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L-Glutathione, The Skin’s Key Antioxidant:
Theodore Hersh, MD, MACG
Professor of Medicine, Emeritus, Emory University
To retaliate against invaders, countries set up armies and other
defensive measures. To retaliate against toxic chemicals called
free radicals, the body has a well-developed antioxidant system.
The prime antioxidant is L-glutathione, known as GSH by the scientific
community and this summary will introduce you to this remarkable
What are free radicals? Free radicals are created during a cell’s
normal metabolism, but countless more are produced from many other
sources including inflammatory reactions and infectious conditions,
environmental pollutants in the air we breathe, the tobacco we smoke
and smoke inhaled from other smokers, as well as from chewing tobacco.
Free radicals are also created from exposure to ultraviolet sunlight,
artificial radiation, and radio therapy. These free radicals alter
DNA, causing mutations that lead to cancers. Free radicals may cause
premature cell death and are contributors to premature aging and
more than 50 diseases including cardiovascular disease, bronchitis
and emphysema, cancer of the skin, mouth, throat, esophagus and
lung, immune disorders, arthritis, neurological disorders, AIDS
and Alzheimer’s disease, to name but a few.
What are antioxidants? Antioxidants scavenge and neutralize oxygen
and other free radicals species to a less toxic or non-toxic compound.
While the human body has built-in antixidant mechanisms to suppress
uncontrolled free radicals, which may lead to cellular damage, these
mechanisms may fail due to a combination of overwhelming production
of free radicals or a depletion of critical compounds used by the
body’s antioxidant defense mechanisms. An overabundance of
free radicals in the body can lead to a condition known as “oxidative
stress”, which causes cell death.
What is L-glutathione? L-glutathione (GSH), the body’s prime
antioxidant is composed of three amino acids, glycine, cysteine
and glutamine. Glutathione is synthesized mainy in the liver and
can be transported from the blood to most of the body’s cells.
Glutathione plays a critical role in the aging process and in preventing
the damaging effects of ultraviolet radiation to the skin, a phenomenon
known as photoaging. It helps the fight against wrinkles. The oxygen
and other free radicals generated in the skin by the sun’s
rays or by artificial lights as in tanning booths, also increase
the skin’s damage and the risk of developing skin cancers,
including malignant melanomas. GSH and its synergistic antioxidants
in skin help protect against photoaging and lessen the occurrence
of these malignancies. Sun protection with clothing, hats, sun glasses
and sunscreens are paramount defenses. Cosmetics with antioxidants
help restore the skin’s own defenses and combat free radicals
generated by ultraviolet radiation.
GSH levels inside the cells must be maintained in order to have
healthy cells and a strong defense system. Cells die without adequate
levels of glutathione. However, to provide its beneficial effect,
GSH must work synergistically with the other cellular and tissue
antioxidants including selenium and vitamins C and E. Much of glutathione
is supplied from the diet, either as intact GSH or its component
amino acids, particularly cysteine, from fruits, vegetables, liver,
meats, fowl and fish. GSH protects against inhaled or ingested environmental
pollutants and chemicals both in the respiratory tract and in the
small intestine. GSH helps protect our lungs and also helps regulate
immunologic function in the white blood cells called lymphocytes.
Low GSH levels in lymphocytes allow easier replication of the Human
Immunodeficiency Virus and Hepatitis C Virus. Thus, the importance
of maintaining GSH and its synergistic antioxidant partners.
Much is certain: GSH is the prime antioxidant in our body’s
cells and fluids, and it works in concert with the other antioxidants
to prevent or protect us from oxidative stress. GSH levels are decreased
in the elderly, the sun lover, the tanning enthusiast, the smoker,
the alcohol imbiber, the fatty foods glutton, among others. In this
era of preventive medicine, L-glutathione plays a significant role
in helping to maintain health and probably even youth!
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