A molecule you probably have never heard of plays a critical role in preventing disease and maintaining a high quality of life, particularly as you age. It’s called glutathione.

Glutathione (with a long “I”) is manufactured from three amino acids—cysteine, glycine, and glutamine. Although there are more than 75,000 scientific articles about the health benefits of this molecule, most medical doctors seem to know next to nothing about it. Despite epidemic levels of glutathione deficiency in the population, it is rare that a medical exam will include a test of glutathione levels in the body, even under conditions known to severely deplete it.

The Glutathione/Health Connection

Glutathione plays a vital role in preventing multiple diseases. Along with accelerated aging, here are a few diseases associated with lowered glutathione levels:

— AIDS

— Arthritis

— Asthma

— Autism

— Autoimmune illnesses, such as multiple sclerosis

— Cancer

— Chronic fatigue syndrome

— Chronic infections

— Dementias, such as Alzheimer’s

— Kidney disease

— Heart disease

— Hepatitis

— Liver disease

— Parkinson’s disease

— Type-2 diabetes

Due to its anti-inflammatory effect, glutathione has also been shown to decrease unsightly inflammation-induced hyperpigmentation (brown spots) in the skin. Glutathione prevents damage to cells by recycling other anti-oxidants (vitamins C and E, for example, as well as alpha-lipoid acid) and also helps directly scavenge toxins from the body. It also plays a critical role in liver function, where it is involved in the metabolism of toxins, including alcohol.  Its anti-oxidant activity increases immune function and cell metabolism.

Lastly, glutathione plays an integral role in your detoxification system, thanks to the power of the sulfur (SH) chemical groups it contains. Sulfur is a sticky, smelly molecule. It acts like fly paper, and all the bad things in the body stick onto it, including free radicals and toxins like mercury and other heavy metals. Normally glutathione is recycled in the body — except when the toxic load becomes too high. And that explains why so many of us experience deficiencies.

The problem occurs when either the body cannot make enough glutathione for proper detoxification, or when the burden for detoxification is too high. Glutathione levels decrease with aging and chronic illnesses. Stress, including very strenuous exercise, drugs and medications, pollution, trauma, infections, radiation, a poor diet, psychological stress, and inflammatory conditions in the body, all contribute to depleted levels of this master anti-oxidant. Once your body is unable to recycle glutathione, and the demand is too high (or raw materials are lacking) for new production, severe illnesses can begin to develop.

For athletes, optimal glutathione levels play a special role. Research has shown that this molecule reduces post-exercise recovery time, decreases exercise-induced muscle damage, increases strength and endurance levels, and also shifts metabolism from fat storage to muscle development. One study on elite Nordic skiers showed a six-percent improvement in performance after just four weekly treatments with glutathione.

Restoring Optimal Glutathione Levels

If you are suffering from ill health, chronic health conditions, or exhaustion/a noticeable energy deficit, a glutathione deficiency is likely. Increasing the level is an important and sensible approach to improving health, particularly for older individuals, which a top British medical journal, Lancet, found to have substantially lower levels than healthy, young people.

One critical point is that oral supplementation with glutathione is tricky, given that a large part of the dose is believed to be oxidized during digestion. Further, it appears to be largely broken down by enzymes in the intestines, making oral supplementation not particularly effective at raising levels in the body (although the debate continues on this point). The solution?

IV supplemental treatment, along with various supplements and whole foods containing the precursors, is a particularly effective approach to attain health-promoting levels of glutathione, the master molecule!