I saw my Nurse Practitioner the other day…let’s just say I was due for my annual grope and leave it at that. Anyway, she wanted me to conduct some research on something called Glutathione. If you know me, you know that asking me to research anything involving nutrition will send me into my office and have me knee-deep in text books, articles and the web long enough for actual dehydration to set in. I love it. So…my feet in the stirrups or not, she had me at hello.
I started going through my textbooks from school, and I ended up finding most of my information in the books on cancer and prevention. Most definitely not a fluke. This stuff may be a hot trend in antioxidants and detox supplements, but there are caveats that you need to be aware of before you go running to the nearest health food store. Just like everything else on the market, it has wonderful health benefits, but will end up with a bad rap if we don’t educate ourselves on it BEFORE we start popping pills.
Here’s the boring but necessary stuff;
Glutathione’s chemical name is gamma-glutamylcysteinylglycine. (Huh?) It is a tripeptide (Tri=three; peptide=a compound consisting of two or more amino acids linked in a chain) that also contains glycine and glutamic acid. Told you it was boring. Your body needs cysteine for the formation of glutathione, which can be found as cystine in poultry, yogurt, oats and wheat germ; or in sulphur rich foods like egg yolks, red peppers, garlic, onions, broccoli and brussels sprouts. You knew they were good for you, now you know why. To act as an antioxidant in your system, glutathione has to cycle and recycle between two forms; reduced and oxidized. So it starts off in its reduced form (good). Once it has interacted with free radicals it switches to its oxidized form (not so good). Your body needs selenium (found in animal sources, Brazil nuts, brown rice, shellfish, and many veggies if grown in selenium-rich soil) to recycle the glutathione back to its reduced (good) form. Also keep in mind that selenium and vitamin E work better together. If you are looking for a glutathione supplement, look for one in its reduced form, which may be abbreviated GSH.
So why all the hype? Turns out glutathione is critical to our cell health. It helps detox the kidneys and can weed out (no pun intended) environmental toxins like fungicides, herbicides, nitrosamines, dyes, solvents, plastics, detergents and insecticides. It plays a part in repairing our DNA, and neutralizes free radicals. Don’t forget about the immune system and wound healing benefits too. So there’s the cancer connection, right? In fact, deficiency has been linked to cases of cancer. It also helps with heart disease and high levels of LDL (the bad cholesterol). Glutathione can also chelate (latch onto) heavy metals and escort them right out of your body and prevent heavy metal toxicity. Those of us with an affinity for sappy 80’s hair band ballads are safe – I’m talking about mercury, lead and cadmium.
Here’s where it gets a little tricky:
Remember when I said that you need cysteine to form glutathione? Well, in some studies, taking a cysteine supplement can help more than taking glutathione itself. Why? Because a deficiency of cysteine affects your body’s glutathione supply the most. Eat your eggs, Dear. The NAC (N-acetyl-cysteine) form of the amino acid has been shown to be the most beneficial to the body’s glutathione supply. Basically, by getting cysteine in your diet or by supplementation, you are assisting your body in making its own glutathione.
Now for the down side:
The NAC mentioned above may not be safe for use in children. I firmly believe that if your kids eat a well-balanced diet and take a daily multivitamin, you shouldn’t mess with anything else unless there are specific health issues. If so, you should always find a Pediatrician that you trust and get their advice before adding any supplements to their diet. Again, it goes back to educating yourself and being your own (and your kids’) advocate. There are some side effects associated with the supplements I’ve talked about. If you have gastrointestinal, kidney or liver issues, ask your doctor. Not the cute guy at the health food store, your DOCTOR. You can’t really overdose on glutathione, as your body will only use what it needs. The rest, however, gets stored in your liver and kidneys for later use, to which I can’t really think of an upside, so don’t take more than you’re supposed to. The gas and bloating issues seem to come not from the glutathione, but the substance you are taking it with, so don’t just read about the glutathione, you have to know about the delivery system too. I also found a few claims that glutathione is being used as some miracle skin whitener, which I’m not touching with a ten-foot pole. Maybe in a future article on herbal cosmetic treatments, but not this soon after Michael’s passing.
So to recap:
Glutathione is great for cancer prevention, lowering LDL, detoxification, repairs our DNA and neutralizes free radicals, while giving a boost to our immune system. Taking it by itself may not give you the benefits you’re looking for, so make sure you get a good quality supplement that is in its reduced form (GSH) and has NAC too. Selenium and vitamin E are also good partners for GSH. Use caution if you have any health issues, mainly gastrointestinal and liver or kidney problems, and kids probably shouldn’t take it.
Bottom line; get what you need by eating healthy. If you need a supplement, always go with treatment over trend.
Heather Carter, N.H.C., Fire Wife Fitness Expert
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