Glutathione: The Body's Master Antioxidant
Interview with Dr. Stephen Langer
Interviewed by Tom Audette
April 23, 2010
Tom Audette: We’re meeting this morning with Doctor Stephen Langer, a medical doctor in private practice in Berkley, California. Good morning, Doctor.
Dr. Stephen Langer: Good morning, Tom.
TA: We’d like to talk about an interesting molecule called glutathione, which has actually been called in some cases the body’s master antioxidant. It is tripeptide, made up of three other amino acids, l-cysteine, l-glutamine and glycine. Doctor, how did you first become interested in glutathione?
SL: Well as you said it’s the body’s master antioxidant. It’s in every single cell in our body, from our hair follicles to our toenails. And I have specialized in the treatment of thyroid problems for decades now in my Berkley, California practice, and this is the first molecule that I’ve come across that has really stoked my fires as much as the thyroid hormone has because it’s so important to every cell in our body. Without it, we would not be able to be alive basically.
TA: That’s a very interesting point. Because with something that’s as important as that, why is it that we haven’t heard more about it? It’s been around a long time, but most people don’t know what it is.
SL: Scientists have known about it, and as you said it’s the master antioxidant. It is produced naturally by our bodies inside of every single cell, so a lot of people for a long time did not feel that we needed supplementation. And then when the molecule itself was synthesized – in other words was put together by various chemical ways of getting the molecules to stick together – and tests were done both on animal subjects and on human subjects, the feeling was that the concentration levels of the glutathione were not sufficient to be interested in it as a supplement because they didn’t feel that it actually got across the GI tract. In fact, what the scientists thought was going on was that the molecule was broken down into the component amino acids digestive tract, went across the digestive system into our bloodstreams and then was reconstituted in the cells as glutathione, and in fact scientific studies have shown that this is not the case a hundred percent. In other words, it does break down into component molecules, but part of the glutathione is actually transmitted into the cells intact, and in fact the scientists were looking at the wrong sample; they were looking at serum levels rather than tissue samples. In recent years when actual tissues were looked at, the glutathione levels went up when glutathione was taken, so there is a direct cause and effect relationship by taking oral glutathione and getting elevated glutathione levels in the body.
TA: So in other words what they were first looking at, they see it disassemble back into the three amino acids that form it, that make it, and when they say that they said that’s where they stop. You’re not getting any benefit out of it.
SL: For the benefit of people watching this and aren’t sure what an amino acid, amino acids are molecules that are components of every single protein that we have. Every protein is made up of a variety of amino acids, so protein means a primary importance, and three of these many amino acids together are the premier antioxidants, again every cell in the body, and it does many other things besides act as an antioxidant. But if it was only an antioxidant it would still be one of the most important molecules that our bodies make.
TA: So we want to talk about some of the other things that it does besides being an antioxidant, which as you said is certainly very important, in fact a primary importance to us just as an antioxidant, but what are some of the other things that it does?
SL: Well in addition to being a master antioxidant, it’s a master detoxifier.
SL: In other words, our bodies all day long are bombarded with pollutants, toxins, heavy metals, microorganisms, i.e. germs of different sorts that the body has to detoxify and eliminate to keep us healthy. There are eighty thousand chemicals that are known in our food supply now, most of which we don’t know actually what- the government is just only getting around to doing research on what these chemicals are doing in our bodies. GSH is the first line of defense to detoxify any of these chemicals that can cause harm in the body, and it’s only when the body is overwhelmed and the GSH is overwhelmed that we get into trouble, but the GSH will actually in a two-step process take these toxins and actually make them water soluble if they’re not water soluble and then neutralize them and eliminate them either in our bowel movements during the day or in our sweat or through our urine, which are the three major ways that we excrete toxins in the body.
TA: And the body’s major organ for dealing with toxins is of course the liver.
SL: It’s the major organ, but of course the other two major organs are the kidneys and then the skin.
TA: That’s right.
SL: And it’s interesting, the liver is the major detoxifying organ in the body as well as doing other things, but sticking with detoxification it is so important that there it literally at any one time fifteen grams of glutathione in the body, the liver has at least four grams of the fifteen grams, so almost a third a the glutathione of all of our cells in the body are concentrated in the liver; it’s so necessary there for detox and for antioxidation.
TA: So let’s talk a little bit about glutathione and the importance as we said early of the body producing glutathione itself. It does this every day; it needs to do this constantly. Is this a uniform thing throughout our life, or at a certain point do we find we’re having a harder time doing that?
SL: Well like every other physiological factoid in our existence, as we age the concentrations of these essential nutrients start to be depleted as we get older, they go south for the winter as it were. Up through the age of forty- actually starting at age twenty you get a gradual decline, sticking with glutathione. It starts to speed up at forty, and when a person reaches age sixty it takes a precipitous drop, and I would venture to say that most people over the age of sixty are not manufacturing an optimal amount of glutathione to keep their bodies healthy.
TA: And going back to what we said earlier, most people have never even heard of it; they don’t even know that this is a problem.
SL: To give you an example, since glutathione is manufactured by the body it is not considered- even though it is the master molecule that we discussed, it’s not considered an essential nutrient like a vitamin or a mineral or an essential fatty acid which we have to get every day from our food. This is manufactured by the body, so a hundred percent certainty of exactly how much glutathione is necessary is not clinically known. It’s thought to be around 250 to 300 milligrams a day. The average American diet – that is if you’re absorbing the food – contains only 35 to 85 milligrams a day, so most people just by virtue of what they’re getting in their diet are depleted by more than two-thirds. And then when you superimpose on that that people have GI disturbances, have thyroid disorders and have lots of other disorders that actually impact on the ability to absorb, and once it’s actually absorbed to utilize these nutrients, people are really deficient in this master molecule. And it’s incumbent, I think, on most people who are interested in optimal health, peak performance and anti-aging to supplement their diet every day with glutathione and the complimentary supplements that give you the building blocks of the glutathione to get a complete package.
TA: You said by the time you’re sixty and beyond that your ability to product glutathione is really decreased.
SL: It’s really decreased, and not trying to be sexist by there is a sexual bias as far as the rate of decline after age sixty. It seems that women have a much steeper rate of decline after age sixty than men do, so it’s particularly important for a woman to be getting supplemental glutathione after age sixty to protect their bodies, again to protect their performance and to keep their bodies from aging. It is the premier anti-aging nutrient that a person can take now to stay vital for as long as they’re alive.