“Problems occur when overwhelming free radicals (oxidative stress) or toxic load depletes our glutathione stores...This leads to a downward spiral of chronic disease and accelerated skin aging.”
Glutathione: What is it? How do I increase it?
Speaking to patients, I’ve realised that many have not heard of the superhero molecule called glutathione before. No, it is not a new treatment to tighten the glutes.
Allow me to introduce our body’s master antioxidant, major detoxifier, and maestro of the immune system – “Glue-Ta-Thigh-Own.”
The good news is: Our body produces its own protective glutathione naturally.
The bad news? Aging, poor diet, chronic stress, trauma, infections, autoimmune diseases, chronic inflammation, alcohol, medications, environmental toxins, and electromagnetic radiation, among others, can all deplete our body’s glutathione levels.
This leaves us more susceptible to fatigue, infections, dullness, premature skin aging, and chronic illnesses.
Benefits of Glutathione
The liver produces glutathione (GSH), and it is widely found in most cells. The fact that glutathione exists in the same concentration as other major chemicals like glucose, potassium, and cholesterol in cells, and the body spends large amounts of energy to produce it, underlines its critical importance.
Glutathione is composed of three amino acids (cysteine, glutamine, and glycine). Its secret power lies in its sulfur (SH) groups. Sulfur is a sticky (and smelly) molecule that acts somewhat like flypaper, attracting and binding to bad stuff like free radicals, toxins, and dirty estrogens. This is the body’s way of neutralizing these damaging rogue molecules and facilitating their detoxification out of the body through faeces.
Glutathione is most famously known as the “mother antioxidant” that recycles other antioxidants. Highly damaging free radicals are passed down like hot potatoes between antioxidants like vitamin C, vitamin E, and alpha-lipoic acid, and finally to glutathione, which quenches a diverse array of free radicals and recycles the other antioxidants. The body then reduces this oxidized glutathione to recycle it back to the GSH molecule, so that it is ready to fight against cellular damage every minute, every day.
Glutathione is also an integral part of the liver detoxification system, helps our immune system do its job of fending off infections and cancer, and supports good mental and physical function.
Research shows that increased glutathione levels decrease muscle damage, reduce recovery time, increase strength and endurance, and shift metabolism from fat production to muscle development.
Problems occur when overwhelming free radicals (oxidative stress) or toxic load depletes our glutathione stores, preventing us from protecting ourselves against cellular and mitochondrial damage, toxins, infections, or cancer. This leads to a downward spiral of chronic disease and accelerated skin aging.
Could Your Body be Low in Glutathione?
Testing is not widely available and not fully reliable.
Simply put, if you are sick, old, or not in the peak of health, you are likely to have low glutathione levels.
In addition, our body’s production can also be reduced by intense activity over prolonged periods of time. For example, marathon runners may deplete their glutathione stores before the race is finished, while soccer players have a chance to replenish their supply between bursts of intense activity.
Possible warning symptoms:
- Skin dullness, hyperpigmentation, and other signs of premature skin aging (loss of skin elasticity, roughness, and wrinkling)
- Foggy brain
- Poor sleep
- Aches and pains
- Frequent infections
Symptoms of Severe Deficiency:
- Anemia (low levels of iron)
- Metabolic acidosis (build-up of acids in the body)
- Liver disease
- Loss of coordination (ataxia)
- Seizures and neurodegenerative diseases (e.g., Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s)
- Heart attack and stroke
Natural Ways to Promote More Glutathione
No surprises! Optimizing sleep, staying active, and eating a healthy diet rich in a wide variety of fresh vegetables, berries, nuts, and seeds (preferably organic to reduce exposure to toxins like pesticides) would be a great way to start. We cannot supplement our way out of a bad diet and lifestyle.
Particularly, look out for these foods and nutrients:
- Sulfur-rich foods: Make cruciferous vegetables (e.g., broccoli, cauliflower, kalian) and alliums (e.g., garlic, onions) a regular feature on your plate every day.
- Glutamine foods: Get this important amino acid from high-quality protein sources like grass-fed beef, chicken, low-mercury fish, cottage cheese, eggs, as well as cabbage, beans, parsley, and spinach.
- Alpha-lipoic acid: Another vital antioxidant for our cells that is also involved in cellular energy production required for healthy tissue regeneration. Try sprinkling flax seeds on your meal.
- Methylation nutrients: Multiple B vitamins (vitamin B12, B6, folate) are involved in the methylation pathways that help recycle glutathione. Some individuals may need supplementation with activated (methylated) forms of these B vitamins as they are less able to process these nutrients due to genetic mutations.
- Selenium: This important mineral found in foods like Brazil nuts helps the body recycle and produce more glutathione.
- Vitamin C & E: Our body uses a whole family of antioxidants, including vitamins C & E, that work together to support the function and levels of glutathione. Avocado, almonds, and okra are some widely available foods that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits and help support glutathione levels.
Supplements to Boost Glutathione
Some individuals are genetically predisposed to lower glutathione levels. Regardless of genetics, our body’s capacity to maintain levels will certainly wane with age and in times of stress. So sometimes, we may benefit from supplementation.
Unfortunately, most glutathione supplements do not work. This super antioxidant is difficult to stabilize, and the stomach breaks it down readily into amino acids when swallowed.
Milk thistle (silymarin) is an herb long used as a liver supplement and helps boost glutathione levels. Other supplements that have been used to support glutathione levels and function include NAC (N-acetylcysteine), turmeric, and vitamin C.
Specialized glutathione supplements are now available. These have sophisticated delivery systems that allow glutathione to be absorbed directly into the blood from blood vessels under the tongue (sublingual delivery).
Our favorite sublingual glutathione supplement comes with a patented rapid drug delivery system. In a study of 34 healthy women aged 30 to 65 years old, it has been shown to improve skin luminosity by up to 60%, lighten skin by about up to 12%, and reduce fine lines around the eyes by up to 51% over 12 weeks.
After all, looking good is just a marker of being healthy and youthful.
Feel free to ask our friendly doctors and nurses for more information.
DR. TAN WANG THENG