By Dr. Josh Axe|DrAxe.com
Coined “The Mother of All Antioxidants” by Mark Hyman, MD, glutathione is one of the hottest topics in both natural health and medical circles today. (1) Pronounced “gloota-thigh-own,” nearly 117,000 peer-reviewed scientific articles have addressed this powerhouse molecule, and experts are now recognizing that an alarming rate of people are deficient because of:
- Pre-mature aging
- Chronic stress
- Environmental toxins
- So-called “health foods”
- Genetically modified foods
- Artificial sweeteners
- Overuse of antibiotics
- And radiation therapy that is all too easily given to cancer patients today.
What Is Glutathione?
Glutathione (GSH) is a peptide consisting of three key amino acids that plays several vital roles in the body. Longevity researchers believe that it is so pivotal to our health that the level of GSH in our cells is becoming a predictor of how long we will live! (2, 3, 4)
The key to understanding why GSH is so crucial for health is that every cell in our bodies produces it. In the words of Gustavo Bounous, MD, retired professor of surgery at McGill University in Montreal, “It’s the [body’s] most important antioxidant because it’s within the cell.” (5) Although it is absolutely essential to maintaining a healthy immune system, it is not technically an “essential nutrient” because the body from the amino acids can create it L-cysteine, L-glutamic acid, and glycine.
- Conjugates (“links together”) with drugs to make them more digestible.
- Is a cofactor (“helper molecule”) for some important enzymes including glutathione peroxidase (which protects you from oxidative damage).
- Is involved in protein disulfide bond rearrangement (which is critical for the biogenesis of 1/3 of all human proteins).
- Reduces peroxides (natural bleaching agents that are harmful to the body).
- Participates in leukotriene production (vital component for inflammatory and hypersensitivity reactions).
- Helps the liver detoxify fat before bile is emitted, which takes stress off of the gallbladder.
- Helps detoxifies methylglyoxal, a toxin produced as a by-product of metabolism.
- Cancer apoptosis (“programmed cell death”).
In addition to helping these vital functions continue in the body, the list of glutathione benefits is long and wide:
- Plays a crucial role in immune function. (8)
- Promotes T-cell function, which is critical for a strong immune system. (9)
- Helps prevent drug resistance. (7)
- Protects from environmental toxins (7)
- And it fights cancer (7)
Glutathione and Cancer
One of the most promising areas of GSH research is the role that it plays in cancer. “By conferring resistance to a number of chemotherapeutic drugs,” an important 2004 study published in the Cell Biochemistry and Function highlights, “Elevated levels of glutathione in tumor cells are able to protect such cells in bone marrow, breast, colon, larynx and lung cancers.” (10)
The reverse is also true. According to Italian researchers from the Department of Experimental Medicine, Section of General Pathology (Genoa), GSH deficiency causes cells to be more vulnerable to oxidative stress, which contributes to cancer development. (11)
As researchers have continued to investigate these phenomena, they have actually discovered that GSH is a more potent anti-cancer agent than previously anticipated. In the words of Jeremy Appleton, ND – chairman of the department of nutrition at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon:
“If you look in a hospital situation at people who have cancer, AIDS, or other very serious disease, almost invariably they are depleted in glutathione. The reasons for this are not completely understood, but we do know that glutathione is extremely important for maintaining intracellular health.” (5)
Because no one knows for sure the exact reasons why GSH is depleted in these patients and why it’s so effective in fighting against cancer, some question its health benefits. Some even claim that it can harm you!
Naturally made by our cells, there is no record of people “overdosing” on glutathione when supplementing from the natural sources that I discuss below. There are, however, clinical trials highlighting that asthmatics shouldn’t inhale glutathione because it may constrict their airways. (14) Also, scientists are unsure as to how the body responds to synthetic varieties like the pills that you can get online or at your local health food stores. (15) My recommendation is to stay with the 9 natural sources and skip the man-made stuff.
The bottom line, according to Appleton, is that,
“There’s no evidence that supplementing with glutathione, even intravenously, is in any way going to make any cancer worse. In fact, the evidence we have suggests the opposite. It suggests that glutathione and other antioxidants, far from interfering with the activity of chemotherapy, appear to reduce side effects without decreasing efficacy and may, in fact, improve the efficacy of the chemotherapy in fighting cancer.” (5)
Top 9 Foods & Supplements to Boost Glutathione
Although the National Institute of Health (NIH) still claims that GSH deficiency is “very rare,” there is growing number of reputable sources that state quite the opposite. (16) Because of its role in preventing and managing disease, I recommend to be proactive and take a common sense approach to boost glutathione levels. Essentially, if you regularly consume these 9 foods and supplements to reach your overall health and wellness goals, you’ll also enjoy the naturally occurring glutathione benefits! It’s a win-win!
1. Milk Thistle
Used for centuries by traditional folk medicine all across the world, milk thistle has long been praised as a remedy for immune dysfunction. Specifically, silymarin, a unique flavonoid complex derived from the milk thistle plant, has been used for liver damage and biliary tract disease. According to scientists, the secret to milk thistle’s healing prowess is its ability to enhance GSH. Shown to boost glutathione levels in ethanol-induced rats, it was discovered that milk thistle could actually help protect the liver from toxicity in the presence of alcohol consumption; which is well-known to cause glutathione levels to plummet. (17)