Glutathione is the most important natural (endogenous) antioxidant and is found in almost every cell of the body. It is vital for cell protection as well as for proper cell function and is, therefore, absolutely essential for maintaining good health. Glutathione levels are highest in cells of organs in the body that are most susceptible to toxicity, such as the liver, kidney, lungs, heart, eyes, skin and brain. Thus, glutathione protects against cell-generated oxygen and nitrogen free radicals when produced in excess, and the free radicals produced by exposure to radiation from ultraviolet light, x-, gamma- and cosmic-rays.
Glutathione not only neutralizes free radicals and reactive oxygen compounds, but maintains exogenous antioxidants such as vitamins C and E in their reduced (active) forms. Through direct conjugation, glutathione detoxifies many environmental carcinogens and toxic xenobiotic (foreign) substances. It also protects against toxic/carcinogenic pollutants such as cigarette smoke, vehicular exhaust fumes, and smoke-stack effluents.
Glutathione is essential for the proper functioning of the endogenous antioxidant enzyme glutathione peroxidase. Our cell membranes are made up of polyunsaturated lipids or fats and are susceptible to damage by the reactive oxygen species (ROS), especially the peroxide radicals. This damage can affect the cell from getting proper nutrients or waste material out and if not functioning properly will lead to cellular death. The enzyme glutathione peroxidase detoxifies lipid peroxides (reactive by-product from oxidation of lipids by free radicals) and glutathione is a needed co-factor for this enzyme.
Glutathione is needed for the growth, reproduction and differentiation of lymphocytes and is essential for a full functioning immune system. Glutathione also plays an active role in a multitude of metabolic and biochemical reactions, such as DNA synthesis and repair, protein synthesis, prostaglandin synthesis, amino acid transport and enzyme activation. Thus, glutathione plays a fundamental role in maintenance of optimal health.
The medical and basic science literature describe the importance of glutathione in many facets of cellular function, especially in maintaining the reduction/oxidation (redox) balance of cells that can be compromised by environmental toxins and the stresses of urban lifestyles.
1 Lang CA, Naryshkin S, Schneider DL, Mills BJ, Lindeman RD. Low blood glutathione levels in healthy aging adults. The Journal of Laboratory and Clinical Medicine, 1992:120:5:720-725
Oxidative stress occurs when there is an imbalance between the amount of free radicals being produced and available antioxidants within our system.
Although there is no proven relationship that oxidative stress is the cause of these diseases, there is a significant body of evidence that oxidative stress (low glutathione levels) is prevalent in many disease states and disorders.
Antioxidants can be produced by the body (these are known as “endogenous” antioxidants), or found naturally in many foods we consume. These antioxidants maintain our health by protecting us from damage caused by highly reactive free radicals that can damage cells and tissues. The body produces free radicals in the natural course of oxygen utilization and energy production. There are also substances in our environment, that is, certain chemicals, smoke, pollutants, radiation, etc., that also trigger production of free radicals.
“apoptosis” is a very important function of our immune system as programmed cell death removes damaged or mutated cells (pre-cancerous cells) from the body. Glutathione actually aids in this process.