Imagine you're a cell.
Inside your body runs the machinery that creates life itself. But as that machinery keeps running, day after day, you begin to get worn out - the friction and the processes that cause damage (here the "free-radicals" - highly destructive little entities generated by biochemical processes, as well as pollutants, UV radiation and other sources) start to create havoc and you begin to lose the battle to disease, old age and ultimately death.
In fact your battle would be over much sooner were it not for the numerous mechanisms that you and other mammalian cells evolved over millions of years, as protection from the injury that can result from your normal functional processes. The foremost among these internal protective systems is the "Glutathione antioxidant system."
Glutathione, a small molecule composed of three amino acids - glycine, glutamate and cysteine - acts as your cellular Super-Mop, soaking up "free-radicals" (with the help of the sulfur-containing portion of the cysteine molecule), protecting your cellular membranes and internal organs from the cascading destruction they can cause.
Besides being the major antioxidant that you produce as protection from "free-radicals," glutathione is also a very important detoxifying agent, enabling you to get rid of undesirable toxins and pollutants. If you were a liver, kidney or lung cell, you would contain high levels of glutathione, as you'd be exposed to the greatest levels of toxins.
Glutathione also helps you dispose of many cancer- producing chemicals, heavy metals, drug metabolites etc. that invade the pristine recesses of your cellular world. And Mother Nature (the first recycler) also designed you to use glutathione to recycle other well-known antioxidants such as vitamin C and vitamin E, keeping them in their active state.
If you were a cell delegated to the immune system department, you would require glutathione for many of the intricate steps needed to carry out your essential immune response functions - such as multiplying to make many clones of yourself, to mount a full-bodied immune response, or "neutralizing" undesirable elements of the cellular community, like cancerous or virally infected cells.
But your finicky cell membrane does not allow whole glutathione molecules to cross over directly into your cellular spaces. And every time a molecule of glutathione neutralizes a destructive free-radical or toxin, it fatally binds with the undesirable element and is washed out with them in the bile or the urine.
So how do you replenish your stores and get your daily fix of glutathione? Simple. You manufacture it in your cellular factory, from its raw materials - glycine, glutamate and cysteine.
If your human eats a diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables and freshly prepared meats, you should get be getting enough glutamate and glycine. But cystine comes mostly from eggs, milk and cheese. And when eggs, milk and cheese are cooked or processed, the composition of Cystine is changed to Cysteine (small difference in spelling, but BIG difference in action). While still a valuable protein, it can no longer feed your glutathione levels.
If you can get a sufficient supply of cysteine (which determines the rate at which you can make glutathione), your arsenal is well- stocked. If not, you and your human are at a strategic disadvantage in the battle of "Cell v/s Free-radical Destroyers."
As a normal, healthy cell, increasing your glutathione levels could help you and your human maintain that strategic advantage in the battle against free-radicals. If you're not really in your prime, boosting your levels could tip the scales in your favor, and help you fight the cellular damage that causes disease and aging.
Copyright 2002 Priya Shah
About the author:
Priya Shah is the Editor of The Glutathione Report, a newsletter featuring regular updates on the health benefits of glutathione. Get a Free report on Glutathione in Health and Disease