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Glutathione may help slow down aging

Harold Mandel's picture
An aging woman

Researchers have discovered that glutathione helps resist the toxic stresses of everyday life but the levels decrease with age and this sets off many age associated health problems.


It is very sad to watch as aging people generally decline in their ability to get along well independently. On the brighter side a known antioxidant has been observed to help resist the decline which is often seen with aging.

Glutathione assists in resisting the toxic stresses which are experienced in everyday life

Oregon State University reports that researchers have discovered glutathione assists in resisting the toxic stresses which are experienced in everyday life. However the levels of glutathione decrease with age. This leads to many age associated problems with health.

NAC may assist in maintaining glutathione levels

The researchers say the compound N-acetyl-cysteine, or NAC, is used in high doses for medical detoxification emergencies. It has been found that significantly lower levels NAC may assist in maintaining glutathione levels and help to prevent the standard metabolic declines which are associated with the aging process.

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There is a casual link between the decline of these detoxification pathways with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. This is very significant since these are among the primary causes of death in the developed world. Tory Hagen, who was the lead author on the research and a Professor for Health Aging Research in the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, says we have been aware of the vital importance of glutathione as a powerful antioxidant for awhile.

Pretreatment with NAC increased glutathione levels

Hagen, who is also a professor of biochemistry, has said this study helps to highlight the manner in which cells from younger animals are extremely more resistant to stress than those cells from older animals. There is not such a rapid loss of glutathione from stress in young animals. However in older animals cells are quickly depleted of glutathione and these cells died much faster when they were subjected to stress. However pretreatment with NAC increased glutathione levels in the older cells and greatly helped to offset cell death at that level.

The existence of glutathione seems to date back approximately 1.5 billion years

Glutathione is a very important antioxidant. The existence of glutathione seems to date back approximately 1.5 billion years, or as far as oxygen-dependent, or aerobic life itself. This is a principal compound used for detoxification of environmental stresses, heavy metals, air pollutants, pharmaceuticals and many other toxic agents.

NAC has been observed to boost the metabolic function of glutathione while also increasing its rate of synthesis. NAC is already being used in emergency medicine in order to assist patients who are suffering from a toxic crisis, such as the ingestion of toxic levels of heavy metals. NAC seems to be a very safe compound which can be used even at very high levels. Scientists have been hypothesizing NAC might have significant value at much lower doses in order to help maintain glutathione levels and therefore improve health.

This study has been published in the journal Redox Biology. It appears that using NAC as a prophylactic may allow glutathione levels to be maintained for detoxification in older people. Hagen is optimistic there could be a role for this compound in helping to prevent the increased toxicity we are confronted with when we age.