toxins in the liver, such as heavy metals, solvents and some pesticides. Then, they become water soluble so that they can be excreted through the urine.
All of this happens because the glutathione molecule has sulfur compounds. Said sulfur forms a sticky substance to which toxins adhere in order to transport them throughout the body in order to excrete them.
It has been proven that it can detoxify the liver on a daily basis.
The liver is the biggest glutathione reserve. In fact, several studies have shown how its low levels can negatively affect the hepatic function.
Some diseases (hepatitis, cirrhosis or liver damage caused by alcohol) and specially age can saturate the liver. Consequently, this organ cannot perform an optimal detoxification of the organism due to the damage.
A glutathione supplement will support the elimination of these substances, improving the health of the liver.
It strengthens the immune system and enhances the defenses against all kinds of pathologies.
The immune system is constantly “hunting” pathogens and strange antigens (viruses, bacteria, fungi, parasites, pre-cancer cells, etc). All this element can damage the cells, produce toxicity and trigger several diseases.
To eliminate these pathogens, the body needs a proper glutathione level that will stimulate the defensive immune cells.
Moreover, it stimulates the proper functioning and multiplication of our lymphocytes (blood white cells). After finding the antigen, the lymphocytes need glutathione in order to multiply very quickly and create anti-bodies and interleukins.
Above all, a healthy and strong immune system is necessary to prevent autoimmune diseases like thyroiditis, lupus, psoriasis…
The studies about glutathione and the immune system have shown that it can support the treatment of serious pathologies like HIV.
In general, the studies have proven that the recommended daily amount of glutathione is 250mg. On the contrary, higher doses (like 1g) do not provide more benefits. Currently, taking glutathione directly or topically is more effective when it comes to increasing its plasma levels.
When to take glutathione
You can take it at any time of the day, since it does not need fat to be absorbed. However, it would be advisable to take it with anti-nutrients because it breaks down to L-cysteine in the gastrointestinal tract.
Who can benefit from glutathione?
Glutathione is regarded as safe and even our body synthesizes it from amino acids like glycine, glutamic acid or cysteine.
Taking supplementation can be useful for those who have a suppressed immune system. Moreover, it can support those cases of low glutathione reserves due to heavy metals or medication.
A glutathione deficiency is not only due to a certain age or lifestyle. Rather, anyone can suffer from it, even when following a healthy and balanced diet.
Low glutathione levels can trigger many health problems like ADHD, multiple sclerosis, joint pain, fibromyalgia and diabetes.
Glutathione supplements are the most effective way of increasing the levels of this valuable molecule. Those who get sick quite often may be suffering a glutathione deficiency. Therefore, taking glutathione supplements is probably the best solution.
Side effects of glutathione
Glutathione rarely triggers side effects. Some people have reported mild abdominal pain and nausea.
On the other hand, it is believed that a prolonged intake can reduce the zinc levels. That is why it is advisable to take zinc supplements while taking glutathione. It is unknown if taking glutathione is safe during pregnancy, which is why the best thing is not taking it at all to avoid any risks.
Interactions of glutathione
Glutathione is a completely safe supplement.
There are no known interactions of glutathione with other substances. However, we suggest consulting your doctor if you are taking other medicines or substances.
Alcohol reduces the glutathione levels, which is why we should avoid alcohol while taking glutathione. Otherwise it could potentially inhibit its effects.
Many people also take N-acetyl-L-cysteine (NAC) with glutathione. Moreover, it has also been proven that milk thistle can increase the glutathione levels. Consequently, taking these three substances at the same time will ensure good glutathione levels.
To sum up, NAC or glutathione supplementation can be useful in some cases like smokers, a weak immune system and to prevent cancer
If you want to enhance its effects, combine it with daily exercise at a high intensity if possible. Due to its interaction with physical exercise, the best thing would be taking it away from the pre-post workout. Therefore, if you train in the morning, take it at night or vice versa.
- Glutathione levels in health and sickness.Kharb S1, Singh V, Ghalaut PS, Sharma A, Singh GP.
- N-acetilcisteína repone glutatión en la infección por VIH.De Rosa SC 1 , Zaretsky MD , Dubs JG , Roederer M
- N-acetylcysteine in psychiatry: current therapeutic evidence and potential mechanisms of actionOlivia Dean, BS
- Cystine and theanine supplementation restores high-intensity resistance exercise-induced attenuation of natural killer cell activity in well-trained men. Kawada S1, Kobayashi K, Ohtani M, Fukusaki C.
- Uncoupling proteins and the control of mitochondrial reactive oxygen species production.Mailloux RJ1, Harper ME.
- Free radicals in exhaustive physical exercise: mechanism of production, and protection by antioxidants.Viña J1, Gomez-Cabrera MC, Lloret A, Marquez R, Miñana JB, Pallardó FV, Sastre J.
- Vitamin C and E supplementation hampers cellular adaptation to endurance training in humans: a double-blind randomized control trial
- Role of IL-6 in Exercise Training-and Cold-Induced UCP1 Expression in Subcutaneous White Adipose Tissue.
- Antioxidants that protect mitochondria reduce interleukin-6 and oxidative stress, improve mitochondrial function, and reduce biochemical markers of organ dysfunction in a ratmodel of acute sepsis