Glutathione- The Master Antioxidant, Detoxifier and Immune Enhancer

Dr. Jimmy Gutman, author of “Glutathione – your body’s most powerful protector”, explains why raising glutathione levels in the body can be a very good thing (Jimmy Gutman, MD, “Glutathione – your body’s most powerful protector”, Kudo.CA Communications, Montreal, Canada 2002). Dr. Gutman describes glutathione (GSH) as a cell protector, an antioxidant, a detoxifier, an immune system enhancer, an energy booster, a healing agent, an anti-aging nutrient… and a nutrient possessing many other facets. How can it be and do all these things?

For instance, glutathione raises ATP levels, and ATP is the currency our body needs for various biochemical reactions. Increasing ATP increases our body’s ability to heal itself. Also, oxidative stress, or free radical damage, is responsible for a whole host of health complications, and glutathione can be a helpful nutrient to combat the free radicals and prevent cell injury.

Dr. Gutman describes how glutathione supplementation is used as support for immune health, stress, athletic performance, skin disorders, detoxification, pregnancy/lactation, sleep, psycho-neurobiology, trauma and burns, seizures, fatigue, digestion, stomach/bowel conditions, kidney issues, arthritis, eyesight, hearing loss, sinusitis, lung problems, MS, lung disease, hepatitis, diabetes, heart disease, ear infections, stroke, cholesterol, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, better sleep, prostate issues and as support for general, overall health.

Glutathione is in many cells; however, it is utilized mainly in the liver. It is a tripeptide, which means it’s made up of three amino acids: Cysteine, glycine, and glutamate. It functions as an antioxidant, and also as the most important binder of toxins that the body possesses. When toxic substances enter Phase II of liver detoxification, they have to be “conjugated”, or hooked onto something that will aid elimination. The main conjugator for these toxins is a nutrient, glutathione.

Glutathione as an important antioxidant:

Glutathione, like many of the antioxidants, can recycle other antioxidants when they become oxidized, such as vitamin C and vitamin E. There is a lot of synergy and interplay amongst the antioxidants, and it is important to be replete in all of them. Supplementation of certain antioxidants can ensure that levels of the important antioxidants stay in a normal range.

Glutathione as an important detoxifier:

Through the action of the glutathione transferase system, glutathione inactivates drugs and toxic compounds. The thiol, or –SH group on glutathione is responsible for detoxing many xenobiotics. Glutathione binds to many compounds in phase II liver detox and gets them ready for elimination from the body. The ability of glutathione to detoxify compounds underlies the usefulness of N-acetylcysteine, which is a precursor to glutathione, in acetaminophen overdose. The acetaminophen forms a toxic compound in phase I (even more toxic than the original acetaminophen substance!), however N-acetylcysteine raises glutathione in the cells, which then binds to the toxic compound and preparing it for removal (Glutathione Deficiency in Human Disease, Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, May 1994;5:218-226).

Heavy metal detox:

One of the most promising aspects of glutathione research, according to the book “The Biochemical Powers of Glutathione” is the power of GSH to detoxify heavy metals (heavy metals bind to essential enzymes in the body)  The Biochemical Powers of Glutathione” 1982)The National Library of Medicine is full of citations on GSH and its power to bind to metals.

Enhancement of systemic immune function:

The immune system works best if the lymphoid cells have properly balanced glutathione. The cloning of T-cells consumes large quantities of cysteine. Macrophages (type of white blood cells), which are only present in sufficient quintiles when there is sufficient glutathione, provide the cysteine for the T-cell cloning. Glutathione regulates the binding, internalization, degradation and T-cell proliferation by increasing, as much as two times, the number of binding cellular receptors. More receptors equate to more T-cells being produced simultaneously (multiple T-cell cloning). Cellular GSH also affects the growth and replication of T-cells through growth stimulating cytokines. It also acts as an antioxidant within immune cellular functions.

Enhancement of humoral immune function:

The role of glutathione in the humoral response is that it protects the cells taking part in the humoral response all along this complex process.

A quick synapsis of the humoral immune response: “humoral” means circulating in the bloodstream. This is an immune response (chiefly against bacterial invasion) that is mediated by B cells and involves the transformation of B cells into plasma cells that produce and secrete antibodies to a specific antigen.
The process in a nutshell: macrophages engulf and digest the invading pathogen. The digested pieces activate helper T cells which in turn activate the proliferation of B cells that are programed for the specific invading pathogen.


Glutathione diffuses the free radicals that threaten tissue damage, and thus slows the approach of aging (Guttman, ibid). A plethora of evidence in the literature supports the theory that glutathione affects the aging process by its strong antioxidant, detoxification, and immune power. Glutathione-S-transferase expression in the brain, FAESB J. 2006 Sep;20(11):1826-35; Oxidative damage in the livers of senescence-accelerated mice: a gender-related response. Can J Physiol Pharmacol. 2006 Feb;84(2):213-20; Accumulation of oxidative damage during replicative aging of the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Exp Gerontol.2006, Aug.; Dietary supplementation with antioxidants improves functions and decreases oxidative stress of leukocytes from prematurely aging mice. Nutrition. 2006 Jul-Aug;22(7-8):767-77).

Glutathione and DNA Damage/Anti-aging:

Besides building immunity, detoxifying, and protecting cells from oxidation damage, glutathione also reduces disulfide linkages in proteins, allowing biochemical activity, and also serves to enhance the synthesis of DNA precursors.

Glutathione has been found to be important in maintaining integrity of the mitochondrial DNA. Oxidative damage to mitochondrial DNA interferes with electron transport complexes (where we make our energy in the mitochondria). Mitochondrial DNA is protected several mitochondrial antioxidant systems, but to investigate the specific importance of glutathione, researchers studied oxidative damage in human blood lymphocytes. The damage to lymphocyte mitochondrial DNA was significantly decreased by glutathione supplementation, AND moreover, inhibition of glutathione synthesis led to lymphocyte free radical generation and mitochondrial DNA damage with increased susceptibility to cell-death.

Mitochondrial DNA is important in the aging process, and damage is suspected in premature aging. “The popular use of antioxidative vitamins illustrates the growing awareness of oxidative stress as an important hazard to our health and as an important factor in the ageing process” report researchers, and deficits in glutathione and its precursor cysteine are believed to contribute to various aging related degenerative processesThe deficit in low molecular weight thiols as a target for anti-ageing therapy. Curr Drug Targets. 2006 Nov;7(11):1505-12.)

N-Acetyl Cysteine boosts Glutathione levels and is also considered to be anti-aging support:

Effect of antioxidant diets on mitochondrial gene expression in rat brain during aging. Neurochem Res. 2005 Jun-Jul;30(6-7):737-52…. Age-related increase of reactive oxygen species (ROS) is particularly detrimental in tissues such as the mitochondria, where we produce our energy, and where the oxidative damage is associated with premature aging. “N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) provides thiol groups to glutathione and to mitochondrial respiratory chain proteins; thus, it may counteract both ROS generation and effects.” The observed age-related changes were prevented by the dietary treatment of N-acetyl cysteine. “The present study provides further evidence for the critical role of mitochondria in the aging process.”

Raising glutathione levels

The problem with just taking glutathione as a supplement is that it is not very efficient, (it is quickly broken down in the digestive tract and eliminated), lowering the efficiency of glutathione supplementation. When taken orally, some glutathione is delivered to the liver; however, to raise glutathione levels efficiently in the body, glutathione nutrient enhancers are the most effective in accomplishing this task. Natural ingredients can serve as precursors (building blocks), or they can enhance glutathione production, by either supporting or directly raising glutathione levels.

The following are descriptions of many of those nutrients that optimize glutathione levels.

Undenatured Whey Bypasses Roadblocks

Undenatured whey is an ideal way to bypass the normal roadblocks to successful cellular glutathione (GSH) production by getting glutathione precursors inside the cells. Normally, the biggest roadblock is the breakdown of glutathione in the digestive tract due to the high prevalence of an intestinal enzyme. This lowers the efficiency of glutathione supplementation. Undenatured whey, however, is able to bypass these roadblocks, because it contains the precursor building blocks, AND the efficient delivery system for getting the precursors inside the cells where they can then make glutathione.

The whey has bioactive proteins and contains cystine, which is two cysteine molecules held together by a bond that is resistant to digestion. Cysteine, being one of the three amino acids that make up glutathione, facilitates the production of glutathione inside the body’s cells because it is the limiting building block. It is deficient in many diets. It does not travel to the cell well unless it is part of a larger protein, and that’s where cystine comes in. Being a larger protein, the cystine in whey travels quickly to the cell and then splits into the two cysteine molecules to provide the necessary precursor for glutathione production. The whey also contains an efficient delivery system to transport the cystine to the cells. Moreover, whey contains additional building blocks for glutathione. These building blocks, and the delivery system, are heat-sensitive, but the undenatured whey eliminates this roadblock too, since it has not been exposed to heat. Glutathione must be manufactured in the cells for efficient production. Undenatured, unheated whey protein is considered an optimal nutritional source for glutathione production because it provides transportation of these heat-sensitive precursors (cystine and glutamyl-cystine residues) by other heat-sensitive molecules that accelerate delivery (albumin, lactoferrin and alpha lactalbumin), all contained in whey. For individuals’ sensitive to whey, they can still supplement with GSH precursors and other nutrients that optimize GSH levels in the body.

Non-whey nutrients that optimize Glutathione (GSH)

N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC) raises glutathione levels in the body: Cysteine facilitates the production of GSH inside the body’s cells, but straight cysteine supplementation (contains two molecules of cysteine) can be irritating if taken in its direct form. Supplementing with the precursor N-acetyl cysteine resolves this problem however, and efficiently delivers cysteine to the cells for GSH production.

Oxidative stress, immune system function, detoxification, rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, hepatitis, liver cirrhosis, septic shock and diabetes: “Thus, NAC (which raises GSH) offers useful adjunct therapy to increase protection against oxidative stress, improve immune system function and increase detoxification of acetaminophen and other drugs. These findings suggest that NAC therapy could be valuable in other clinical situations in which GSH deficiency or oxidative stress plays a role in disease pathology, e.g. rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, hepatitis, liver cirrhosis, septic shock and diabetesN-acetylcysteine replenishes glutathione in HIV infection. Eur J Clin Invest. 2000 Oct;30(10):915-29).

Alpha Lipoic Acid enhances the function of GSH, regenerating its active form just as it does several other antioxidants. Conversely, the enzyme GSH-reductase keeps lipoic acid in its active state. It has been suggested that the protection that lipoic acid offers against radiation damage could result from improved cell viability due to increased GSH levels. Dr. Lester Packer of the U of Cal. Berkeley describes lipoic acid as providing the intact cystine, which splits into two cysteines inside the cell for GSH production.

Vitamin C, Vitamin E and Selenium are important antioxidants in a synergistic cycle of regeneration (reactivation) to keep these antioxidants (and GSH) active. Vitamin E also directly modulates GSH-related enzymes, and selenium is a critical component in the GSH peroxidase enzyme, the only metabolically active form of selenium in the body.

L-Glutamine provides building blocks for glutathione production. Although cysteine is usually the limiting factor in glutathione synthesis, other building blocks also help.

All this evidence is very convincing that glutathione is a SUPERSTAR in promoting health and well-being throughout the whole body!

To purchase high quality products that can increase glutathione, click the link after the following list of those nutrients.

I have put them in the order of priority in the event you cannot get all of them:

  1. Liposomal Glutathione a highly absorbable sublingual delivery system- Product # T2188

Glutathione Precursors

  • NAC-600– Product # R280 or R280L
  • Whey Protein– Product # R372L Chocolate or R373L Vanilla
  • L-Glutamine– Product # R134
  • Alpha Lipoic Acid– Product # R270
  • Vitamin C– Various options to search
  • Selenium– Product # P472
  • Vitamin E– Product # P2073

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