According to Richard Lord, PhD, glutathione is “vital to life”, but what is it? Behind water, glutathione is the second most plentiful molecule in your body. It is a sulfur-containing tripeptide – a protein – made up of the amino acids cysteine, glutamic acid, and glycine. Glutathione is an intracellular antitoxin and antioxidant produced in the liver and nerve cells in the central nervous system that neutralizes unstable free radicals (see post here). In excess, free radicals damage cells, proteins, and your DNA and lead to cancer. That’s where glutathione comes in.
“The Mother of All Antioxidants”: Where is Glutathione in Your Body and What Does It Do?
Dr Mark Hyman calls it “the mother of all antioxidants”. Every cell in your body contains glutathione but the brain, lungs and liver have the highest concentrations. In the liver, glutathione helps scavenge and detoxify toxins including chemicals, metals, and radiation and allows your body to excrete them. In the brain, glutathione functions as an antioxidant and mops up free radicals. According to Dr. Jill Carnahan, glutathione also:
- Acts as a signaling molecule to help modulate and ensure an appropriate immune response
- Regenerates other antioxidants like vitamins C and E
- Regulates cell proliferation and apoptosis, programmed cell death
- Supports mitochondrial function and in turn, energy production in the body in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and cell signaling
Different Types of Glutathione:
There are two forms of glutathione: reduced glutathione, (GSH), and the oxidized form, glutathione disulfide, (GSSG). Reduced glutathione or GSH is the active form. It is missing an oxygen molecule but has an extra donor electron. GSH is the form that binds to toxins and other free radicals. Under normal circumstances when you are healthy, GSH or reduced glutathione usually represents ninety percent or more of the glutathione in your body. When glutathione donates its electron by bonding to the free radical, it becomes an oxidized free radical, glutathione disulfide (GSSG). With the help of the enzyme glutathione reductase (GR), the oxidized glutathione disulfide gets recycled back to reduced glutathione (GSH).
What Causes Low GSH Levels?
When one or more genes involved in creating and recycling glutathione is missing or mutated and not working well, it creates an imbalance between free radicals and reduced glutathione (GSH). Infection and other diseases usually result. Other genes such as those that predispose a person to allergy or other types of inflammation may also lower glutathione or block recycling of the oxidized form. According to Dr. Hyman, pollution, toxins, medications, stress, trauma, aging, infections and radiation also deplete glutathione. This can overload your liver and detoxification systems and leave you vulnerable to infection and diseases such as cancer.