HCV and the Body’s Most Important Antioxidant
Humans have a potent chemical within every cell for protection against dangerous substances. Learn why one particular antioxidant is considered the be the body’s most important, and what makes it so vital to the health of your liver.
Composed of three amino acids (glutamine, cysteine and glycine), glutathione is a well-known chemical that benefits individuals with Hepatitis C. It is an enzyme found in all tissues protecting against potential damage from wastes and toxins. Due to its constant battle to defend itself against Hepatitis C, a liver dealing with this virus can use all the help it can get to resist injury from toxic compounds.
Antioxidants are important for health preservation because they neutralize free radicals, which can build up in cells and cause damage. “Glutathione is a very interesting, very small molecule that’s [produced by the body and] found in every cell,” says Gustavo Bounous, MD, director of research and development at Immunotec and a retired professor of surgery at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. “It’s the [body's] most important antioxidant because it’s within the cell.”
Because glutathione resides within the cells, it is in the best position to neutralize free radicals. It also has potentially widespread health benefits because it can be found in all types of cells, including the cells of the immune system, whose primary responsibility is to battle disease.
Clinical studies have demonstrated that the level of glutathione is significantly depressed in many people with Hepatitis C. Glutathione deficiency can be the result of:
- diseases that increase the need for glutathione
- deficiencies of the amino acids needed for synthesis
- diseases that inhibit glutathione formation
Regardless of how it was caused, glutathione deficiency is an important factor contributing to liver damage. Glutathione levels decline naturally as people age, fight a chronic disease or are exposed to excessive amounts of toxins. Insufficient glutathione levels reduce the liver’s ability to break down drugs, chemicals and other toxins, enhancing the probability of liver damage.
The cellular consumption of glutathione is greater by those with chronic Hepatitis C than those without the virus, increasing the demand for this chemical. Although glutathione is available as an over-the-counter pill, its absorption into cells has been repeatedly questioned. A majority of experts on glutathione supplementation suggest people with chronic Hepatitis C take its amino acid building blocks, which are then converted by the body into glutathione.
N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) is a building block of glutathione which helps boost its levels in the body. In the case of an acetaminophen overdose, NAC is administered by physicians to detoxify the drug before it destroys too many liver cells and becomes fatal. NAC has been shown to increase blood glutathione in HIV-infected patients with low levels of glutathione due to their chronic infection.
One study of 24 Hepatitis C patients with low glutathione showed that 600 mg of NAC taken three times daily along with interferon therapy led to a normalization of ALT liver enzymes in 41 percent of patients. In addition, the viral loads of participants on NAC were significantly lowered. NAC appeared to have the significant effect of bringing glutathione levels back to normal inside white blood cells after six months of combined therapy. While not every study evaluating NAC with Hepatitis C has confirmed these results, most healthcare practitioners value this relatively inexpensive supplement to boost glutathione and protect the liver from incurring further damage.
Glutathione occurs naturally in many foods, and people who eat well probably have enough in their diets, says Dean Jones, PhD, professor of biochemistry and director of nutritional health sciences at Emory University in Atlanta. Glutathione is found in fruits and vegetables, including:
- Watermelon, grapefruit, strawberries, oranges, cantaloupe, and peaches
- Avocadoes, asparagus, potatoes, acorn squash, tomatoes, broccoli, okra, zucchini, and spinach
- Herbs such as cinnamon and cardamom contain compounds capable of restoring healthy levels of glutathione
- Cyanohydroxybutene, a chemical found in broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts and cabbage, is also thought to increase glutathione levels
When equipped with the raw ingredients, the body is more apt to manufacture glutathione. High protein foods are rich in the three amino acids found in glutathione:
- Cysteine – is found in ricotta cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt, pork, sausage meat, chicken, turkey, duck, wheat germ, granola, and oat flakes.
- Glutamine – is found in fish, meat, beans, and dairy products.
- Glycine – is found in fish, meat, legumes, and dairy products.
Most people with chronic Hepatitis C are aware of the potential damage toxins can inflict on their liver. In support of this effort, being sure to get enough antioxidants into their body has become routine. Glutathione and its precursor (NAC) should have a place on the healthcare considerations of every person with chronic Hepatitis C. Since this powerful antioxidant actually protects liver cells from the inside, glutathione is an invaluable ally in maintaining liver health. By increasing glutathione-rich food intake or by supplementing with NAC, you can fortify your liver cells against the Hepatitis C virus.
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