Dear Friends and Patients:
In 2003 I published an article on glutathione in our newsletter and on our website. Ten years have passed and I would like to update our readers with the information and experience we have gained in the past decade. This natural substance is the most important anti-oxidant in both humans and animals. Without glutathione your body would have little resistance to bacteria, viruses and cancer. Your liver, kidneys and lungs would not function properly and would become damaged from the eventual accumulation of toxins and oxidative damage. Lab rats that have a genetic defect in their glutathione pathways do not live past one month.
Glutathione levels diminish as we age and many diseases normally associated with aging have been linked to low glutathione levels. Glutathione levels decline by 8% to 12% per decade, beginning at age 20. Glutathione is used more than any other antioxidant in the body and is needed for the other antioxidants such as vitamin E and vitamin C to function adequately (it keeps these vitamins in their active, reduced form). Our bodies are constantly replacing and repairing free-radical damaged cells. Unfortunately, over the last century, clean and healthy food supplies have been challenged by sugar/high fructose corn syrup processed foods, added chemicals, pesticides and genetically altered fruits and vegetables. Our meats and dairy products are laced with antibiotics, hormones and preservatives. Our air and water supply is similarly polluted. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency reports about half of the nation’s estuaries and 35% of our streams are “impaired,” meaning they cannot sustain life. All of us are living in a modern age that has created high levels of free radicals but we are left with limited supplies of glutathione to correct the damage.
Glutathione is found in 2 forms in the body. The reduced form is the active, antioxidant form, and the dimeric form (glutathione disulfide) is also known as oxidized glutathione. Normally, 99% of intracellular glutathione exists in the reduced form. In this article when I use the word glutathione, I am referring to the active or non-oxidized form.
Cysteine is also digested by the stomach unless chemically modified. N-acetyl cysteine is used as a supplement by health care practitioners to boost glutathione levels, but it has certain unpleasant side effects, even in moderate doses, so we do not use it at the Center. Our readers should also be aware that gluten found in grains such as wheat, and casein (milk protein) can inhibit the uptake of cysteine in the diet. You can get cysteine from eating eggs, garlic, onions, meats, red pepper, broccoli and other foods. Supplementing with whey protein isolates has been shown to also boost glutathione levels to some degree. We have a whey protein product made by Biotics available.
We have found the only way to be certain you are getting 100% glutathione into your system is through the intravenous route. The dosage we use is anywhere from 600mg to 1400mg, depending upon the condition being treated and it takes only about 30 minutes to administer. The majority of the time we also put a spectrum of B vitamins in the IV and this seems boost the calming effect Glutathione often has. The results we see in patients are often dramatic and may occur within hours or even during the IV itself. If I had to choose just 1 supplement to take, it would be IV Glutathione.
Glutathione’s other major function is it acts as a detoxifying agent by combining with undesirable substances and ridding the body of them through the bile and urine. Hundreds of toxins are eliminated by the glutathione enzyme system, including drug breakdown products, pollutants, carcinogens, and mercury. It helps repair radiation damage. It is no surprise that glutathione levels are highest in the liver, the body’s major organ of detoxification. In an article published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology in 1996, it was pointed out that “glutathione is impaired in alcoholic hepatitis as well as in viral hepatitis A, B, and C. Raised glutathione levels restore liver function.” Glutathione concentrations are also high in the kidneys and lungs.
An article published regarding the role of glutathione in aging and cancer on PubMed.gov stated “The incidence and mortality rates from most cancers increase exponentially with age. It is likely that this aging phenomenon is partially due to specific changes that occur in the host resulting in an increased susceptibility to neoplasia. Our hypothesis is that one such host factor is a deficiency in the detoxification of a wide variety of exogenous and endogenous carcinogens and free radicals, as well as in the maintenance of immune function.”
Glutathione is also needed to “energize ourselves.” Our cells are like little machines, running constantly without rest. There are microscopic structures within our cells called mitochondria which store energy. Mitochondria literally burn up oxygen and as a result are prone to overload and/or damage unless these oxyradicals are removed. The major substance needed for this repair is glutathione. Raising glutathione levels has become a focus for studies in sport’s medicine and anti-aging medicine.
Glutathione modulates the redox status of thiol groups in signaling proteins and therefore influences a variety of cell functions such as transcription, gene expression, cell proliferation and programmed cell death though the precise mechanisms are unknown (The British Journal of Diabetes & Vascular Disease 2007).
According to The Lancet 334: 796-798, 1994, low glutathione levels have been associated with neuro-degenerative diseases such as multiple sclerosis, ALS, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, among others.
Diabetes is also associated with lower glutathione levels. Diabetics have a smaller and more oxidized glutathione pool than control subjects of similar age. There is clinical evidence that abnormal glutathione status is involved in beta cell dysfunction (beta cells exist in the pancreas and make insulin). “Diabetics are prone to infections and circulatory problems leading to heart disease, kidney failure and blindness. Glutathione protects against the complications of diabetes.” – Clinical Science 91: 575-582, 1996.
Patients with gastrointestinal problems may have low glutathione levels. “Glutathione protects the body from the inflammation of gastritis, stomach ulcers, pancreatitis and inflammatory bowel disease including ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.” Gut 42: 485:492, 1998. Glutathione levels may also be low in conditions such as primary biliary cirrhosis.
In fact, there are virtually over 100 diseases and conditions that have been associated with low glutathione levels that are too numerous to list in this article.
Krill oil comes from tiny shrimp-like crustaceans, and like fish oil, it contains both EPA and DHA. In fish oil, omega 3 fatty acids are found in the triglyceride form. In Krill oil, they are joined in a phospholipid structure. Because of the phospholipid structure, the omega 3s in Krill oil may be more readily absorbed in the body than those in fish oil. Another difference is that astaxanthin (an antioxidant) is attached to the EPA leg of the phospholipid in Krill oil. Krill oil is promoted as not having “fish burps” that some people experience with fish oil. I have found that keeping the fish oil refrigerated and taking it at the beginning of a meal avoids the reflux symptoms in most cases.
Krill oil has been touted to reduce C-reactive protein, reduce cholesterol, reduce arthritis symptoms and relieve PMS symptoms. Again, I could find no large scale studies in the medical literature in this regard, but this is not to say it won’t help in these areas. I would point out that there have been a substantial amount of studies on fish oil omega 3 supplements and heart disease. In reviewing the data available on the National Institutes of Health National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine website, the evidence that omega 3 supplements reduce the risk of heart disease is conflicting, whereas the evidence for the benefit for eating a diet high in fish is clear. Studies do document fish oil omega 3s benefit in reducing rheumatoid arthritis pain and also benefiting age-related macular degeneration. These studies were not done with Krill oil.
What one also won’t find are long-term studies showing the safety of Krill oil, so I would be a little hesitant in promoting this source of omega-3 in pregnant women and in children. People with shellfish allergies should avoid Krill oil. Patients taking blood thinning medications such as Warfarin or Plavix may have an increased risk of bleeding by combining these drugs with either Krill oil or fish oil.
Ideally, you should eat wild Alaskan salmon, mackerel or sardines two to three times a week rather than taking omega-3 supplements. Taking an omega 3 fish oil may be helpful if your diet is low in oily fish consumption. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, algae-based omega 3 oils, or sesame seed oil or ground flax seed are sources for EPA and DHA.
As far as Krill oil is concerned, my opinion is save your money and either eat low-mercury containing oily fish, or buy a good quality omega 3 fish oil.