A Refresher: What Is Glutathione and How is it Linked to Heart Health?
Glutathione is a very simple molecule that is produced naturally in your body. It is a combination of three simple building blocks of protein or amino acids — cysteine, glycine, and glutamine. Glutathione is a vital antioxidant, probably the most important because it is produced in every cell of your body all the time. It protects our cells from oxidative stress; however, when we get overwhelmed, so does its production. It is imperative because as you age and have disease come into your life, your glutathione levels deplete.
As we know, heart disease is a cause of inflammation as a result of oxidative stress on our bodies. Some significant oxidative stressors are:
1. Poor nutrition (Increased simple carbohydrates and increased blood sugar)
2. Smoking and pollution
3. Lack of Sleep
4. Stress (anxiety, depression, & anger)
5. Being Overweight
6. Lack of Activity
Glutathione and heart disease are very much linked and if you have heart disease, you probably have low levels of Glutathione. Most chronically diseased patients will have glutathione deficiency. The heart muscle requires Glutathione because there are more mitochondria in the heart muscle than in any other cell in the body.
The good news is that your body can produce and restore its glutathione levels. Our ability to make and maintain high levels of Glutathione is critical to recovering from chronic disease and heart disease.
There have been so many medical articles (98,000 to date) on Glutathione; however, it is just starting to poke its head out to the media. For decades scientists have known about Glutathione’s vital role in protecting our cells, tissues, and organs. Many research studies done by US Government and Pub Med have documented the functions Glutathione provides to the body.
As mentioned, Glutathione is recycled in the body — except when our body is loaded with toxins. This results in a lower production of Glutathione. Now you, unfortunately, cannot readily measure glutathione levels. It is an expensive test; if you are willing to measure it, you could most likely get it done by your naturopathic doctor.
Why is Glutathione Important?
It recycles the other antioxidants. Free radicals float around in our body, passed from Vitamin to Vitamin, then finally to Glutathione, which takes the free radical and inactivates it. After this process, it produces another molecule, and the action starts again.
The problem occurs when we are bombarded with oxidative stress and toxins. Glutathione depletes, and we can no longer protect ourselves and get rid of toxins causing the toxins to stick to the glutathione molecule. This function is critical for immune function and controlling inflammation, such as heart disease! It is crucial to ensure that you keep your levels optimal by taking a high-quality supplement that recycles Glutathione and will effectively boost your levels.
Glutathione Side Effects:
Because Glutathione is naturally produced in your body, there are no severe side effects when supplementing with a product to increase glutathione production. Because Glutathione-producing supplements are ingested by pill, gastrointestinal disturbances such as diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting can occur.
How can you increase Glutathione levels in your body?
In addition, I have summarized a good list here from Dr. Hyman on how you can increase the Glutathione levels in your body:
1. Consume Sulfer Rich foods — garlic, onions, and vegetables
2. Bioactive Whey Protein: Good source of cysteine
4. N-Acetyl Cysteine
5. Alpha Lipoic Acid
6. Folate, Vitamin B6 and B12
8. Vitamin C and Vitamin E
9. Milk Thistle
Indeed many studies show the benefits of Glutathione for heart health. Numerous others offer the benefits of Glutathione and other antioxidants outside of the heart.
In 2008, French researchers found an association between glutathione depletion and heart failure. They compared 76 patients with heart failure of varying degrees of severity, classified according to the New York Heart Association scale of I to IV, with 15 healthy people. They found that the patients with the worst degree of heart failure (class IV) had 58% less Glutathione than those with type I heart failure. The heart tissue samples were taken during surgery and used to measure these levels. Furthermore, using blood tests to compare them with the healthy controls, they found that even the patients with the lowest severity of heart failure had 21% fewer glutathione levels in the body. Another interesting finding from this study was that the levels of Glutathione in class I heart failure patients dropped before levels of sTNFR1 did. sTNFR1 is currently in clinical use as a biomarker for heart failure. This means that there may be some potential in using glutathione levels to detect the structural cardiac abnormalities of heart failure before symptoms even arise.
Glutathione can also be used to predict the risk of the onset of coronary artery disease. One particular study followed up with more than 600 participants for seven years. They tested both homocysteine and glutathione levels to find patterns that would help determine their risk. They found that high homocysteine levels and low glutathione levels were seen in patients who eventually developed the condition. They concluded that Glutathione seems to protect against oxidative damage from homocysteine. They also noted that the analysis of homocysteine and Glutathione together gives a much more significant picture of whether a person might develop coronary artery disease than when assessed individually. However, they are both strong determining factors on their own. This increased risk of coronary artery disease is likely because of the accelerated progression of cholesterol plaque formation in the arteries. The understanding of this mechanism was later derived from a separate study involving mice.