If you scour the alternative health cyberspace from time to time, you’ve probably seen the occasional furtive mention of a mysterious thing called glutathione. It seems to be slowly but surely gathering steam, with many people now convinced that it is the one and only “master antioxidant”, king to all the rest. Kind of the like the “one ring to rule them all” of the supplement world.
What’s the deal? Should you be immediately jumping on the glutathione band wagon? Let’s find out.
What the heck is glutathione?
If we’re getting just a little bit geeky, glutathione is more accurately known as L-glutamylcysteinylglycine among academic circles. Glutathione is a tripeptide consisting of 3 bonded amino acids – glutamate, cysteine, and glycine.
Glutathione is generated by cells in our bodies for the rather important purposes of protection and survival. Glutamate makes up part of our brain cells, glycine promotes metabolic processes, and cysteine acts as a moderator in the manufacture of intracellular glutathione.
The roles of the individual amino acids in glutathione are wide-ranging. Critical functions associated with this tremendous trio include detoxification, cell protection from free radicals, elevated energy production, immune support, and healthy brain function.
In addition to being an all-round, cure-all-ailments sort of compound, glutathione is unique in that, unlike other antioxidants which operate from within the blood on the outside of cell membranes, glutathione works from the inside out. This means that it operates from within the cells to protect the mitochondria, expel toxins and boost immune system function. Kind of a big deal, as it happens.
A growing body of clinical trials, along with substantial anecdotal evidence, indicates that supplementing with glutathione can dramatically boost energy levels, noticeably slow the signs and effects of aging, and increase brain activity and focus. In other words, it appears as if it can make you have more energy, live longer, and think smarter. Perhaps there is some substance to the claims of it being the “master antioxidant”.
Why you need more glutathione in your life
Our body naturally produces glutathione in the liver, however studies indicate that glutathione levels in the body decrease as we age. This process of glutathione decline begins at around age 20, and increases exponentially from then on.
Interestingly, studies which tested apparently “healthy” people over a wide range of ages found that the decline occurs with time even if the health of the individual does not itself decline. This is what leads experts to believe that glutathione production is directly linked to aging – suggesting that the less glutathione you have, the more your body ages. But more on that later.
While glutathione naturally declines with age, it’s decline in our bodies can be significantly increased by a number of factors, namely stress, diet and nutrients. In the western world, stress levels tend to increase after a person reaches adulthood, with the introduction of stress-inducing activities such as work, commuting, relationships and debt placing chronic pressure on our minds and bodies. Unsurprisingly, free radical damage greatly increases as a result of this exponential rise in stress, and with that natural decline in glutathione production, we no longer have enough of this free radical-fighting antioxidant to keep up with the oxidative damage to our cells.
The average diet of the modern man is one rich in hydrogenated fast foods, gluten, chemicals from pesticide-laden produce, growth hormones and antibiotics from factory-raised animals. All of these inflammatory, nutrient-poor dietary inputs can place additional pressure on the liver (the organ which naturally produces glutathione) and starve the body of the fuels it needs to produce glutathione in the first place. The elasticity of childhood dampens the effect a poor diet can have on our glutathione production (hence why we don’t see the decline until after age 20), but as we age our ability to roll with the poor-diet punches diminishes.
Finally, our body’s ability to absorb vital nutrients declines as we age, while our exposure to environmental toxins continues to build – things such as heavy metals can remain in our deep tissue and accumulate over time, rather than passing through our system. This increasing state of nutrient depletion and toxic accumulation offsets glutathione production and impedes the processes which promote healthy concentrations of glutathione inside our cells.
How to get the most from your glutathione supplement
Based on the growing body of research surrounding this mystical compound, the more glutathione you have, the better off you are. I’m convinced that it’s the closest thing to anti-aging that modern research has unearthed so far, as it is so small that it can work from within your cells, protecting them from the oxidative damage of free radicals, which are the primary agents of aging.
Yes, glutathione levels appear to naturally decline with age, but luckily there’s certain things you can do to halt this decline and preserve your health. The first thing you can do is to increase your intake of certain whole foods and high quality food products which can provide some of the glutathione precursors, such as sulfur and amino acids. These foods include onions, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and grass-fed, minimally-processed, organic whey protein.
The second step is to supplement. Usually, the mantra of Thrive Primal is one firmly grounded in the belief that if you live the right lifestyle and eat the right whole foods, your body should have everything it needs to achieve optimum health. In 99.9 percent of cases this is true, but in this instance it appears that even lowering stress levels and amping up your consumption of sulfur- and amino acid-rich foods will only make a small difference. To really make a difference, you need to get out the big guns – pure glutathione supplements.
While a plethora of glutathione supplements are available in drug stores, health food stores and even supermarkets, most of them make little difference in your body. This is due to the fact that their proteins are easily broken down by acids in the stomach, meaning they’re completely denatured and effectively useless by the time they reach the liver.
For this reason, you need to look out for glutathione products which guarantee that the proteins don’t get denatured by your stomach acids. This can include products which use compounds to bind the glutathione to acid-resistant peptides, or straight bonded cysteine, which can make it through your stomach intact and team up with glutamate and glycine afterwards to build glutathione. Make sure you really do your research here, otherwise you’ll be throwing your money away.
With this in mind, I’ve tracked down two very rare supplements which appear to do just that. This clinical glutathione ($47 on amazon.com) appears to be very well reviewed and promises to have a much higher success rate of reaching the liver intact than other conventional glutathione supplements.
The second choice is made by Bulletproof Executive, and in my opinion is the clear winner in terms of reliability and quality. They’ve used a protective coating of essential oils and other compounds around the inner capsule, which contains the actual glutathione, to ensure that it makes it through to your liver unscathed. I haven’t tried it yet, but I certainly intend to very soon. You can get it through the Bulletproof Exec site, but shipping is often quite crippling there, so I’d recommend getting it on Amazon for $50. Here’s the link.