One of the primary causes of problems related to aging – not just the outward signs of aging but also cataracts, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, atherosclerosis, etc. – is oxidative stress, where the immune system has more free radicals than it can handle.
You probably know that the battle against health-stealing and wrinkle-causing free radicals is best fought from the inside – with a low-sugar diet, for example, to reduce the damaging effects of AGEs (Advanced Glycation End products) on the tissues. However, another huge source of oxidative stress, our polluted environment, is harder to fight.
One of the most important – but rarely mentioned – defenses against environmental toxins is glutathione peroxidase, a.k.a. glutathione.
Glutathione is manufactured in the liver, and is often referred to as the most powerful antioxidant in the body. According to a 2003 article in Redox Report: Communications in Free Radical Research, glutathione not only instantly neutralizes free radicals, it is a key way for the body to detoxify chemicals in pollutants like fuel exhaust and cigarette smoke. Glutathione is also a powerful detoxifier of heavy metals, a known cause of rampant free radical activity. In other words, glutathione provides a powerful one-two punch against aging by helping to reduce the damage from free radicals and helping to eliminate toxins from the body.
Aging is associated with significant declines in glutathione. In addition, glutathione is depleted by many drugs, including acetaminophen and ibuprofen. It also becomes depleted simply because, due to increased demands by the environment, it can be used up about as fast as our bodies can make it.
So, what can you do to build up your glutathione levels?
Unfortunately, glutathione itself cannot be absorbed via the digestive tract, so it cannot be taken in supplement form. But cysteine is an amino acid that the body uses to make glutathione, and you can get cysteine from some foods – including most animal proteins, especially whey protein isolates and eggs – as well as from N-acetyl cysteine and SAMe. (I use both of these supplements extensively in my practice.)