Glutathione is the most powerful and most abundant antioxidant in healthy cells. It’s the body’s workhorse to remove waste from cells and it’s one of the most commonly used medical test markers for health. A compromised person living with stress, toxins or disease, will have low glutathione GSH levels. Often scientific research studies measure glutathione levels to demonstrate if a food, drug, supplement or an individual’s behavior is toxic or not.
The reduced glutathione molecule has a thiol group (the H in the drawing) which can be donated to a free radical.
Reduced glutathione is assembled from three peptides and is synthesized from cysteine or methionine from food sources. Like any other antioxidant, its most important role is to neutralize free radicals that oxidize less stable molecules in our body. Free radicals come from toxins, (air) pollution, stress, normal breathing, bacteria, disease, immune responses, and drugs. Reduced glutathione helps the liver eliminate toxins, including heavy metals, PCB’s , and dioxins.
Low glutathione levels have been associated with many diseases, because glutathione is so essential in the waste management of the human body. The most common diseases associated with glutathione deficiency are:
When reduced glutathion (GSH) gives up one electron (in the H thiol group) the molecule becomes highly reactive. However, it readily bonds with a GS brother to form non-reactive glutathione disulfide (GSSG).
Other mission critical roles for glutathione are:
Reduced glutathione protects polyunsaturated fats in the cell membrane from going rancid. Rancid fats cause inflammation.
Glutathione plays an important role in red and white blood cell formation.
Reduced glutathione helps in the formation in leukotrienes; very powerful pro-inflammation messengers. These messengers turn the immune system on.
Builds as a cofactor the enzyme glutathione peroxidase.
Glutathione GSH on the right is a stable molecule with an electron (blue) that can be donated to a free radical (on the left). The free radical is highly reactive and needs a second electron.
In step 2 the reduced glutathione donates its electron to the free radical. The radical is now neutralized, but the glutathione turned reactive GS instead.
In step 3 the oxidative GS glutathione finds another reactive GS brother and together they form a neutral and stable GSSG bond.
How glutathione works
Reduced glutathione works slightly different from other antioxidants like vitamin C or vitamin B12. Normally an antioxidant gives up an electron to a free radical, and neutralizes that free radical without becoming reactive itself. Reduced glutathione also gives up an electron, becomes reactive, but then readily binds with another oxidative glutathione molecule. The bonding neutralizes the two oxidative glutathione molecules. The way scientists depict this is with acronyms: GSH stands for the reduced glutathione molecule. When glutathione gives up the H, it becomes reactive GS and then binds with another GS molecule to form neutral GSSG, or glutathione disulfide.
The glutathione ratio between GSH and GSSG is as important as total glutathione levels. A healthy individual should have at least 90% of the glutathione in GSH form and not more than 10% in GSSG form. If this GSH:GSSG ratio is chronically less than 9 one’s health is most likely compromised, because it is a strong indicator that significant oxidative stress is happening. Chronically ill patients may receive a glutathione GSH injection or glutathione IV (intravenous drip) when their GSH:GSSG ratio gets too low. Especially liver disease and liver cancer patients are treated this way, because it helps the liver detoxify.
Glutathione IV and glutathione injections are not practical, and are usually limited to a hospital setting. Administered glutathione typically elevates glutathione GSH levels for only eight hours. A glutathione injection can give a patient a quick shot in the arm. Glutathione benefits, however, wear off relatively soon, because glutathion GSH is used up quickly. The only real practical alternative is liposomal glutathione. Glutathione liposomes are taken orally and are nearly 100% absorbed. Because it’s practical, the liposomal glutathione dose can be taken several times a day, thus allowing for a stable and lasting elevated glutathione cell level. There are four liposomal glutathione suppliers in the US. Click here for glutathione reviews.