Glutathione has numerous functions in the body. It is an antioxidant and help to metabolise nutrients and toxins. It helps to regulate cellular processes such as gene expression, DNA synthesis, protein synthesis, cell division, cell death and hormone production as well as immune system responses, including white blood cell activation and inflammatory processes. In particular, it helps the liver to process and rid the body of drugs and pollutants through various pathways ? if enough is not available, toxins end up being stored in the body’s fatty tissue in different areas of the body. This applies to both exogenous toxins, which are taken in from the outside environment, and endogenous toxins, which are internally produced.
This molecule occurs in all cells of the body and naturally found in fresh fruit, vegetables and meat. Its powerful antioxidant activity means that it neutralises the activity of free radicals which can cause cell damage and disease. Some free radicals arise naturally during metabolism, and the immune system even creates them to deal with viruses and bacteria. But in excess their instability makes them detrimental to health. Toxins from pollution, tobacco smoke and drugs increase the number of free radicals in the body, as does stress and ageing. Glutathione works with vitamin A and vitamin E, other antioxidants, to prevent and repair the effects of oxidative stress in the body’s cells. As a co-factor, it is required for the functioning of the enzyme glutathione peroxidase to carry out its antioxidant activity.
This powerful molecule also has strong effects on the workings of the immune system. It increases the activity of T cells, which are a critical part of the body’s defence. Some T cells attack foreign pathogens such as bacteria. They also run checks on the immune system to make sure it doesn’t cause excess inflammation and tissue damage, which can lead to allergic reactions and auto-immune diseases. As well as its effects on T cells, glutathione also participates in the synthesis of leukotrienes. These are molecules produced by certain immune system cells which have varied biological effects, especially with regards to inflammatory responses caused by tissue trauma. During inflammation, leukotrienes send out chemical signals to white blood cells known as neutrophils. These helpful cells are then drawn to the area so that they can help to repair the damaged tissue. Leukotrienes also increase permeability in blood vessels so that important molecules can diffuse to where they are needed.
Supplementation from providers such as Life Extension is often especially recommended for those with a poor diet, for older people and for several other reasons. Although glutathione does occur naturally in several foods, the levels are not always high enough to replenish the body’s supply. The richest vegetable sources include onions, spinach and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, kale and watercress, while other sources include whey protein and raw cultured dairy products. In addition, vitamin D is needed to produce optimal levels of glutathione and many people in modern societies are deficient in vitamin D. Supplementation is also recommended where other factors, such as smoking or living in polluted environments, result in increased free radical levels. People with, or at risk from, certain diseases may benefit from supplementation. Cancer and HIV are particularly associated with free radical damage and low levels of antioxidants, but oxidative stress is also implicated in disorders such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, stroke and diabetes.