Glutathione Slows the Normal Aging Process
Glutathione, or GSH, defends the cells of plants and animals from oxidative stress and replicative senescence (biological aging). It is probably the most important antioxidant in the body. Fahey and Sundquist found an evolutionary link between aerobic (oxygen respiration), eukaryotes (organisms with a true nucleus) and glutathione, a powerful antioxidant. Oxidative stress refers to the toxic by-products, such as H2O2 (peroxide), of cellular aerobic respiration as well as other enzymatic reactions. These toxic by-products, called free radicals, are implicated in aging and disease. A free radical is any molecule with one or more unpaired electrons.
Glutathione is produced biosynthetically (made naturally by the body) from three precursor amino acids: Glycine, cysteine and glutamic acid (glutamate). Antioxidants, such as glutathione, are extremely important because they neutralize free radicals in a redox reaction. Redox is short for reduction-oxidation, meaning a transfer of electrons that involves one species losing an electron (oxidation) and the other gaining an electron (reduction). This reaction binds the two molecules together and stabilizes the free radical. Antioxidants are molecules that are able to accept an electron from a free radical. This prevents the free radical from taking electrons from key molecules in the cell such as DNA, proteins and lipids. The antioxidant itself is not harmed in stabilizing the free radical. If free radicals are able to take electrons from DNA or other important molecules in the body, they will destabilize the DNA, etc. which will increase the probability of mistakes in replication and quicken the aging process.
Glutathione plays a role in many cell signaling and metabolic processes including protein synthesis, DNA repair, control of cell division, programmed cell death (apoptosis) and immune response. Glutathione is such an important antioxidant because damage to the chromosomes is a key concern for the cell. When DNA begins the replication process, glutathione is sequestered inside the nucleus in order to protect the DNA during replication. Glutathione controls the environment by acting as a "redox sensor."
Human DNA has 23 pairs of chromosomes, each with a telomere at their end. Telomeres are repeating DNA units at the ends of the chromosomes. Telomeres can be pictured as caps on the chromosomes' ends. One of their functions is to buffer the ends of the chromosome and protect the genetic material from degradation during repeated DNA replication. DNA polymerase, the enzyme responsible for guiding DNA replication, cannot replicate the entire ends of the chromosomes which leaves the telomeres shorter after each replication. Telomere shortening has long been correlated with aging of the cells that leads to aging of the organism itself.
Telomeres in normal human cells shorten through time, eventually leading to dysfunctional telomeres, arrest of cell growth and cell death. Destabilization of the DNA by free radicals disrupts the replication process. Each time the cell replicates, disruptions cause replication mistakes and excessive shortening of telomeres that continually become more deleterious as time goes by. Telomere shortening rate, and therefore aging, has been shown to slow with increased antioxidant activity.
A glutathione deficiency causes oxidative stress that plays a major role in aging and disease. Cysteine, a precursor to glutathione, has antioxidant properties. Cysteine contains a sulfur side chain, known as a thiol group in organic compounds, that has nucleophilic (electron accepting) abilities and hydrophilic (water loving) properties. Cysteine's antioxidant properties are expressed in glutathione. These properties of cysteine allow glutathione to neutralize free radicals in the cell.
Glutathione is not able to be ingested in any significant amount; it must be synthesized in the body. Cysteine, a semi-essential amino acid precursor to glutathione, can be synthesized in the liver, but in order to reach daily requirements, it must be supplemented through diet to aid in the production of glutathione. Cysteine is rarely found in significant amounts in the Western diet.
Good nutrition is the key to keeping glutathione at optimal levels to prevent oxidative stress-related diseases like cancer and AIDS and to slow the aging process. Due to the quick oxidization of glutathione to glutathione disulfide (GSSG) by substances such as free radicals, there is a net loss of glutathione in the body. Glutathione concentrations are significantly reduced in protein malnutrition, oxidative stress and pathogenic conditions. Foods with high levels of protein are excellent for maintaining glutathione levels to slow the aging process.
There is no need to take a supplement to increase glutathione levels. There are several foods packed with it. Foods rich in protein usually contain the necessary amino acids for the production of glutathione. Whey protein is the easiest and best choice for increasing and maintaining glutathione levels to slow the aging process. It must be of high quality and processed carefully. It must come from organic grass fed cows. This is important because the amino acid precursors that form glutathione are very fragile. Whey protein is of no use if it isn't quality because the nutrients either will not be there or they will have been destroyed.
A food full of protein is raw, organic eggs. Cooking the egg destroys the protein's usefulness to a large extent. It is vitally important to get organic, free-range hen eggs because the delicate nutrients in the eggs mirror what the hen is fed. Commercial egg producers' chickens are fed mostly corn, soy and cottonseed. Free-range means they could have access to a field or a cemented area and has nothing to do with what they eat. True free-range chickens eat a nutrient dense natural diet of insects, seeds, green plants and worms. Avoid omega-3 eggs because the chickens are fed low quality omega-3 fat sources that are useless.
Many dark green leafy vegetables are packed with antioxidant-producing properties. Organic is always the best if at all possible because it has much higher levels of nutrient content than conventional produce, approximately 17% higher. Broccoli has the highest level of a cancer fighting compound called isothiocyanates that turns on cancer fighting genes and turns off cancer worsening genes. Other vegetables containing this are cabbage, watercress, horseradish, arugula, cauliflower and Brussel sprouts.
Berries are tasty and bursting with nutrition. Blueberries contain anthocyanins that give them their deep color. A study at Tufts University has shown this pigment neutralizes free radicals that improved brain cells and their functioning. Blueberries, especially wild ones, reduce the risk of cancer and high cholesterol, prevent heart disease and stroke, reverse short term memory loss, relieve arthritis symptoms, fight infection, relieve urinary tract health improve vision and protect from Alzheimer's and neurological disorders. Other berries rich in the nutrients necessary for glutathione production include cherries, strawberries, blackberries, cranberries and acai berries.
The food we eat is the most important factor in improving and maintaining health. Glutathione is vital in fighting the health destroying free radicals that build up, especially in middle age and the golden years. Glutathione is one of the most important antioxidants in the body. It must be maintained at optimal levels to slow the process of aging by protecting DNA and other key molecules in the body. If our DNA is protected now, the copies in future cells will contain fewer errors and fewer errors mean longer telomeres and a longer life.