Written By: Kevin Cann
A conversation I had with Dr. Terry Wahls the other day made me want to revisit one of my past articles and add to it. In this article, http://robbwolf.com/2013/03/13/understanding-combating-oxidative-stress-huntingtons-disease/ , I explained the importance of intracellular glutathione in combatting oxidative damage. I also made the recommendation of N-Acetyl-Cysteine to aid in the production of the powerful antioxidant. Dr. Wahls said this to me “When I used supplements – I slowed my decline, when I designed my food supply to get those same nutrients – my strength began to return. Print that and put up where you work – stare it every day. The supplement studies are best used to guide how we create the food plans.” Keeping that statement in mind I will address foods that can aid in glutathione synthesis.
The first step in producing glutathione is catalyzed by gamma-glutamylcystein synthase. This enzyme binds cysteine to the gamma carbon of glutamate which forms gamma-glutamylcystein. The next step involved uses glutathione synthase to combine a glycine to gamma-glutamylcystein. All of this requires ATP for energy and requires nutrients to be completed and maintained. The end result of this chemical reaction is glutathione.
Copper and zinc balance is an important aspect in maintaining glutathione levels. Glutathione may play a role in removing excess copper (http://www.jbc.org/content/264/10/5598.full.pdf ). Foods such as grains, nuts, seeds, beans, and chocolate tend to be high in copper. A diet that is high in these foods can indirectly lower intracellular glutathione levels by increasing plasma copper levels. Meat increases copper, but is balanced by the increase in zinc. Birth control pills and some IUDs also contain copper. A zinc deficiency may lower glutathione levels all on its own (http://jn.nutrition.org/content/111/6/1098.full.pdf ).
The proper ratio of copper to zinc is .7:1. The majority of people with an imbalance in these two important minerals typically have excess copper and deficient zinc. Imbalances can lead to hyperactivity, severe PMS, autism, depression, and ADHD. Making sure we have these two minerals in the proper balance is key to maintaining glutathione levels.
Magnesium is also an important mineral in terms of glutathione synthesis. In a study done on rats, magnesium deficient rats showed lower levels of intracellular glutathione (http://jn.nutrition.org/content/112/3/488.full.pdf ). This is potentially due to magnesium’s role in ATP production, as ATP is the main source of energy for glutathione synthesis.
Vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and folate are also important for maintaining glutathione levels, as well as exercise. The research has shown that all of these factors can decrease homocysteine levels and increase glutathione levels independently (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22261439 ). Vitamin C has also been shown to raise red blood cell glutathione in healthy adults (http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/58/1/103.short ). Vitamin E is important as well, as it protects the two enzymes responsible for glutathione production (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12959415 ). Vitamin D also can increase glutathione levels and protect us from neurodegeneration (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11893522 ). So what is this all telling us?
This tells us that there are a lot of factors that go into our total health. No one supplement can save us from the perils of aging and cure all disease. There are instances where supplementation is absolutely necessary in conjunction with a healthy diet and lifestyle.
In my article, Understanding and Combatting Oxidative Damage in Huntington’s Disease, I discussed the use of N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC) to help maintain glutathione levels. Getting back to Dr. Wahls quote, supplements slowed her decline, but it was the natural foods that allowed her to regain her strength. The brassica food family may be one of note when attempting to combat illnesses that are associated with increased oxidative damage. Along with the NAC supplementation, people with disorders such as Huntington’s Disease want to consume ample amounts of vegetables in the brassica family. They contain all the nutrients mentioned above for glutathione synthesis. Of course supplementation and eating lots of broccoli is not enough on its own. Adequate vitamin D levels are necessary, proper circadian rhythm, and the ability to manage one’s stress appropriately. On top of all that, we need proper digestive function to extract the nutrients from the food.
Our body is one large and continuous chemical reaction. It requires all different types and adequate amounts of nutrients to fuel these reactions. Supplementation is great to fix deficiencies and give some added support. However, the keys to our health rely on nutrient dense foods as well as other lifestyle factors.