Alcohol and Glutathione Science
You’ve probably heard about glutathione by now…
It’s being talked about as a brain aid, a liver aid and a possible neutropic, that could enhance brain activity.
The thing is that probably the most important use of glutathione is as a combatter of oxygen. Yes, you need oxygen to survive, but oxygen metabolism results in byproducts, and those can be bad news.
I’m going explain the metabolic process and how glutathione actually works in the body, and how you can naturally increase your levels of glutathione so your body can find that homeostasis that it needs to perform at its best.
How does Oxygen Metabolism work with Glutathione?
Glutathione is actually a peptide. It’s a peptide of 3 different amino acids; it’s glutamic acid, it’s cysteine, and it’s glycine. Those 3 amino acids combined create a peptide that’s also known as GSH, or in this case glutathione.
Glutathione has a lot of different functions within the body but it’s mainly geared towards oxygen metabolism. We have aerobic cells within the body. Those aerobic cells combine oxygen with other components of the body to create energy. Whenever they create energy they have a certain level of cellular waste, aerobic waste and oxygen waste. We are specifically concerned with something called the Reactive Oxygen Species or ROS.
ROS sounds like a horrible thing because it’s a byproduct, otherwise known as cell waste. However it’s also important, because if we don’t have that level of ROS our body never knows how to regulate cell metabolism; it never knows how to regulate energy.
Although it’s not necessarily a bad thing, when it’s present in excess it can become a problem, and that’s where glutathione comes in.
GSH plays a big role in actually mitigating the excess oxygen or the Reactive Oxygen Species that occurs when we have aerobic metabolism. It’s basically a hardcore antioxidant; a free radical eliminator that specifically works with aerobic cells so that we can get the most out of out oxygen and ultimately get the most out of our days in the office, in the workplace, in the gym and at home.
The body is all about balance…
We have these natural negative feedback loops, that always keep things in homeostasis. All of our hormones have this level of homeostasis where they’re always trying to find balance. Whenever you have any kind of cell metabolism as well, there’s always this level of homeostasis; your body is finding balance. If your body goes into a really injured state where the cells are really damaged because you’re over-training, or because you’re super stressed, then your body is going to have a lot more free radicals.
Consequently, to find balance your body is going to increase some of these natural antioxidants. Glutathione is one of most potent options. The body is going to naturally increase those GSH levels so it can bring your body back to normal, keep you in balance. The problem is sometimes our glutathione stores can get depleted. What happens then is we have oxidative stress that overwhelms the body and can make you feel downright miserable and weak.
Let’s talk about the benefits of glutathione, specifically what people seek glutathione out for. It’s protecting you from a lot of toxins, environmental and internal (internal being the cell waste). External toxins includes alcohol, pollution, pesticides, BPA’s, all these different toxins that we’re exposed to daily. Glutathione can help mitigate those, reducing the oxidative stress.
Additionally, glutathione is known to reduce peroxide levels. Basically peroxide, like hydrogen peroxide are natural bleaching agents that are byproducts of cell metabolism as well, and glutathione can help reduce the presence of those in your body.
Glutathione also helps the metabolism, taking some of the stress off the liver so that the liver can produce the enzymes and the hormones that it needs to help metabolize food, fat, sugar, and ultimately make you feel your best.
Then, of course, glutathione is going to help out your immune system. When the body is not under that kind of stress, when the liver is able to do its job, when the brain is able to signal appropriately, then your immune system works better. Your inflammatory responses go down, your immunoglobulins A and B, all those IgA, IgB, IgM immunoglobulins go down and allow your body to heal, plain and simple.
I want to specifically talk about how glutathione works for the brain and the liver…
The brain; the brain makes up 2% of our overall body weight, yet it utilizes 20% of our overall oxygen in the entire body. You do the math right there, and you can figure it out that the brain is running on a high amount of oxygen per overall weight.
What that tells us is there’s going to be a large amount of oxidative stress. There’s also going to be a lot more ROS as a result of oxidative metabolism than there would be anywhere else in the body.
What that means is glutathione is going to be more important in the brain than in any other part of the body. In order for that cell recovery to occur and the cell damage to stop, for our brain cells to stop dying, and for us to be able to actually grow neurologically, we need those levels of glutathione.
Glutathione doesn’t just magically appear in the brain, it has to be synthesized. Generally, the GSH that’s synthesized in the brain comes from a specific amino acid called cysteine, and that cysteine is triggered by a specific enzyme that’s called glutamate cysteine lipase enzyme. That enzyme reacts with the cysteine to create the GSH that allows the brain to recover.
Here’s the kicker: we have so many different components of our brain doing so many different things, that we actually require different precursors for GSH for different components of the brain.
Let’s talk about the liver…
Specifically, how the liver works when it’s metabolizing alcohol, and how glutathione actually plays a pretty big part in that.
When you take a sip of alcohol, as soon as it hits your saliva, it is converted into something called acetaldehyde. Not all of that alcohol is converted into acetaldehyde, only most of it. The remainder travels down into your liver, where the liver converts the rest into acetaldehyde.
News flash, acetaldehyde is probably one of the most toxic things that you can possibly consume.
So, what does the liver do? The liver prioritizes the metabolism of that acetaldehyde. It stops it in its tracks and it does everything that it can, stopping all other metabolic processes to make sure that it can break down this acetaldehyde.
How does it do that? It uses glutathione or GSH. Glutathione actually neutralizes the acetaldehyde. It neutralizes it to about the acidity of vinegar. The ability of the GSH to turn something that’s extremely toxic into something that’s not all that toxic shows the importance of glutathione in the liver.
Now, if you’re exhausted, or if you’re training hard, or you’re overall just fatigued or stressed out, then your glutathione levels are going to be depleted. Your overall aminos that make up those glutathione stores are going to be depleted, which means your liver isn’t going to be able to process that acetaldehyde. Which means all the other metabolic processes go in the back burner, creating enzymes, digesting food, creating bile, all the things that are necessary for survival get put on hold and your liver is just churning, and churning, and working really, really hard to produce this glutathione.
You’re probably wondering: okay, well how do I boost my glutathione levels?
How do I specifically boost my glutathione levels if I’m going out with my friends, and want to have a drink?
Right now the evidence is pretty inconclusive. There’s not a lot of science supporting the exogenous use of pure glutathione. You see since that glutathione response is a negative feedback response based on your body trying to find homeostasis to different situations, taking exogenous glutathione may not actually impact your overall glutathione stores.
However, what is being shown is if you take the precursors to glutathione, like some of these amino acids, particularly cysteine, your body is able to produce more glutathione.
You’re better off giving your body the fuel to actually produce glutathione, than you are just taking an exogenous supplement.
Another thing that you can do is take milk thistle. If you take milk thistle then you can take some of the stress off the liver, so the liver can produce more glutathione and can properly dispose of the toxins it’s dealing with.
At the end of the day…
This isn’t a fix-all for all of your problems, but supporting your liver health, balancing your body and boosting your immune system will definitely help get you on the right track.
1) Glutathione Information: What is GSH, Biochemistry, Metabolism, and Mechanism of Action. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.essentialgsh.com/
2) Retrieved from http://aldh2deficiency.com/
3) Hangover Hacks You Can Hang Your Hat On. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://articles.mercola.com/
4) Hangover Prevention – 2 – Alcohol, Liver, Glutathione – Life Extension Health Concern. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.lifeextension.com/