Glutathione As the Master Antioxidant – amazing where raisins can lead us!

The discussion of raisins nutrition having led to the wider subject of the process of countering oxidative stress, I would like to focus on the body’s first line of defense against oxidative damage. There are many levels of function and capability when it comes to the diverse range of antioxidants out there; some antioxidants take care of products of oxygen burning, some take care of products of nitrogen burning, some of them take care of hydroxyl burning; glutathione is the most versatile antioxidant, being able to destroy the range of free radicals produced in all such processes. It is also a ubiquitous antioxidant, present in every cell in the human body, making it the most prevalent antioxidant peptide (it is a tripeptide – being three amino acids joined by peptide bonds) in the body. It seems common sense that if a substance is extremely wide-spread and numerous, there is a reason for this and it speaks volumes about the importance of the compound.

A huge amount of research now indicates that glutathione is indeed the most important antioxidant in the body and is incredibly closely correlated to overall health; glutathione levels have even been shown to be an indicator of the severity of some diseases, such as AIDS. An interesting advantage of glutathione is also that it can recycle itself. Some antioxidants, such as vitamin C, when they neutralise free radicals, become low grade free radicals themselves. This is not the case with glutathione. Provided the body has access to the right nutrients, the glutathione molecule can be utilised over and over again. Interestingly, many antioxidants, such as resveratrol, are actually so potent because they feed into the production of glutathione, either by quenching other reactions that will allow the protection of glutathione, or actually contributing to its production, or both.

Every cell in our body requires adenosine triphosphate (ATP), without it, cells can do nothing and die. If an engine has no fuel then it’s not doing anything, it’s not going anywhere. At least in that analogy the engine is not destroyed when it runs out of fuel. Not so with the cells in the body. Each cell goes through chemical cycles which mainly burn oxygen in order to produce ATP. This burning process releases oxidants, in affect creating little ‘fires’ of oxidation. If these fires are not put out, they will make the subsequent chemical cycle less efficient and less ATP will be produced as a result. Of course this trend will continue unless the oxidative affects are counteracted. This is where antioxidants come in and glutathione has been shown unequivocally to be the most important and versatile antioxidant the body has available in order to shield against this oxidative damage, putting out those ‘fires’ which are so detrimental to our organism. Among other things, glutathione is basically a cell protector, analogous to the oil which enables our chemical engines to run as effectively and efficiently as possible, in the widest array of circumstances.

As a rule, when we are young our glutathione levels are at their maximum and the body is at its most effective at putting out the fires of oxidation which are constantly occurring in our body, in our cells. This ensures that ATP production in cells is at its most productive because the chemical cycles can function as efficiently as possible and the cells have the greatest amount of energy available. Thus we generally have more energy the younger we are. However, as we age, glutathione levels begin to drop off (from around the age of 20) and at the same time oxidative stresses are usually increasing; in this modern world it is very difficult to lead a life which truly keeps oxidative stress on the body at a minimum. Most of us live in environments which place demands on us in the form of foreign toxins, very few people sleep eight hours per night, eat enough fresh fruits and vegetables and abstain from alcohol and smoking, all whilst leading lives of no stress. Over time, all of these factors working together deplete glutathione resources.

As such, as we age, our cells become less effective at extinguishing those fires of oxidation created by the burning processes in our cells and the cells loose efficiency in creating ATP and are thus no longer able to produce the amount they once did. It might go from 100% to 90%, to 80%, to 70% and so on, stretching over the period of one’s life. Our cells loose energy whilst attempting to compensate with any means they can find. Unfortunately, without adequate levels of glutathione, ATP production inevitably continues to drop, as no other antioxidants are powerful, ubiquitous and versatile enough to fully compensate for the tasks which glutathione performs in our organism.

The body utilises a process of programmed cell death called apoptosis; generally this means that if a cell is not performing at the level at which the body believes that it should, then it will be sent a signal to die. So if a cell reaches a stage of such low energy and performance that it becomes a liability or simply ineffective, the body will instruct that cell to die. This is an interesting connection. As glutathione drops and thus ATP production drops, more cells die, with this clearly being an integral part of the aging process; cells become less able to produce their own fuel and thus their lifespan is limited.

When we are young we may well feel that we have all the energy in the world, but as we get older, if we do nothing to manage the oxidative stresses on our cells and the body in general, and we do not live in a way which maximises glutathione availability, we will loose energy/capacity to perform over time as we get older. Amongst the many factors affecting our general energy levels and ability to perform, this is certainly a very important facet to consider. It is in our best interest to supply the best possible foundation for a balanced, rich life, and paying attention to these nutritional requirements is vital to this foundation. When one later complains that one cannot perform as one once did, the doctor might tell you that this is a natural result of the aging process. Sure, but what is doing all this aging? Well the degradation of cells plays a large part in the reduction of our organism’s capabilities, which produce less ATP and as such more will die, the body will become physically older and we will have less energy than we did in our twenties. The core elements of this simplified scenario are perfectly valid and mainstream medicine must become more aware of these fundamental nutritional processes in order to serve patients in a more cause-orientated and preventative manner. In general, solid nutritional training needs to play a greater role in the education of medical practitioners, and not just left to specialists. It is heartening to see evidence that generally medical courses are beginning to show signs of much stronger nutritional components.

What is inflammation? Well at a cellular level, inflammation is basically the result of those ‘fires’ which haven’t been extinguished ‘burning’ in our cells and decreasing the productivity and effectiveness of the cell. Inflammation has been shown to form the starting point of just about any age-related disease out there. Why? Well one begins to see that when our cells begin to fail, this can start catalysts which may eventually lead to a large range of diseases and problems. Many diseases can be traced back to the failing of cells in different parts of the body, whether it’s the brain, the heart, the lungs, the pancreas…whether its Alzheimer, or diabetes, or Parkinson, etc…

I can see a clear connection here between the extraordinary rise in many of these diseases over the last 50 years or more, a time during which environmental and lifestyle stresses have generally been on a consistent increase, whilst the quality of diets hasn’t been keeping up. It is important that nutritional awareness becomes more prevalent in the coming years, so more people are able to focus on theses important preventative measures; looking after their lifestyle and health from an early age, greatly improving their own quality of life and quality of life in the wider community, taking pressures off the state to care for people who are living longer and developing more problems than we have seen in the past.

Good health is about much more than nutrition, but developing this understanding and looking after the body, taking care to maintain the gift of health, is a vital component of a balanced life.

Check back soon for a discussion about what one can do to increase glutathione and other key antioxidants in the body and generally reduce oxidative stress.

References: 

Dr. Robert H. Keller, The MaxGXL story (audio interview) 

Wikipedia, Apoptosis, Peptide, Glutathione

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