Producing glutathione

Friendly Coaxing


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Your liver just needs a little coaxing.

That’s the implication of a study that examined the effects of vitamin E supplementation on the production of glutathione in laboratory rats.

As I’ve mentioned in previous e-Alerts, glutathione is an amino acid molecule that’s also a powerful antioxidant and a key player in keeping the immune system strong. In this recent study (conducted by DSM Nutritional Products), researchers found that vitamin E stimulates two of the most important enzymes required to prompt the liver to produce glutathione. The trial suggested that the production of glutathione is “significantly enhanced” by vitamin E intake.

Further trials will be necessary to confirm that vitamin E has the same effect on humans. In the meantime, there are other steps we can take to insure that the liver is getting all the encouragement it needs to keep up the production of glutathione.

Working double shifts

One of the most interesting things about glutathione is that it is found in every cell of the body (most notably in immune system cells), which is one of the reasons why its antioxidant action is so effective in protecting against disease and repairing damage throughout the body. In addition, glutathione is believed to protect other antioxidants (among them, vitamins C and E) from oxidizing, prolonging and enhancing their effectiveness. It also acts directly against certain carcinogenic substances by binding to these toxins and eliminating them through urine or bile.

Obviously, this is one hard-working antioxidant. But all of this effectiveness comes at a price. Because when the immune system is taxed (by everything from pollution, to poor diet, infection, drugs, radiation, emotional stress, and all types of trauma), stores of glutathione become depleted. Also, as we grow older, glutathione levels drop and need to be replaced.

But that is easier said than done.

Getting the NAC of it

In the e-Alert “A Measure of Comfort” (10/29/02), I told you about a study in which cancer patients received glutathione intravenously along with chemotherapy, significantly reducing the nerve damage caused by chemo. And although this is an effective means to receive glutathione, intravenous delivery is far from practical for the average person’s needs.

On the HSI Forum, member Naturalee gives a good account of how NOT to try to replace glutathione: “Taking glutathione orally is generally ineffective because evidently the molecules are too big to pass through the intestinal walls to the blood stream. I have read that taking the amino acid NAC (N-acetylcysteine) can act as precursor for the formation of more glutathione.”

Exactly right. In another e-Alert (“Storm of the Eye” 10/9/02), I examined NAC, and noted its remarkable ability to enhance the production of glutathione. NAC is widely available in health food stores, and while I’ve seen studies where as much as 300 mg per day was used, only half that amount is typically recommended. These studies also report side effects of dizziness, headaches and intestinal symptoms among about 20% of participants who took 600 mg per day – so if you do try an NAC supplement, don’t over do it. And, as always, it’s a good idea to consult your doctor before starting a new regimen of supplements.

Bring the protein

The food sources that deliver glutathione precursors are meats and fresh fruits and vegetables. But even with a diet high in the proteins that supply glutathione amino acids, one of those amino acids – cysteine – is more difficult than the others to come by. A natural food component with high concentrations of glutathione precursors (including cysteine) is milk-serum-protein concentrate – more simply known as whey.

For those who avoid dairy in their diets, whey will not be an answer. For others, however, the proteins found in milk whey (serum albumin, alpha lactalbumin, and lactoferrin) all contribute to the effectiveness of the glutathione precursors.

In a Members Alert we sent you several years ago (“How Whey Can Keep Your Immune System From Failing” 10/1/97), we told you about a Canadian product called Immunocal which is more concentrated in cysteine than other whey products. And Immunocal (easily found through various Internet sources) contains no milk sugars, so is far less likely to trigger a lactose-intolerance reaction. Unfortunately, Immunocal is a little on the expensive side, so daily use as a preventive may not be practical for everyone. But even if you don’t take it daily, it can still be effective as a standby for those times when your immune system needs replenishment.



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and another thing

You could call them “folate helpers.”

In the e-Alert “Cool Under Pressure” (2/7/05), I told you how an adequate intake of folate may significantly reduce the risk of developing hypertension. But you can’t expect folate to do all the work on its own.

Researchers at Tulane University examined dietary and medical records for more than 15,000 adults to examine the association between antioxidant levels in the blood and hypertension.

Although their findings indicate that vitamins E and A do not reduce hypertension, vitamin C, beta carotene and alpha carotene were all associated with a lower risk of high blood pressure. Both of these carotenes are found in abundance in fruits and vegetables, and both are converted to vitamin A in the body. The researchers did not explain the somewhat contradictory result that vitamin A does not reduce high blood pressure, while the nutrients that the body converts to vitamin A do.

Eating fresh fruits and vegetables promotes hearth health? That’s not news to HSI members. And yet a noted expert in antioxidant research, Dr. Jeffrey Blumberg (Tufts University School of Medicine) told Reuters Health that the Tulane study is the first to find an association between alpha and beta carotene and blood pressure.

To Your Good Health,

Jenny Thompson
Health Sciences Institute


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“Glutathione: New Supplement on the Block” Alison Palkhivala, WebMD, 7/30/01

“Glutathione” Michael W. Davidson, Florida State University, January, 2003

“Some Antioxidants Higher, Lower in Hypertensives” Natalie Engler, Reuters Health, 1/3/03

“Vitamin E Boosts Body’s Defense System”, 9/20/04,