Glutathione is one of the most misunderstood, and still to many people (including physicians) quite unknown, molecules. However, every cell in the body NEEDS it. In fact, without it, the cell dies. There has been a plethora of research conducted on glutathione, amounting to tens of thousands of studies, that has demonstrated the profound importance and influence of it within the body. Needless to say, keeping your glutathione levels up is of critical importance. It supports detoxification and healthy liver function, helps keep your antioxidant levels up (including Vitamins C and E), helps protect the body from the damage caused by free radicals, and supports immune function.
Comprised of three amino acids- cysteine, glycine, and glutamine, glutathione is a simple molecule. However, it is a, if not THE, master detoxifier, antioxidant, and immune regulator. It is a critical component in the body’s ability to stay healthy and prevent disease. Under normal, healthy circumstances, the body recycles its own glutathione. This recycling ability is critical in keeping cells healthy and viable, and has been found to help slow down aging, prevent/reverse cancer, dementia, and heart disease. Glutathione has been used successfully in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, autism, AIDS, and a host of other illnesses, but I also have found it helpful as a main player in detoxification regimens, reversing symptoms of Fibromyalgia, and improving autoimmune markers and symptoms.
Being a sensitive molecule, it is easily depleted by exposure to pollutants, toxins, and pharmaceutical medications. Dietary triggers, stress, trauma, and aging all decrease it as well. Thus, in our modern world where exposure to toxins is unavoidable, and most of us don’t eat 100% organic, power-packed, nutrient-dense food, we are left quite susceptible to glutathione depletion.
But here’s the real crux of the glutathione matter: Glutathione-S-Transferase is an enzyme, of which there have been 8 subclasses identified, that enables glutathione to be recycled within the body. Of these subclasses, GSTM1 is particularly involved in the detoxification of drugs, environmental toxins, carcinogens, and products of oxidative stress. And guess what? GSTM1 has been found to be completely absent in 27-65% of the population (depending on ethnicity). Those are high percentages!! These individuals, who have absent GSTM1 function, have a serious impairment in their ability to make glutathione, rendering them much more susceptible to chronic illness (think FMS, chronic fatigue, neurological dysfunction, autoimmune illnesses, etc etc). Moreover, prescription drugs only worsen the problem.
Now, primary care practices have the ability to run the genetic tests for most of the Glutathione-S-Transferase subclasses, as well as check actual glutathione levels. I do these tests all time time, and it is amazing to see the correlation between my patients’ states of health and their GST status.