You can tell what kind of late-night reading I do… it’s usually one studies that would bore you to tears. But you see my mission in life is your health! So I read a lot of journals (in between watching cute cat videos on YouTube). Today’s article is for anyone who is chronically ill. If you have chronic fatigue syndrome [myalgic encephalitis], fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis (MS), Lyme disease, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, depression, psoriasis, lupus or any other complex chronic illness today’s article could be a huge game changer for you.
We make glutathione in our liver, all of us do. It’s natural to the body, but it’s also sold and studied in supplement form. There was a recent article in Molecular Neurobiology entitled “The glutathione system: a new drug target in neurological and immune disorders.” Think of your neuro-immune system as your brain and immune cells combined and they take action whenever a pathogen shows up in your body. You need a highly functional neuro-immune system or infections will take over and keep you chronically ill.
Glutathione can help, this is not new news. I wrote about this sulfur-based antioxidant over 20 years ago when it was being used ‘quietly’ at only the most progressive clinics in the country. Kind of underground back then…
Today it’s no secret that IV (intravenous) glutathione and special lipophilic oral formulas can be used in the body as potential medicine, even though it’s a natural and actually and enzyme that is produced in your liver. The antioxidant is sold over-the-counter and online as a popular dietary supplement to help with free radicals in the body. Along with Catalase, it helps break down Hydrogen Peroxide.
Here’s a fun fact: Glutathione is the antidote to the toxic adverse effects of acetaminophen (paracetamol). Hundreds of other “drug muggers” deplete glutathione, as does wine, beers and alcohol. Frequent hangovers are another way to deplete your glutathione levels, which taxes your liver. This explains the correlation of liver disease with alcoholism and why glutathione helps out. It’s a liver antioxidant.
For us here in the field Functional Medicine and clinical nutrition, glutathione is a well-known substance that is critical and fundamental to several purposes in health and function. It plays a crucial status in our antioxidant defenses and detoxification pathways.
Your immune system depends on various arms to be in balance, so Th1, Th2, and Th17 imbalances often have glutathione depletion at the root of the problem. In this case, ‘Th1’ means T helper 1 which refers to your immune system. This magnificent antioxidant is known for it’s ability to detoxify poison that is filtered through your liver but it’s also good brain food. It does housekeeping on your neurons and it serves as a neurotransmitter and a neuromodulator. It protects brain neurons from devastating insults would otherwise destroy your fragile brain cells.
Without adequate glutathione, and Catalase, getting rid of cellular garbage is impossible and whatever toxin you come into contact with becomes exponentially worse because you can’t get rid of it well. It becomes a free radical shopping spree but it’s a bad bargain for you!
Several trillion mitochondria depend on glutathione for their sheer survival. You can’t birth or repair any new mitochondria (mito) either so biogenesis stops. Depleted glutathione levels usher in high levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines. The destructive effects are felt throughout all kinds of signaling networks which trash your homeostatic balance.
Glutathione is so important that when it is depleted DNA synthesis fails. Genetic expression goes awry. Apoptosis (programmed cell death) is activated. Detoxification function within your liver and your cells fails. Lack of glutathione for detoxification and physiology is like having New York City sanitation workers on strike for months on end, devastating!
The study’s authors made the determination that the consequences of depleted glutathione levels plays a primary ubiquitous role in the pathological development of many different neurological and autoimmune disorders, like Parkinson’s, major depression, and CFS/ME.
(ME stands for Myalgic Encephalitis and I just wrote about that. Take a moment to read my article, The Link Between Chronic Fatigue and Viral Infections.
Rather than recommending drug intervention, they recommended well known nutrients to increase glutathione concentrations. Taking glutathione pills is a little challenging because the nutrient is bulky and it doesn’t penetrate your cells very well. It has to be made intracellularly. You will often see glutathione supplements tied to fatty molecules so they can be made “liposomal” and shuttled into your cells. Even that is difficult. Giving IV injections can be helpful and sometimes nebulizing it works.
Everyone is different and every doctor has their own preference on how to raise glutathione in your body using exogenous forms. If you’re trying to bake a cake, why don’t you put the recipe together and put the baking dish into your oven? Same with glutathione. You can take precursor supplements and have it ‘baked’ inside your cells. It requires three different amino acids:
– N-acetyl cysteine (NAC)
Yes, you can raise your own glutathione using various different natural interventions. Some people can just take NAC and that is enough for them. You can also crank up glutathione production with curcumin supplements which come from the famous spice called turmeric. Resveratrol has been shown to raise glutathione and so has cinnamon. Our favorite methylation B vitamin called “folate” can help too. CLICK HERE to read about methylation and the difference between folate and folic acid.
Another option is hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), however it’s expensive and difficult to administer unless you live near a place that has the right units.
This researchers recommendation to make glutathione a new drug target should provide momentum and open the door for more worldwide awareness (and probably very expensive medications one day). In the meantime, their research confirms to me that natural glutathione support (however you want to do it) is an excellent consideration if you have chronic illness. Now, one caveat, you can’t just take a ton of glutathione if you’ve been sick a long time because it will go inside your cells then deep into the mitochondria where it could rust (oxidize) if you have been sick a long time. This will make you feel even worse anywhere from 2 hours to 24 hours after your glutathione injection or supplement.
Head my warning and (with doctor’s approval) use natural supplements that open the floodgates really slow. Start with low doses of whatever you buy; I’m referring to either glutathione supplements or specific nutrients that support intracellular glutathione production. Personally, this is the order I recommend you start:
- Eat a nutrient dense organic diet that focus on cruciferous veggies which are full of sulfur, and other sulfur rich foods which produce glutathione.
- Consider protein supplements that contain those 3 important amino acids (cysteine, glycine and glutamine are your recipe to make gluathione).
- The essential fat-soluble vitamins such as Vitamin A, D, E and K. These nutrients nudge the production line so that glutathione can be made.
- The essential water soluble vitamins such as vitamin C and B complex (only if methylated).
- Minerals such as zinc and selenium, glutathione is dependent on adequate amounts of these.
- Herbs such as silymarin, dandelion root, fisetin and berry extracts enhance antioxidant mechanisms in your body.
- R lipoic acid, this is another strong sulfur-based antioxidant and chelator that works in cahoots with glutathione. You can buy this one online usually, because most people sell the inferior “alpha” lipoid acid which works, but not quite as well as the “R” isomer.
Testing is possible
You can measure RBC glutathione levels if you’d like to, it just requires a blood test. It’s not a bad idea, and personally, I think it’s way more important than traditional ratios and testing for cholesterol levels!
Suzy Cohen, has been a licensed pharmacist for over 30 years and believes the best approach to chronic illness is a combination of natural medicine and conventional. She founded her own dietary supplement company specializing in custom-formulas, some of which have patents. With a special focus on functional medicine, thyroid health and drug nutrient depletion, Suzy is the author of several related books including Thyroid Healthy, Drug Muggers, Diabetes Without Drugs, and a nationally syndicated column.