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the Master Detoxifier

More than 81,000 scientific papers and 100 years of research have established glutathione (GSH) as one of the most important molecules in the human body. Glutathione (pronounced glute-a-thigh-own) is an essential multipurpose compound. It’s a tripeptide, meaning that it’s made up of 3 amino acids, namely glycine, glutamic acid, and cysteine.

GSH is: 1) our body’s master detoxifier; 2) the mother of all antioxidants; 3) the protector of our DNA; 4) one of the most important nutrients for the production of ATP, the molecule of energy; and 5) a key to the immune system.

There are two forms of GSH: reduced glutathione (the good form), and oxidized GSH (the bad form). GSH levels are determined through blood testing, but it is essential to have this test done by a lab that tests for both forms of GSH. Some labs lump the two together, which makes the test worthless.

The Mother Antioxidant

There are hundreds of antioxidants, but only five core antioxidants, namely: glutathione, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, alpha lipoic acid, and CoQ10. These five work synergistically with each other. All other antioxidants work to support these five. Let’s talk about free radicals and antioxidants. Free radicals are positively charged molecules that strip electrons from healthy tissue in order to become neutralized. Free radicals are caused by environmental toxicity, aging, lack of barefoot contact with the earth, inflammation, and in the normal production of ATP, the molecule of energy.

Free radicals get neutralized in two ways:
1) through prolonged barefoot contact with the earth. The earth is covered with a layer of free electrons. When we’re in direct contact with the earth, billions of free electrons enter our body every second. Those free electrons from the earth neutralize free radicals, and 2) through antioxidants. Antioxidants donate an electron to neutralize free radicals. Here is what makes the core five antioxidants unique. When Vitamin C donates a free electron to neutralize a free radical, that molecule of Vitamin C would become worthless, but GSH (or one of the other main antioxidants) donates an electron to Vitamin C, making it complete again and ready to do its work as an antioxidant. Glutathione is the centerpiece of all the antioxidants.

The Master Detoxifier

Through GSH our body neutralizes toxins. Every cell should be loaded with GSH. The liver, in particular, has huge amounts of GSH. If a person’s toxic burden is too great, GSH starts to get used up. The more toxicity a person is exposed to the more that GSH gets depleted. Once GSH becomes depleted, chronic illness sets in. GSH is deficient in autism, CFS/ME, heart disease, cancer, arthritis, and almost all chronic health conditions.

Around 1988, doctors treating and researching CFS/ME (chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalopathy) were realizing that most of these patients were deficient in GSH. Therefore, finding ways to boost GSH has been part of the treatment of CFS/ME for nearly 25 years. Later on, you’ll learn how to boost GSH levels. Over the last decade a new piece of the GSH puzzle started to come into focus.

Glutathione is closely tied to a biochemical process called “the methylation pathway.” This pathway has to be working correctly in order for glutathione to be produced. If there is a “methylation blockade,” GSH production gets blocked. I use Vitamin Diagnostics Lab to test for the methylation blockade and for GSH.

Environmental toxicity has polluted the world at an alarming pace. Each of us has hundreds of toxins in our body. As the years roll by, the amount of toxins in our bodies grows, and as toxicity mounts, GSH gets depleted.

Co-Factor for Energy

ATP, the molecule of energy, is made in our cells’ mitochondria, as the final product of the Krebs cycle. The Krebs cycle is like an eight-cylinder car. Every time the Krebs cycle completes one cycle, ATP is produced. In order for our bodies to build compounds, energy is needed. Let’s say we are talking about building protein. Amino acids are the building blocks that, once assembled, make proteins. ATP is the energy source that allows the building of a protein. Similarly, when our body needs to break down a compound, the energy comes from ATP.

Eighty percent of the oxygen we breathe is burned in this one reaction, the Krebs cycle. Glutathione is one of the most important nutrients required for healthy amounts of ATP. If we are deficient in GSH, the Krebs Cycle runs like an old V-8 engine that has a couple of cylinders blown. Imagine you’re driving this old car up a steep hill on only five or six cylinders. You will be praying that your car makes it to the top of the hill. When we are deficient in GSH, the Krebs cycle is impaired and we can feel like the car that’s missing some cylinders. Because ATP is essential for life, ATP deficiency does not cause 1 or 2 obvious symptoms. Rather, our overall health deteriorates.

DNA Protection

Our cells are supposed to be loaded with GSH, which protects our DNA from ultraviolet rays from the sun. When GSH is depleted, our DNA is not protected from UV rays. Damaged DNA leads to chronic illness and premature aging. Free radicals are a more important risk to DNA. Our DNA is estimated to be taking 10,000 hits per day, per cell, from free radicals, leading to disease and premature aging. We now have the power to protect our DNA, by increasing glutathione. GSH is an important anti-aging molecule. When mosquitoes were given high glutathione doses, they lived 40% longer than normal mosquitoes.

As mentioned earlier, GSH gets depleted when there is a lot of toxicity in our body. Glutathione gets rid of as many toxins as it can, but when there is too much toxicity, GSH starts to get used up. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) depletes GSH. Acetaminophen and aspirin have battled in the marketplace. Unless a person has a specific problem with aspirin, such as acid reflux, aspirin is a better, safer compound than acetaminophen, which can damage the liver.

Immune System

The immune system works most efficiently if immune system cells have a delicately balanced level of glutathione. White blood cells known as lymphocytes are increased by GSH, which is also vital to the activity of “natural killer” or NK cells. NK cells circulate in the blood, killing bacteria, viruses, yeast, parasites, and cancer cells. Research indicates that boosting glutathione produces significant improvement in HIV-AIDS.

Restoring Glutathione

You’ve got a good idea now how important GSH is. Here’s what to do about it: 1) If you have a chronic health problem, test for GSH as well as a methylation blockade, 2) If there is a methylation blockade, treat that first. There are 5 specific products that lift the methylation blockade. These products have been delineated by Dr. Amy Yasko (, 3) If GSH is depleted but methylation is normal, focus on getting rid of toxicity (which depletes GSH), and take key nutrients to rebuild GSH.

The “rate-limiting step” in the production of GSH is the amino acid cysteine, one of the 3 amino acids that make up GSH. A form of cysteine, called “N-Acetyl-Cysteine” (NAC) is easily absorbed from the digestive tract, enters our 70 trillion cells and makes GSH. NAC is the first product recommended for boosting GSH levels. Another GSH booster is a special form of whey protein called “un-denatured whey protein,” which is processed at low temperatures. These products, with names that include Immunocal, Biologically Pure Protein, and ImmunoPlus, contain large amounts of cysteine and are proven to boost GSH levels.

Glutathione can be ingested. Sometimes it is absorbed very well, and sometimes not as well. GSH can also be administered through an IV. Doctors doing IV chelation and nutritional IVs usually include GSH in their IVs.

Other nutrients that boost GSH are: Alpha lipoic acid (one of the five core antioxidants), magnesium, selenium, Vitamin C, E, CoQ10, omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamin B12, B6, and folic acid. Of these, alpha lipoic acid is the most important.

Extensive scientific research has shown us one of the most fundamental causes of illness, namely GSH depletion.

Here are three important things to remember:

1. Whatever health challenge you have, it is probably caused, at least in part, by deficient GSH levels. 

2. Glutathione gets depleted by age, stress, infection, malnutrition, injury, acidic diet, prescription and recreational drugs, heavy metals, cigarette smoke, and all forms of toxicity.

3. Increased glutathione levels will improve your overall health, and help reverse most chronic illness.

Glutathione holds out hope that we can protect our DNA, increase our energy, slow down aging, stop disease before it starts, reverse chronic illness, and boost our immune system. GSH is essential to know about, easy to test for, and easy to restore healthy levels.

David Gersten, M.D. practices Nutritional Medicine and Integrative Psychiatry out of his Encinitas office and can be reached at 760-633-3063. Please feel free to access information about holistic health, amino acids, and nutritional therapy at