Glutathione: It’s Your Gut

glutathione levelsSome things are so grossly unconventional that we think they’ll never get off the ground. To the contrary is the ultimate use of waste water, but not the kind you’re thinking of. This is olive water, the leftovers from the olive grinding mill. It seems that this material is able to influence some measures of oxidative stress in humans by affecting levels of glutathione, the body’s premier endogenous (self-made) antioxidant, able to be synthesized by all cells of the body.

It has already been accepted that plant phenols are beneficial compounds. Because of increasingly sophisticated testing techniques, those in olives are receiving more and more attention as amplifiers of the body’s antioxidant capacity. A French study performed in 2009 discovered that olive mill waste water has a positive effect on plasma antioxidant potency. Ingesting a mere 2 milliliters of this benevolent elixir contributed to,”…a significant increase in total plasma glutathione concentration…,” involving, “…both the reduced and oxidized forms…”  (Visioli. 2009)  It is widely recognized that specific groups of individuals benefit substantially from increased glutathione levels, most notably the geriatric population. Research has robustly demonstrated that the natural compounds in olives and now, apparently, their waste, play important roles within the living organism.

Glutathione is made from three amino acids—cysteine, glycine, and glutamine—none of which is absolutely essential.  In times of great physical stress, such as major surgery, however, glutamine may be conditionally essential, meaning it has to come from a food or a supplement. Glutathione is your personal antioxidant powerhouse, and it pays super dividends to keep stores as healthy as possible. It’s the presence of a sulfur group on the cysteine portion of the molecule that’s at the foundation of its powerful antioxidant capacity.

Widely found in all forms of life, glutathione plays an essential role in the health of an organism. Cysteine, the businessman of the molecule, but itself a relatively insoluble entity at normal pH, needs to be part of the glutathione tripeptide to do its work. Glutathione synthesizes and repairs DNA, transports amino acids, metabolizes toxins and carcinogens, strengthens the immune system, prevents oxidative damage, and activates enzymes.  It’s pretty busy, don’t you think? Levels of glutathione increase during exercise, but fall with old age, and are found to be deficient in age-related macular degeneration, diabetes, lung and gastrointestinal disease, pre-eclampsia, Parkinson’s disease, and other neurological maladies.

Glutathione exists within cells in its reduced form (GSH), meaning it has an extra electron. In the process of neutralizing reactive oxygen species it becomes oxidized (GSSG), but reacts with another oxidized glutathione to become glutathione disulfide.  Because of enzymatic activity, glutathione is self-healing, particularly in the presence of available cysteine.  (Miller. 2002)  In healthy cells, more than ninety percent is the reduced form…and it should stay that way.  (Owen. 2010) This has strong implications for dietary habits.

Raising GSH through direct supplementation is difficult.  Research suggests that oral glutathione is not well-absorbed across the gastrointestinal tract, since it may be inactivated by peptidase enzymes in the gut.  (Witschi. 1992)  At least in the brain, GSH may be elevated by vitamin D. (Garcion. 2001)   However, the supplements, N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) and lipoic acid can increase GSH levels.  (Gross.1993)   (Busse. 1992)   (Shay. 2009) Ongoing research will determine the true bioavailability of oral supplementation.  In cases of Acetaminophen (Tylenol) poisoning, the number one cause of emergency room poisoning visits, the hospital will likely use NAC as an antidote.  Among health care providers, at least a little speculation has focused on the inclusion of NAC in acetaminophen tablets and capsules.

Although no specific foods contain glutathione, there are some that can elevate levels, most by virtue of their sulfur content, including animal products, red peppers, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, onions, oats, lentils, beets, eggs, and parsley.  Because it is fundamental to a raft of physiological process, especially as an antioxidant, it’s wise to eat the foods that will ramp it up, including olives.

References

Visioli F, Wolfram R, Richard D, Abdullah MI, Crea R.
Olive phenolics increase glutathione levels in healthy volunteers.

J Agric Food Chem. 2009 Mar 11; 57(5):1793-6.

Lauren T. Miller, Walter H. Watso, Ward G. Kirlin, Thomas R. Ziegler and Dean P. Jones
Oxidation of the Glutathione/Glutathione Disulfide Redox State Is Induced by Cysteine Deficiency in Human Colon Carcinoma HT29 Cells
J. Nutr. 132:2303-2306, 2002

Owen JB, Butterfield DA.
Measurement of oxidized/reduced glutathione ratio.
Methods Mol Biol. 2010;648:269-77.

Witschi A, Reddy S, Stofer B, Lauterburg BH.
The systemic availability of oral glutathione.
Eur J Clin Pharmacol. 1992;43(6):667-9.

Garcion E, Wion-Barbot N, Montero-Menei CN, Berger F, Wion D.
New clues about vitamin D functions in the nervous system.
Trends Endocrinol Metab. 2002 Apr;13(3):100-5.

Gross CL, Innace JK, Hovatter RC, Meier HL, Smith WJ.
Biochemical manipulation of intracellular glutathione levels influences cytotoxicity to isolated human lymphocytes by sulfur mustard.
Cell Biol Toxicol. 1993 Jul-Sep;9(3):259-67.

Busse E, Zimmer G, Schopohl B, Kornhuber B.
Influence of alpha-lipoic acid on intracellular glutathione in vitro and in vivo.
Arzneimittelforschung. 1992 Jun;42(6):829-31.

Kate Petersen Shay, Régis F. Moreau, Eric J. Smith, Anthony R. Smith, and Tory M. Hagen
Alpha-lipoic acid as a dietary supplement: Molecular mechanisms and therapeutic potential
Biochim Biophys Acta. 2009 October; 1790(10): 1149–1160.

Wu G, Fang YZ, Yang S, Lupton JR, Turner ND.
Glutathione metabolism and its implications for health.
J Nutr. 2004 Mar;134(3):489-92.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.
These products are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.

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