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Meet Glutathione: The Antioxidant Superpower

The heartbeat of my practice is helping people experience and live in wellness in every part of their lives.

Of course, wellness manifests itself in many ways, and while my license says I’m a chiropractor, I recognize that living our best life may start with an aligned spine, but it doesn’t end there. In fact, the tagline we’ve been using for years is, “Move Right, Eat Right, Think Right, Live Right.” They are coequal and intermingled.

With that in mind, I want to talk this week about your cells.

Cells Are Everywhere

There are trillions of cells operating in your body at any giving second: blood cells, skin cells, brain cells, digestive enzymes, immune cells, and so on. Each of them has a specific role and function. Each of them has a life cycle and a process for eliminating out of the body. Some cells’ only purpose is to remove dead cells.

When all your cells are healthy, we’re good. You feel well and strong, you can think and breathe clearly and your food intake turns into nourishment. But it just takes one cell going bad to make a real mess of things.

This week, I want to introduce you to an antioxidant called glutathione. If the word “antioxidant” perked your ears up, it’s because there has been a lot of awareness about the importance of antioxidants in the healthcare and nutrition industries for about twenty years. You might see fruit juice bottles with “high in antioxidants” on the label. There’s a reason for that.

A Quick Chemistry Primer

Here are some terms you’re going to hear me use a lot in this series are (we’re going to try to keep this to seventh-grade science as much as possible):

Atoms:

Everything in the universe is made of atoms. Atoms have a nucleus made of positively-charged “protons” and neutral “neutrons” and they are surrounded by rings of negatively-charged “electrons.” Electrons are eternally looking for a partner. If every electron has a partner, the cell is stable. If there is a loose electron, it’s going to pull the cell around, looking for a partner.

Free Radicals:

These are molecules that include an oxygen atom that is missing an electron, so it is looking for a partner. They react easily with other molecules, and that reaction process is called “oxidation.” Oxidation is usually a good thing – like when free radicals work together to fight off viruses and other pathogens – but it can get out of control.

Antioxidant:

These cells have an extra electron that they can donate to close the gaps in free radicals. This stabilizes the free radical and reduces the damage it can do.

Oxidative Stress:

When the free radicals outnumber the antioxidants that can keep them in check, we call it oxidative stress. Oxidation is great for fighting off viruses, but it can be destructive to your DNA, proteins, and fatty tissues. Since DNA and proteins are at the core of every cell, you can see where free radicals can have a massive impact very quickly.

It reminds me of this story: a Free Radical yells out, “Help! I’m missing an electron!” An antioxidant hears him and asks, “Are you sure?” And the Free Radical responds, “Yes! I’m positive!”

Oxidative stress is one of the roots of some of the most destructive diseases, including:

  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases
  • Cancer
  • Arthritis

It’s not hard to figure out why we want to do everything we can to manage our free radicals.

Managing Free Radicals

Now, I want to assure you that free radicals are a natural and necessary part of your body. You need them to fight infection, and they occur during exercise, helping to remove toxins from your system. They are not the bad guys…not all the time, anyway. You are also exposed to free radicals every day when you encounter cigarette smoke, pesticides, some cleaning chemicals, and other air pollution, but your body can usually adapt.

But there are things we do by choice that can increase the population of Free Radicals, too. Eating sugar, drinking alcohol, eating polyunsaturated fats…do you see where I’m going with this? All the food behaviors that we always talk about leading to health issues stimulate free radical production in a way that leads to disease.

Antioxidants

That’s where antioxidants come in. There are plenty of antioxidants in our food supply, as well as in supplement form. Vitamin C is a very powerful antioxidant, along with Vitamin E and the flavonoids that occur naturally in plants. Each of them cooperates with your body to stabilize free radicals in specific ways.

Getting Back to Glutathione

This probably isn’t the first time you’ve heard the word glutathione, either. The research around it has been growing steadily, and it’s almost all positive. Doctors, nutritionists, and health-conscious people around the country are taking a real interest in it.

Glutathione is produced naturally in the body, so it’s not like we are taking a foreign chemical and trying to manipulate it into the body’s system. In fact, most of the diseases we are going to list are rooted in the body’s failure to produce adequate levels of glutathione on its own.

Glutathione lives inside cells, acting as a defensive mechanism against toxins, like drugs, pollution, and carcinogens. Glutathione’s role in cell health is so critical that some researchers have suggested that they can predict your life expectancy based on measurements of your glutathione levels.

Glutathione And Disease

Because glutathione works within all different types of cells, protecting them from degeneration, it has an active role in fighting off many different types of disease in many different parts of the body.

We’ve already explored how free radicals are implicated in diabetes, heart disease, inflammation, cancer, and brain diseases, so it stands to reason that, to the extent that glutathione stabilizes free radicals, it also helps prevent the diseases that result from free radical damage.

Here are other health issues that research has tied directly to glutathione deficiency:

Autism

One of the root causes of autism is an abnormality in the pathways of the brain where glutathione is produced. By supplementing glutathione in children with autism, they have been able to rebalance the chemical structure of autistic brains.

Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Diseases

There are several chemical interactions that lead to the degeneration of the brain and nervous system characterized by Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Diseases. In both cases, glutathione is suppressed in different parts of the brain, so cells are unable to fight off free radicals and regenerate in healthy forms.

While we’re in the brain, researchers are experimenting with glutathione supplementation in children with ADHD and patients with psychiatric disorders, stress, OCD, and bipolar disorders to reduce oxidative stresses which are contributing to the disorders.

Vital Organs

Oxidative stress is directly linked to damage of the liver and kidneys. Glutathione is being used to help clean out both of these important blood filters. COPD is also linked to oxidative damage of the lung tissue.

Inflammation

When we talk about inflammation, we are including a wide range of disease, from asthma to rheumatoid arthritis, bronchitis, and a host of others. All of them are directly tied to low glutathione levels.

Leaky Gut

Glutathione has been shown to protect the mucosa inside the gut, preventing weakening of the gut wall, and leaky gut.

Other Diseases

Glutathione is also being tested in the treatment of AIDS, cystic fibrosis, glaucoma, and even the flu.

But that makes sense. If glutathione is used to destabilize free radicals, and free radicals are linked to all these diseases, then do the math. Glutathione treatment should have significant effects on all of those health issues.

Taking Glutathione

If there is one consensus among researchers and patients alike, it is this: glutathione supplements taste awful. They also have a severe limitation: they often break down in the liver, so the end product that makes it to the bloodstream is significantly less than what you ingested.

Some health care professionals recommend sublingual glutathione (absorbed under the tongue), but again, that means you have to keep it in your mouth longer. There are also some trials of inhaled glutathione and coated tablets or lozenges.

But arguably the best, most reliable source is…say it with me…food. I tend to believe that we should get the overwhelming majority of our nutrients from our food. That said, there are some exceptions. American soil has been largely depleted of its magnesium content, so I often recommend a supplement to patients who need more.

I’ve also heard reports that glutathione absorption is enhanced when you take it with Vitamin C.

Glutathione In Food

Glutathione is made up of three amino acids: cysteine, glutamate, and glycine. Then it is broken down by an enzyme, which enables it to pass through the cell wall. It is enhanced by Alpha Lipoic Acid (your doctor calls it ALA) and Methionine. Selenium is useful to maintain healthy glutathione levels. Foods that contain these elements are going to help you produce and maintain your glutathione level. Many animal-based products are high in cysteine.

Foods that boost glutathione directly include:

  • Garlic
  • Asparagus
  • Broccoli
  • Kale

Honorable mention goes to:

  • Apples
  • Avocados
  • Spinach
  • Tomatoes
  • Pears
  • Carrots
  • Oranges
  • Parsley

It’s funny that, when I make lists of foods that enhance your health in significant ways, it is almost always the same foods.

Get To Know Glutathione For Yourself

This is just a super-high-level overview of what glutathione can do for you. I encourage you to talk to me about it the next time you come in, or drop a question on Facebook. I’ll be glad to answer it. I also hope it will spur you to do some research on your own. This is a safe topic; there is almost nothing controversial about it, so you won’t be getting into the weeds over anything you find. You never know who you might help to find a breakthrough in their health.

Brain Health

You may have noticed in this article that brain health issues came up several times. You’re going to see a lot more of that this year. This summer, I’ve taken a real interest in health issues related to the mind and the brain (they are not the same).

I live and work around people who are suffering from the debilitating degeneration of their brains. I don’t say that to be funny – I believe we are going to see a massive explosion of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s cases in America, tied directly to our food supply, chemicals in our environments, and prescription drugs. It has already started in our senior population, and it is moving into younger and younger people.

Fundamental Foods and Friends Dinners

I am also excited to let you know that we are starting a brand new season of Fundamental Foods and Friends Dinners, the first (or second) Thursday night of each month. Dinner will start at 6:15 and then we’ll have a teaching, either by myself or one of my colleagues from around town. I’ll tell you what…last season was so powerful! I was so excited to be a part of it, and I learned a great deal from every one of my guests. I know you will, too. Plus, we always have a nice time getting to know each other over a healthy and hearty meal. Bring a dish to share of $10 in cash, and be sure to register in advance on my Facebook page, to make sure we keep a seat open for you.

“At the end of your FEELINGS is NOTHING. At the end of your PRINCIPLES is a PROMISE.” — Eric Thomas

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