Do You Have a Glutathione Insufficiency?
We all know we need to eat an antioxidant-rich diet replete with berries and kale, to ensure we have plenty of free-radical fighting “antioxidant avengers” in our blood. However, did you know that your body actually produces its own superhero called glutathione? It’s true! Your body really does make its own powerful substance that’s even more potent than goji berries.
This mighty little molecule is your body’s master detoxifier. No other nutrient works as hard to eliminate toxins and chemicals from your body. Unfortunately, those very same toxins — along with medications, stress, trauma, aging, infections, a poor diet, pollution, and radiation — all affect your body’s ability to make this nutrient on its own. Thankfully, you can ensure you have the ideal levels by taking a glutathione supplement that you body can actually absorb (because most glutathione supplements, unfortunately, don’t work at all!)
Let’s look closer at what this powerful peptide is.
What is Glutathione?
Glutathione, or GSH, is a tripeptide consisting of three amino acids produced by your liver. It is recycled continuously by your body. Your body makes it from L-cysteine, L-glutamic acid, and glycine.1While it is concentrated in your liver, it is actually found in every single cell in your body.
Glutathione is the most important detoxifying molecule in our body. It helps clear heavy metals such as mercury, aluminum, and cadmium from your body. It also helps you eliminate other toxins such as those found in plastics and conventional body products, or in mold. I used it myself in my own recovery from toxic mold poisoning, and I used it with the patients in my clinic. Toxins lurk in our air from pollution, in our food which is sprayed with pesticides, and in our water which has trace amounts of heavy metals. Glutathione can help your body rid itself of this toxic burden. This is due in part to the sulfur content in this peptide. Sulfur is sticky so toxins and free radicals easily adhere to it and are then removed from your system.2
This powerful detoxifier can be made and depleted quickly. Its natural production can even be stopped as a result of diet, toxins, stress, chronic illness, toxic mold exposure, heavy metal overload, or autoimmunity. Production can also be halted by intense physical activity over the longer term. For example, marathon runners may deplete their body’s supply of glutathione long before their race is finished, while soccer players have time to replenish their stores between bursts of intense activity.
What Happens When You Don’t Have Enough?
When you don’t have enough of this free-radical fighter, your body suffers from oxidative stress at a cellular level. This stress is the result of an imbalance of antioxidants and free radicals, the toxic by-products of normal metabolic processes or oxygen metabolism in your body. Free radicals can cause significant damage to living cells, tissues, and even your DNA. This results in all sorts of immune function issues and premature aging. So, you want to maintain healthy levels of glutathione to combat these free radicals.
What are the Benefits?
This peptide plays a critical role in supporting your immune system as well as being your master detoxifier. It also encourages your body to maintain lean muscle mass while shifting your metabolism from fat production to muscle development. Glutathione has a multitude of functions including its ability to:
- Reduce oxidative stress
- Impact cell damage
- Promote a balanced inflammatory response
- Encourage healthy aging
- Support detoxification
- Protect from environmental toxins
- Impact athletic performance
- Promote lean muscle mass
- Modulate insulin resistance
What are Healthy Levels?
In my book, The Autoimmune Solution, I explain how your genetic makeup impacts your glutathione levels. More specifically your SNP, or single-nucleotide polymorphism, is an indicator of a genetic mutation. The GSTM1 gene helps your body process glutathione. If you have a GSTM1 SNP, you can support a healthy level of glutathione with an adequate intake of cruciferous vegetables and a supplement.
It is not a standard practice for most healthcare professionals to test glutathione levels, nor are most professionals trained on how to do so. The testing of glutathione levels is not very reliable either in part because the levels in your body fluctuate widely, although a number of companies are attempting to develop an accurate test. This is why I preferred to diagnose based on symptoms. On the off chance that your healthcare professional can actually test your glutathione levels, the test is conducted in both red blood cells (RBC) and plasma. Plasma testing generally reflects both the reduced and oxidized forms of this peptide. If you do decide to test, the parameters are:
The normal ranges in plasma:
Reduced GSH: 3.8 – 5.5 umol/L
GSS (oxidized glutathione): 0.16 – 0.50 umol/L
Total glutathione (GSH+GSSG): 3.8 – 5.5 umol/L
The standard reference range in RBCs:
1,000-1,900 umol/L (some clinicians consider 1,100 -1,200 umol/L to be “low.”) 3
How do You Know if You Have an Insufficiency?
We all need some support in maintaining our glutathione levels at times. Here are some early warning signs that you may have a mild to moderate deficiency:
- Lack of energy
- Joint and muscle aches and pains
- Foggy brain
- Low immunity
- Poor sleep4
These are the symptoms of a severe insufficiency:
- Metabolic acidosis (build-up of too much acid in the body)
- Frequent infections
- Seizures, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s
- Loss of coordination (Ataxia)5
- Liver disease
- Heart attack and stroke 6
How Do You Get Enough Glutathione?
Glutathione is produced naturally in your body, and maintaining optimal levels of it can be enhanced through a healthy lifestyle. Minimizing stress, toxins, infections, and getting plenty of sleep and exercise all support glutathione production in your body.
Because we don’t live in a perfect world, and we are all aging, glutathione levels in your body can decrease, so along with a healthy lifestyle, certain sulfur-rich foods can support glutathione production. You can also take a precursor supplement, such as my Liver Support to support your body’s natural glutathione production. Some of the best glutathione boosters include:
- Milk thistle
- Sulfur-rich cruciferous and allium vegetables
- N-acetyl cysteine (NAC)
- Alpha lipoic acid
- Vitamins B6, B9, B12 and Biotin (methylation nutrients)
- Selenium-rich foods like Brazil nuts and sardines
- Vitamins C and E
- Curcumin 7
When you’re under stress or toxic burden, glutathione is rapidly depleted, so supplementation with the right form of glutathione — one that can be absorbed by your body — is crucial in helping your body rise to these challenges. There are numerous methods of supplementing glutathione levels in your body including intravenously, a nebulized form, rectal suppositories, creams, and oral supplements. Each of these supplements has their pros and cons.
The best way to supplement glutathione is intravenously. However, that’s very expensive and time-consuming. The nebulized form of glutathione, in which it is inhaled as a fine mist, primarily increases levels in the lungs for a period of time.8 Rectal suppositories of glutathione are also an option. This method of absorption does avoid what is called the “first-pass effect” because it allows glutathione to be absorbed directly into the systemic circulation, while bypassing the digestive system, yet it’s not a pleasant way to take a supplement. The cream form simply is slowly and poorly absorbed. Most of these require a prescription and may even need to be created at a compounding pharmacy.
That leaves oral glutathione products and unfortunately, most of these dietary supplements just don’t work. They oxidize and break down long before they have a chance to be absorbed in your gut. I have found that not even liposomal glutathione makes it to your cells in levels that can actually benefit you.
My acetylated glutathione comes in the most bioavailable form available on the market. The acetylation process and microcluster molecular structure — the most advanced available — ensure that it won’t break down before your body has a chance to use it and that it is in the right form to actually be absorbed.
What is microcluster? It is the process of using really small particles to deliver supplements to specific types of cells. Particles are structured to be drawn to certain cells or configurations while leaving other cells alone.9
My acetylated glutathione supports energy production like no other supplement can. Glutathione is critical for coordinating the activity of antioxidants in your cells. The power of Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and even the free radical fighters CoQ10 and Ubiquinol are all coordinated by appropriate glutathione levels.
Ensure your body has enough of this critical detoxifier for your optimal health with a diet that supports glutathione production and by supplementation.