What if your body could produce a master detoxifying molecule that could be used to treat and prevent cancer, aging, disease, Alzheimer’s, autism, and autoimmune disorders? Well, it can! It is an antioxidant called glutathione (GSH). In fact, its medical importance for the integrity of the immune system and for its role in detoxification processes has been studied so thoroughly that there are over 70,000 articles on glutathione on Pub Med alone.
The unfortunate fact and one that I will go on to explain later is that for the chronically ill, GSH deficiency is prevalent and difficult to counter. That is my main motivation for writing this post. I want to share my experience as a “moldy” learning about my own GSH levels and how to use different forms of GSH and/or specific protocols to boost its natural production in my body. Successfully increasing my GSH was a turning point in my recovery, because detoxification became easier and more effective inside my body. So, even though some of this information will seem dense, I really want to share it with you, because understanding how GSH works to prevent toxic build up and to counter the cellular damage caused by mold might help you heal.
First, let me say that I realize that a discussion on glutathione is nothing new (remember all of those articles I mentioned?), especially if you have taken a dive into the natural healing and naturopathic realm. Many of the most influential biohackers (Rhonda Patrick, Ben Greenfield, Robb Wolff, Dave Asprey) and well-known medical and naturopathic doctors (Wendy Myers, Joseph Mercola, Mark Hyman and Chris Kresser) tout its benefits and some have even created their own supplemental form of it. But, why? What is glutathione? Why does your body need it? And, what can it make any difference in your recovery from environmental, mold, or chronic illness, and/or autoimmune issues?
What is Glutathione?
The medical definition:
“/glu·ta·thi·one/ (gloo″tah-thi´ōn) a tripeptide of glutamic acid, cysteine, and glycine, existing in reduced (GSH) and oxidized (GSSG) forms and functioning in various redox reactions: in the destruction of peroxides and free radicals, as a cofactor for enzymes, and in the detoxification of harmful compounds. It is also involved in the formation and maintenance of disulfide bonds in proteins and in transport of amino acids across cell membranes.” (Dorland’s Medical Dictionary for Health Consumers)
Now, for my explanation in layman’s terms:
Glutathione is a naturally-occurring, intracellular, master antioxidant. It is different from the other antioxidants, like vitamins A, C, E, CoQ10, etc., because it is located inside of your cells. GSH is comprised of a protein, and 3 amino acids—cysteine, glutamate, and glycine. Its role is to help your body oxidize toxins and free radicals and to help other antioxidants work better. When GSH levels in your body are optimal, toxins that enter your body really don’t stand a chance.
Here is why:
Because your overall health is largely dependent on the health of your cells. It is aptly said that, “You have to fix the cell to get well.” Cells are the foundation of health. For example, sick, toxic cells equal a sick, congested, inflamed body. Thus, YOU HAVE TO FIX THE CELL, allow the good things to penetrate, and the bad things (toxins) to escape, TO GET WELL!
Our DNA is located inside the nucleus of our cells. The DNA creates RNA, which create proteins, which create, well, us. And, even when DNA is removed from a cell, the actual cell continues on. Thus, the health of the cell dictates everything. This has actually been illustrated incredibly well in science when DNA from a cancer cell is removed and placed inside a healthy cell. You might expect the cancerous DNA to turn the healthy cell to cancerous one. Surprisingly, this is not the case. The healthy cell actually destroys the cancerous DNA. Conversely, if healthy DNA is put inside a sick cancer cell, the cell still stays sick.
Since GSH is an antioxidant created at the cellular level to keep cells healthy and to oxidize any challenges to the cell (toxins, stress, cancer, chemicals, etc.), it is extremely important for your body to maintain its ability to produce adequate amounts of GSH. If your body cannot do this, your toxin levels build and are stored in your fats and tissues. When this occurs, of course, your health declines as the need and length of time to detoxify increases.
GSH is molecule designed to protect your cells, your DNA, and the mitochondria or the powerhouse of the cell from toxins, stress, and invaders. It exists to protect cellular energy, cellular health, and is the basis for which all of your body systems run. In addition, GSH has the ability to work with other antioxidants to help them to work better. So, when you take vitamin C for a cold, or eat extra vegetables at dinner, your GSH is boosted and helps those antioxidants you’re your body.
GSH production decreases as we age and is also determined by the toxic burden of our mothers and our genetics. Some people actually have a genetic mutation that inhibits their ability to produce adequate levels of GSH for detoxification. It has also been shown that people fighting diseases, like cancer, diabetes, HIV, autoimmune patients, mold patients, or people with Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS) have lower and depleted levels of GSH. In this case, this is likely due to its being used to constantly fight cellular damage and inflammation. It also makes sense that the highest concentrations of GSH in your body are located in your liver cells—one of the most important detoxifying systems in your body. This is one of the main reasons I make sure to incorporate liver support supplements in my wellness protocol. Keeping the liver primed for detoxification also helps to keep GSH levels up.
GSH and Environmental Illness:
When something like mold toxins enter the picture, mycotoxins in your body can block your ability to detox. Dr. Chris Shade a well-known expert on detoxification even suggests that mold, neoplastic diseases, and viruses all have the ability to shut down the GSH pathway as a way of creating a more habitable environment for themselves. In essence, the mold confuses the cell, so that detox pathways are blocked. That is why some toxicologists who have studied water-damaged building syndrome say that mycotoxins can quite literally poison your mitochondria.
I think that this is precisely why so many of us “moldys” become allergic to everything. Our cells are already going haywire, so our bodies negatively react to once innocuous things, like foods, perfumes, dyes, etc. The food sensitivity part is also a by-product of the intestinal permeability that occurs when mold enters the body and begins to affect the digestive tract and elimination pathways. When this is going on, glutathione production gets turned off. Without proper glutathione levels our bodies become toxin accumulators, which makes matters even worse. When inflammation is elevated, the body is producing oxidants to try and kill off offending pathogens. Since detoxification is primarily an anti-oxidant process, when inflammation is high then detoxification will necessarily be lower, resulting in the body hanging onto toxins.
Dr. Dennis explains what goes on in mold patients this way:
“The liver and kidneys are key in removing mycotoxins. People with mycotoxicosis usually have lower glutathione levels in their kidneys, liver, and red blood cells, thus they cannot get rid of the mold toxins as well as normal people. So, providing supplemental GSH is essential to assisting the liver and kidneys in removing the mycotoxins (and other toxins such as heavy metals when present) from the body.”
This is also why the main focus for people with sickness and toxicity triggered by mold need to get totally out of the moldy environment FIRST before any healing can take place. As long as the main antigen is still present, the body will continue to concentrate all of its efforts in responding to the threat. You cannot rebuild a house if it is still on fire. The same is true for a person trying to get well while still living in a moldy home. All of your efforts, supplements, and therapies will be rendered ineffective the minute you return to the mold. That is why I always say, “Do whatever it takes to get in a mold-safe space. That is the most important piece of getting better.”
Otherwise, the hard truth is that if the toxin, like mold, continues to trigger the immune system, eventually, glutathione stores can be used up. When this happens, marked deficiency induces widespread cellular damage. This damage eventually creates the myriad symptoms that characterize Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS) or environmental illness. Toxic mold actually produces toxins that are potent neurotoxins that impact cognition. This is why many mold victims experience diminished brain function, memory loss, and/or brain fog that is particularly alarming.
For me, after our mold ordeal, even after I recovered a lot of components of my health, my energy levels and brain function were still compromised. Not much that I was doing, or that my doctors were doing to help me was working. It wasn’t until I started supplementing daily with GSH, in addition to the Dennis body protocol, that these two things began to improve. For me, that was the turning point that made me feel like I would recover and get through. And, as those things got better, my immune function improved, my digestive issues abated, and my depression lifted.
How Do I Know If My Glutathione Levels Are Low?
First, before any diagnostics are discussed, I want to say that the majority of doctors, naturopaths and healthcare practitioners I have interviewed say that most Americans over the age of 40 eating the standard American Diet, living stressful lives, taking statin or other daily health maintenance prescription drugs, and being exposed to chemical and environmental toxins every single day have sub-optimal levels of glutathione. Since low GSH is a precursor to disease, cancer, and immune dysfunction, you can see why our health as a population seems to be deteriorating, with the prevalence of chronic illness on the rise even as acute medical needs decrease.
There are definitely symptoms of low glutathione, such as low energy, dizziness, brain fog, getting sick often, rashes, respiratory problems, asthma, depression, headaches, and onset of chronic illness or disease, among others. But, my advice, especially if you suspect mold is causing your health issues, like if you have become increasingly sick after moving into a new home or office, or after there has been flooding or water damage in your home, is to get a naturopathic doctor or a medical doctor experienced with environmental illness involved in your health. They will be able to examine you, get your health history and environmental story, and perform testing. You can even ask them to measure and test your glutathione levels.
I have personally experienced two tests. One was a test by Labcorp that measured total glutathione in my blood. This gave me a general idea and was relatively inexpensive. It is not the best indicator, though, because it is only a snapshot at a moment in time. The second, and I feel the best kind of glutathione-specific testing, measured glutathione in its reduced and oxidized form. This type of test gives you a way to compare GSH levels to that of other antioxidants in your body. This will better answer the question of how well glutathione is working as an antioxidant. In other words, is GSH at concentrations that will protect my cells from damage and prevent toxicity? With this test, the more negative the number, the better. This test is the Health Diagnostics Research Institute Methylation Panel. This is rather expensive (about $300 plus the cost of shipping the blood to the lab) and must be ordered by a doctor, naturopath or chiropractor. It measures a lot more than glutathione, but it is extremely useful in looking at the overall nutritional health of your body and in seeing methylation pathway metabolites. This provides what you should really be after, which is a helpful frame of reference for how your body is using and processing all nutrition, toxins, supplements, etc. There are many websites that also offer reference ranges for this test and ways to interpret the data once you receive it. I found this to be incredibly helpful, as at this point in my journey, I was learning more and more about how nutrition, environment, toxic load, and genetics were working together to make or break my recovery.
The other track to take, and I will get further into this later, would be to do things to increase your GSH levels, both naturally and with supplements, like Dr. Dennis mentioned. If you do this and find yourself feeling markedly better with a decrease in symptoms, then you probably needed the extra boost.
So, now what? Should everyone just start taking GSH?
I wish the answer was easy. Because glutathione is a cellular antioxidant, ideally you would want to stimulate the body’s feedback loop with anything you do to increase it. The feedback loop is the mechanism inside your body that says, “Hey, I’m running low on this substance that I really need. I’ll make more.” Sometimes supplementing too rigorously can interfere with the feedback loop, causing your body to rely on outside sources to achieve optimal levels. The best way to avoid this is to use natural glutathione boosters, rather than oral or intravenous supplements.
Healthier individuals can implement any of these strategies immediately to advance their health with little to no side effects or risk.
Natural GSH Boosters:
- Start with your diet.
There are many foods that have been proven to boost GSH levels in the body over time. The most effective being grass-fed, non-denatured whey protein, because it supplies cysteine, a precursor to GSH. One I use is Renaissance Activated Whey by Logos Nutritionals and has been formulated for easy digestion and absorption. Whey protein stimulates metabolism as well and is extremely bioavailable. Another high-quality whey protein is from Levels Nutrition. Sulfur-containing, cruciferous vegetables, like Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, raw garlic, onions, leeks, and shallots have also been shown to boost GSH. Asparagus, avocado, raw eggs and milk, turmeric, walnuts, and unprocessed lean meats are also natural boosters.
- Get regular exercise. Exercise boosts GSH, your immune system, detoxifies your body, and enhances antioxidant production.
- Add supplements that enhance GSH synthesis and function. Melatonin, alpha lipoic acid, and milk thistle all help with this.
- Use colostrum and colostrum-containing immune enhancers as accompanying supplements that raise glutathione.
- Make sure your vitamin levels are where they need to be. (This information can be gleaned from a complete blood panel which is covered by most insurance.) All cofactors of GSH production (vitamins C and E, B1, B2, B6, B12, folate (B9), selenium, magnesium and zinc) are necessary in sufficient quantities. Their deficiencies are detrimental to GSH metabolism.
Obviously, some people need a more targeted and aggressive approach, especially those who are already very sick from things like mold and whose GSH levels are already depleted. All of these types of interventions require a doctor’s prescription and care but can be extremely effective and life-changing for someone struggling to get well. These people should be less concerned with the feedback loop and more concerned with getting their bodies adequate GSH to promote detoxification.
Raising Glutathione with Supplementation and Prescription Drugs:
Since I am obviously not a doctor or medical practitioner, I asked Dr. Dennis for his opinion to help me with this section of the post.
(Note: While these are used in Dr. Dennis’ medical chapter, this information should not be taken as personal medical advice. None of this information is intended to be used to diagnose or treat any disease.)
According to Dr. Dennis’s experience, the forms of GSH that work the best orally are acetyl GSH or liposomal GSH. The liposomal form is obviously better because it can instantly be taken up and utilized by the cells. Readisorb Liposomal GSH is his recommended brand for his patients.
I actually take the acetyl GSH (acetyl GSH is stable in the digestive tract and is easily absorbed) in cycles now. And, it is important to note that since GSH is essential for life, it can be taken as long as necessary. Other forms of oral GSH are broken down too much during digestion and are not found to be as effective. GSH can also be given via oral nebulizer or IV, but, of course those must be prescribed by a physician. I know of a family who used the nebulized form and had incredible upswings in their health and respiratory healing after their toxic mold ordeal.
None of the products or supplements that Dr. Dennis formulated or developed for MicroBalance contain GSH, but, like I said previously, using something like Sinus Defense that contains Colostrum naturally boosts and impedes depletion of GSH over time.
Also, according to Dr. Dennis, GSH works much better to treat mycotoxicosis when the liver is detoxified at the same time. Since the liver is the master detoxification organ and contains the most GSH, both phase I and phase II of the liver detoxification pathways should be cleared and functioning for GSH supplementation to be maximized by the body. Using 100% oxygen is also beneficial for GSH production and synthesis in mold patients because all patients with mycotoxicosis have internal capillary wall swelling (edema) which slows down or blocks blood flow. (Note: This type of oxygen therapy can be accessed with a doctor’s prescription in tank form through medical supply companies. The exact times per day and duration of usage is dependent on your doctor’s assessment and recommendations.) Mold toxins are very caustic to these sensitive cells, so GSH has little effect on removing mycotoxins in the deeper fatty tissue without oxygen.
I hope you find this information more helpful than intimidating and feel encouraged to pursue optimizing your own glutathione levels for better health.
Please comment and write to me if you have any questions or a topic you would like for me to cover in a future post. I welcome any feedback from you.