This nutrient supports more than your liver
N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is an effective treatment for acetaminophen toxicity that can often head off severe liver or kidney damage results. It can neutralize toxins in the liver because of its ability to boost glutathione levels.
Glutathione (pronounced “glue-tah-thi-on”), a tripeptide composed of three amino acids—glycine, glutamic acid, and cysteine—occurs naturally in the body and is extremely important to continued health and wellness, and has also shown anti-cancer properties. Research has shown that glutathione levels decline as we age, and there seems to be a corresponding decline in our health and longevity. It’s also possible in many instances that the drop in glutathione levels may be related to exposure to heavy metals like mercury, lead, and cadmium.
These metals are sulfhydryl-reactive metals. In simple terms, this means that they steal sulfur groups from enzymes, protein compounds and/or peptides such as glutathione S-transferase (GST), an enzyme dependent on glutathione that studies have shown provides protection against the spread of cancer cells. But once these compounds lose their sulfur component, they lose their anti-carcinogenic and detoxifying abilities.
If you have a known exposure to one of these heavy metals, it’s imperative that you restore your glutathione levels both through the diet and by supplementing with NAC. Taking 600 milligrams daily of NAC has been shown to increase blood plasma levels of glutathinone by 38 percent. NAC is available from Jo Mar Laboratories.
Much of glutathione’s ability to improve your longevity and overall health comes from its role in detoxifying various chemicals, thereby preventing them from damaging your cellular DNA. When you increase glutathione, you also increase GST enzymes.
In addition to the detoxifying and glutathione-boosting effects of NAC, eating sulfur-rich foods like those mentioned below can help replace the necessary sulfur your body needs to raise your glutathione levels and help increase the production of the GST enzymes. Here are a few of my favorite recommendations:
- The cruciferous family of vegetables is one of the richest food sources of glutathione. The most potent vegetable is Brussels sprouts. Others include: cauliflower, broccoli (particularly the flowers, not the stem), cabbage, kale, bok choy, cress, mustard, horseradish, turnips, rutabagas, and kohlrabi.
As usual, while most medical researchers in this country spend all their efforts on isolating a drug from beneficial plants and herbs, researchers in Europe and elsewhere often focus their efforts on ways to use the food to get the most beneficial results.
Researchers in the Netherlands found that GST enzyme levels could be increased as much as 30 percent simply by eating about 10 ounces of Brussels sprouts over a seven-day period. And although I wouldn’t want a continuous diet of Brussels sprouts, it’s evident that eating vegetables from the cruciferous family can have a significant impact on GST and glutathione levels in a very short period of time. It is also one of the least expensive anti-aging and anti-cancer programs you’ll find.
- In addition to the cruciferous vegetables, both garlic (Allium sativum) and the ripe seeds of the common green bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) work synergistically with the GST enzymes. Including these two items in your diet will help make glutathione and its dependent enzymes more effective.
- In the Slovak Republic, researchers discovered in animal studies that eating red beets not only reduced cholesterol and triglyceride levels, but also decreased cholesterol deposits in the aorta and increased GST enzyme levels, making the animals less susceptible to chemically induced colon cancers.
- At the University of Illinois, researchers found that including the herb rosemary in the diet could increase GST enzyme activity. The strongest activity resulted when an extract of the herb was given by injection, but ingesting the herb extract orally (at concentrations of 0.25 to 1.0 percent of the diet by weight) showed a 3.5- to 4.5-fold increase in GST activity, which is very significant.
It appears that rosemary’s benefits have been known for hundreds of years. Even the most superficial research will reveal that rosemary has been used in about every form imaginable and for just about every condition. It has been used as a tea, an antiseptic wash, for baths, as a fumigant, and as a rubbing oil. The leaves were even smoked for the treatment of tuberculosis, colds, and flu. I’m sure its reputation as a rejuvenator and healing agent is in part due to its ability to increase GST enzyme activity--though its antioxidant potential is probably also a factor. Rosemary is a popular and effective additive to essential fatty acid/fish oil supplements.
Get Your Glutathione
Any steps you take to increase your glutathione levels will be an extremely worthwhile investment. It seems that every disease process begins with a decline in glutathione levels. And when you take a closer look at many of the “miracle” antioxidants that have become popular, much of their therapeutic effect comes from the fact that they help raise glutathione levels.
In addition to incidence of cancer, low glutathione levels have been linked to cardiovascular disease, cataracts, macular degeneration, age-related brain problems like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and aging in general. We now know that a lack of glutathione in AIDS patients is responsible for the wide-scale free-radical damage that destroys immune cells and suppresses the immune system.
Another example of glutathione’s important role in health comes from a study performed by researchers at Louisiana State University who were working with mice genetically engineered to develop inflammatory bowel disease—the very same disease that affects over a million people in this country. Five weeks before the mice began to experience intestinal inflammation, the researchers noted a sharp drop in one particular antioxidant: glutathione. When the inflammation appeared, glutathione gut tissue levels had dropped 80 percent. To determine if there was any relationship, the scientists added NAC to the animals’ drinking water. As their tissue levels of glutathione increased, the inflammation subsided.
The pharmaceutical companies now realize that most diseases are preceded by a glutathione deficiency, and are working feverishly on the ultimate prevention pill. It would be a drug marketer’s dream come true: a pill that everyone took every single day. I’m not sure when or if it will become a reality, and I’m not sure what side effects a drug like that might have. Fortunately, we don’t have to wait—or be their guinea pigs when such a pill becomes available. We already know how to increase glutathione levels, and do it safely and effectively.