For decades, the nutritional community has been aware of the benefit of foods high in antioxidant value. However, most research has been limited to reducing the impact of certain types of oxidative stress (which can deteriorate the way cells function in your body) commonly associated in stress-filled lifestyles. We now have evidence to suggest that a certain class of antioxidant can not only reduce your chances of developing cancer and chronic disease, but it can also improve the way your body ages, can reduce any kind of inflammatory response, and reduce the effect of soreness commonly associated with ANY type of physical and endurance-based exercise. What, you may ask, is the name of this antioxidant? Glutathione.
In many recent studies, Glutathione has been shown to positively affect the way your cells divide and repair by protecting the very constituents of DNA stored within them. DNA, as you may know, serves as the blueprint for future cell division, and is bundled into a tight package called a chromosome. At the end of each chromosome rests a “telomere” which has the highly important job of protecting the genetic information contained within the chromosome from outside alteration. Because telomeres are highly susceptible to the oxidative damage of stressful lifestyles, poor nutritional choices, and atmospheric pollutants, their deterioration, and subsequent shortening, is closely linked to development of certain types of cancer, onset of early-aging, and chronic disease. Glutathione is one of the only defenses in the body whose sole responsibility is to safeguard DNA from premature damage associated with early-aging and disease.
For athletes and those who maintain above-average daily activity levels, glutathione has been demonstrated as one of the most important and influential antioxidants in the prevention of illness and overtraining. When the body undergoes extended volumes of aerobic exercise or frequent bouts of high intensity exercise, oxidative stress, in the form of “free radicals”, scavenge muscle tissue, prevent processes by which muscles repair themselves, and compromise overall immune function. The body’s natural means of defense against free radical damage are three endogenous (produced in the body) antioxidants: Catalase, Super Oxide Dismutase (SOD), and Glutathione, of which glutathione is the most powerful. Increased glutathione levels provide athletes with increased strength and endurance, decreased recovery time from injury, less pain/fatigue, and possibly an increase in muscle-promoting activities.
While it is clear that the benefits of glutathione for anyone seeking an improvement in vitality or enhancing one’s athletic resiliency are numerous, increasing the levels of circulating glutathione are not quite as clear. We are aware that glutathione is produced within the cell from a combination of three simple building blocks of protein or amino acids — cysteine, glycine and glutamine. One popular method of boosting glutathione levels is through the oral administration of glutathione itself. However, many studies have shown minimal uptake and usage of glutathione supplements because this delicate molecule is destroyed as it passes through the highly acidic lower GI tract.
Intravenous supplementation of glutathione, however, bypasses the GI tract and delivers glutathione directly to the circulatory system. This method has been documented to be very beneficial in boosting glutathione levels for short periods of time. This makes intravenous glutathione supplementation highly beneficial to athletes who may undergo periods of high volume and high intensity exercise by giving them a heightened (but short-term) tolerance to training stress (i.e. a demanding a race or event).
The only method of chronically boosting glutathione levels in the body is through the consumption of foods that support and increase glutathione production. Here are a few guidelines to follow:
- Consume sulfur-rich foods.
The main glutathione promoters in the diet are garlic, onions and the cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, kale, collards, cabbage, cauliflower, watercress, etc.)
- Fresh fruits and vegetables.
Including an array of fresh, organic produce in the diet is helpful in providing the body with the nutrients it needs to create and sustain elevated glutathione levels.
- Non-denatured, native whey protein.
This is a common ingredient in post-workout supplements. Whey protein contains the highest levels of the full range of naturally-occurring glutathione precursors. This is an essential ingredient into the diet of any athlete.
Because glutathione is regarded as the “master detoxifier” it’s prevalence in the body, for all the reasons mentioned above, is critically important. For this reason it is always recommended to work with a qualified dietician to ensure that any measure aimed at increasing production of this critical nutritional element is as effective as possible.
While practicing methods to promote glutathione production, it is also important to actively minimize the factors contributing to its depletion. Finding a means to reduce stress through practices of meditation, yoga, and low-intensity exercise in conjunction with the nutritional practices that will boost glutathione production is essential. Incorporating a combination of these simple steps into your lifestyle can be the most rewarding practices you can take towards appreciating vibrant wellness.