The enemy number one of our health is represented by free radicals. Free radicals are those substances released by the body in particular conditions of stress, inflammation, exposure to UV rays, radiation, pollution, heavy metals or as a result of physiological processes such as cellular respiration. Free radicals, if in excess, can cause organ damage and cellular degeneration. Studies have shown that even the most serious consequences of the new coronavirus infection are due to an excess of free radicals, favored by a rapid increase in inflammatory substances released by the body to cope with the threat of the virus (Nair et al, Saudi J Anaesth, 2021). In general, however, these harmful substances are not free to act and our body can rely on precious allies, called antioxidants.
The role of antioxidants and the importance of glutathione
There are two types of antioxidants, enzymatic antioxidants, such as glutathione, and non-enzymatic antioxidants, such as vitamin C, E, melatonin, carotenoids and flavonoids. In particular, a dominant role in the fight against free radicals is played by glutathione, which, however, in the event of uncontrolled production of free radicals, is reduced, exposing the person to immunosuppression, damage to organs and thrombotic events (Nair et al, Saudi J Anaesth, 2021). With this we are not saying that it is enough to take large quantities of antioxidants, and glutathione, to avoid complications in case of viral infection and in general in case of a threat to our health. We simply want to indicate that the intake of antioxidants, through the diet or, in the case of an increased need that must be defined by a doctor, of supplements, can put our body in the best conditions to respond to any attacks, of any kind. Today we'll deepen the role of glutathione, also called the king of antioxidants, also trying to understand its protective action in the case of the new coronavirus.
Glutathione and its antiviral properties
As mentioned, glutathione is one of the main antioxidants used in the fight against free radicals in the body. Furthermore, glutathione is able to support the natural immune defenses, has antiviral properties, inhibiting viral proliferation, and anti-inflammatory properties and stimulates detoxification processes from toxins and heavy metals such as mercury (Nair et al, Saudi J Anaesth, 2021 - Minich et al, Nutrients, 2019 - Pasini et al, Antioxidants, 2021). Glutathione decreases over the years, in the case of diseases such as diabetes, in smokers and in those who follow an unbalanced diet with a low intake of fruit and vegetables. This reduction therefore places the person at risk of developing diseases with a severe course (Nair et al, Saudi J Anaesth, 2021). Low glutathione levels are also linked to other conditions, such as neurodegeneration, diabetes, liver disease, but also cancers (Minich et al, Nutrients, 2019).
Glutathione and supplements
Given the benefits of glutathione, it has been proposed that the optimization of its levels is the key to maintaining health and preventing various diseases. Glutathione can be taken in supplement form. However, no agreement has yet been reached on the dosage and form. Some studies, in fact, indicate that glutathione taken orally does not overcome the stomach barrier, while others have observed an increase in the levels of glutathione in the body following the intake of supplements. In general, it seems that the liposomal form of glutathione is to be preferred as this increases its absorbability. The problem then arises with the dosage as it has not yet been possible to establish the amount for which glutathione acts as an immunostimulant and anti-inflammatory without causing side effects. One of these is the famous antioxidant paradox, where above certain levels antioxidants no longer act against free radicals but can even cause damage. At the moment it is only assumed that the intake of glutathione in an amount ranging from 500 mg to 2 g per day can increase the defenses and reduce the risk of excessive inflammation and organ damage in the case of hospitalized patients for new coronavirus infection (Nair et al, Saudi J Anaesth, 2021).
Glutathione and diet
Beyond supplements, whose role is yet to be defined and which in any case must be prescribed by a doctor, one way to optimize glutathione levels is diet. First, since the precursors of glutathione are amino acids, a low-protein diet can cause a decrease in this important antioxidant (Minich et al, Nutrients, 2019). In particular, it seems that foods containing the amino acid cysteine are the most effective in increasing glutathione levels. Examples of these foods are dairy products but also lentils, fish, sunflower seeds and oats. Not only that, even omega 3s can play an important role in the synthesis of glutathione. In fact, as inflammation can reduce the levels of this substance, nutrients with anti-inflammatory action, such as omega 3, can favor its release, as shown by scientific studies (Minich et al, Nutrients, 2019). Some vitamins can also help promote glutathione synthesis. For example, a role is played by vitamins B, C and E. It should be emphasized that selenium, contained in whole grains and Brazil nuts, also stimulates the production of glutathione (Minich et al, Nutrients, 2019). The role played by crucifers is also very important, thanks to their content in sulforaphane, and by green tea that stimulate the release of glutathione (Minich et al, Nutrients, 2019). Finally, turmeric is also associated with an increase in glutathione levels. Hence the importance of following a varied and balanced diet, which includes fruit, even dried fruit, vegetables, whole grains and legumes.