Glutathione: A Key Substance for Aging Well

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Filed Under: General Health
Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

Glutathione: A Key Substance for Aging Well

Learn how boosting this "master" antioxidant can enhance longevity

Practically our entire system of health care is based on determining what causes disease and then developing methods to treat it. Fortunately, there have been a few scientists who have been trying to determine what causes health.

For the last several decades they have been trying to determine why some people remain healthy and seem to outlive others in their age group. They haven’t received much publicity, but I can tell you, what they’ve uncovered could turn out to be one of the most important discoveries ever.

In the 1980s, one of those scientists, Dr. Calvin A. Lang, a professor of biochemistry at the University of Louisville Medical School, found that certain humans maintained high blood and tissue levels of a natural compound called glutathione throughout their lives. These same individuals experienced superior health and extreme longevity.

What Is Glutathione?

Glutathione (pronounced “gloo-tah-thi-on”) was discovered in 1888, but it wasn’t until the 1920s and 1930s that it received much attention. During that time it was discovered that there was a strong relationship between glutathione and aging of the lens of the eye. Since that time, we’ve learned that maintaining low levels of glutathione is directly linked to cataracts, macular degeneration and a long list of other diseases.

Glutathione is a tripeptide. A peptide is a compound that breaks down into two or more amino acids. Since glutathione is a “tri” peptide it is composed of three amino acids, namely glycine, glutamic acid and cysteine. Glutathione is present in every cell of your body and essential for life itself.

During the decades he’s been studying the role of glutathione in aging, Dr. Lang discovered that glutathione levels decline with old age and with this decline, there is a corresponding decline in overall health and survival rates. Many of his studies have involved the elderly in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky and those of one of his colleagues, Dr. Mara Julius in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Physicians evaluated the health of hundreds of the elderly in these cities and discovered that those with arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease had lower levels of glutathione than those who were disease free.

Higher glutathione levels were also associated with less illness, higher levels of self-rated health, lower body mass index and lower blood pressure. Physicians also found that those in the oldest age group (80 to 95) all had high levels of glutathione. This last finding may at first seem somewhat contradictory until you look a little deeper.

Glutathione Levels Directly Related to Health and Longevity

The definition of biological aging helps explain the importance of glutathione.

Aging occurs when the cell loses its ability to replicate and regenerate itself. Aging is also associated with a decline in the function of the immune system.

The major functions of glutathione are:

  • regulating protein and DNA biosynthesis and cell growth;
  • maintaining the strength and integrity of cell membranes;
  • enhancing the functions of the immune system by increasing the production of disease-fighting blood cells called lymphocytes;
  • detoxifying external compounds like environmental pollutants and drugs; and
  • acting as an extremely powerful antioxidant, protecting cells against free radical damage.

Given these essential functions of glutathione, it isn’t too surprising that low glutathione levels have been linked to a wide variety of ailments, including accelerated aging, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.

Increasing Your Glutathione Levels

If you’re really serious about living the longest, fullest life possible, increasing your glutathione levels appears to be an excellent starting point.

However, I have one important caveat: Although raising glutathione levels may help protect against developing cancer, it is not recommended that you attempt to raise levels during the active phases of cancer! This is because glutathione augments the functions of every cell in the body and makes no distinction between normal cells and those of a cancerous tumor. Attempts to boost glutathione can be undertaken following a treatment program where the cancer was determined to be in remission.

Eat Your (Cruciferous) Veggies

The least expensive, and easiest, way to increase glutathione levels is to include more cruciferous vegetables in your diet. All food groups contain glutathione, but the cruciferous vegetables are the richest source. This group includes Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, kale, bok choy, cress, mustard, horseradish, turnips, rutabagas and kohlrabi.

Supplement with NAC

We also know that the amino acid N-acetycysteine is a precursor of glutathione. In other words, N-acetycysteine is metabolized or converted by the body into glutathione.

In one European study, 600 mg of N-acetylcysteine a day was given to former cancer patients for a period of three months. Upon evaluation, blood plasma levels of glutathione increased by 38 percent. It is interesting to note that this large, ongoing European study is testing for ways to prevent throat and lung cancer from recurring in patients whose primary tumor has been cured. The researchers felt that N-acetylcysteine and glutathione could accomplish this by protecting the DNA from free radical damage. So far it appears to be working. After three years of the therapy, researchers believe N-acetylcysteine has been able to prevent early damage to DNA, while glutathione has a more long-term protective effect.

N-acetylcysteine is widely available and made by many companies, but one of my favorite brands is Jo Mar Laboratories.

Jo Mar Laboratories also sells a product they call Glutathione Blend. It is available in both capsules and bulk powder. And even though it is much cheaper, keep in mind it is not glutathione but rather a simple mixture of the three components that form glutathione (cysteine, glycine and glutamic acid). I have no information on how effective this “blend” would be at raising glutathione tissue levels.

Regardless of which method you use to raise glutathione levels, there are a couple of points to keep in mind. Check your multivitamin to make sure it contains riboflavin (vitamin B2), selenium, zinc and magnesium. Riboflavin assists in recycling the enzymes created from glutathione and selenium aids in their formation. Zinc and magnesium also appear to be necessary in glutathione enzyme production.

It appears that the glutathione level could turn out to be one of the premiere biological “markers” of aging. Every major function of glutathione coincides with what we call aging. Glutathione levels seem to give a pretty good indication of the overall current health of an individual, as well as provide an indication of potential longevity. Take action now to boost your levels of this master antioxidant!

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