What Scientists Know about Aging
In just the last 10-15 years, advances in technology have allowed scientists to view the human body in ways never before possible. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) utilizes a powerful magnetic field. This creates vibrations in body particles which can be measured and then displayed using sophisticated computers. Without exposing your body to x-rays, MRI scans can provide extremely accurate, three-dimensional pictures of bones, organs and other internal body parts.
The very blueprint of living organisms, DNA, can now be dissected and manipulated. With the aid of advanced computer technology, scientists have been able to isolate and observe some of the most basic functions on a microscopic, cellular level. Even cellular chemical reactions that last only a fraction of a second can be measured and analyzed.
Still, with all the advances and newfound knowledge, modern medicine--for the most part--continues to concentrate primarily on developing methods to treat disease rather than prevent it. Could it be that selling the promise to cure a disease is much easier and far more profitable than selling prevention? Most of us might be willing to pay $25 to $50 a month on supplements to help prevent disease, but we'll spend our life savings to find a cure. Pharmaceutical companies are fully aware of this gold mine and they are shrewd marketers that know exactly how to tap into it.
The Importance of Hydrogen
It is now accepted that the aging process and virtually all disease is the result of free radical damage to the cells. So it's important to understand a little about the chemistry that makes up those cells.
Do you remember learning about Hydrogen in your high school chemistry class? It is the smallest Critical Element and is capable of passing through the cell wall.
In order for our cells to function they must communicate with each other through electrons but electrons can not move in the body without hydrogen. Cells must have oxygen but oxygen does not work without hydrogen. Cells cannot multiply or grow without hydrogen. The very fabric of our being, our DNA, is held together by Hydrogen bonds. Hydrogen is literally the fuel of life.
When we are born we have plenty of Hydrogen but as we age our Hydrogen pool becomes depleted. When this occurs, free radicals steel it from essential areas thus accelerating aging and disease. The importance of Hydrogen and electrons was discovered many years ago but has been overlooked by most modern scientists until now.
The Roll of Hydrogen Ions
Vitamins are considered micro-nutrients because the body needs them in relatively small amounts compared with other nutrients such as carbohydrates, proteins, fats, and water. Of the major vitamins, some are water-soluble and some are oil-soluble. Water-soluble vitamins must be taken into the body daily as they cannot be stored and are excreted within one to four days. These include vitamin C and the B-complex vitamins. Oil-soluble vitamins can be stored in the body's fatty tissue and in the liver. These include vitamins A, D, E. and K.
The quality of vitamins in our food has become deficient to the point where we must ask ourselves if organic is better. Is it worth the price? How important is freshness? What is the difference in nutritional value between raw and cooked? Today there is a simple way to answer these questions -- by measuring the presence of healthy negative hydrogen ions with a small hand-held Redox meter.
In the case of carrots, for instance, if we grind them into a juice, and measure the oxidation/reduction potential (ORP) we find an absence of negative ions in regularly grown carrots. Freshly ground, organic carrot juice is more nutritious having a desirable negative ORP of 100-300 millivolts.
Freshness is also shown to be important. Within hours after juicing, organic carrot juice begins to lose it negative charge. Testing also shows that raw vegetables have more negative hydrogen ions than cooked vegetables. Vitamin supplements also work much better if the natural food base of the vitamin is kept in tack and organic stock is used.
Synthetic vitamins are produced with heat which destroys the natural enzymes needed to digest the vitamins. This is why most store bought vitamins go right through us. It is estimated that Americans have the most expensive urine in the world. Synthetic vitamins also lack many of the essential nutrients needed to form the whole complex. This may throw off the delicate balance our bodies desperately need to maintain.
Can Lost Negative Ions Be Replaced?
There is a way to put negative ions back into a liquid, such as the carrot juice mentioned earlier, with a product called Microhydrin. This is a new super-antioxidant developed using all-natural, food-grade ingredients to create a nutritional form of Hydrogen. I'll explain later how Microhydrin can dramatically increase absorption when combined with a supplement.
The Truth About Free Radicals
A free radical is an unstable, toxic compound that has lost a negative electron during normal activities. It therefore carries a positive charge and is capable of attracting an electron away from a vital cellular site such as the electron-rich DNA. Loss of an electron can damage a cell and alter its ability to perform its special function or to replicate itself normally. Levels of free radicals are higher in people exposed to air or water pollution, toxic chemicals, or cigarette smoke. High levels cause us to age faster and increase our risk of cancer and many other chronic diseases. Antioxidants work by giving electrons to free radicals to neutralize them and make them harmless.
The Truth About Antioxidants
The antioxidants most people consume are Vitamin C + E, Beta-carotene, Selenium, alpha-lipoic acid and OPC's from grape seed or pine bark such as Pycnogenol, etc. These antioxidant compounds are necessary but they consist of large complex molecules that give up only one electron each and are cumbersome in moving through our systems...sort of like an elephant moving through the jungle to give off something the size of a pea.
When one molecule of Vitamin C neutralizes one free radical, it becomes positively charged. It therefore temporarily become a free radical, but a less aggressive one, until it captures an electron from another antioxidant. This continues in a cascade of electron transfers to milder and milder and less damaging compounds.
Microhydrin, the antioxidant mentioned earlier, has two negative ions for each hydrogen particle. It is as powerful as the huge antioxidant molecules, yet it works much faster and much more efficiently because it moves through the system with ease, freely giving an ion.
Upon giving up its extra negative ion it does not become a free radical. It becomes stable Hydrogen, with one proton and one electron. In addition to neutralizing free radicals it is believed to work by helping the body recycle other antioxidants so they can continue to do their job. It may also improve the chemical condition of our body fluids making an environment that is difficult for pathogens to exist. All pathogens produce free radicals.
What Causes Health and Longevity?
Practically our entire system of health care is based on determining what causes disease and then developing methods to treat it. Fortunately, there have been a few scientists outside of medicine who have been trying to determine what causes health. For the last several decades they have been trying to determine why some people remain healthy and seem to outlive others in their age group. They haven't received much publicity, but what they've uncovered could turn out to be one of the most important discoveries ever.
A group of scientists here in the U.S. may be on the verge of developing a simple diagnostic test that would predict whether you will experience health or disease--or a long life vs. a premature death.
In the 1980's Dr. Calvin A. Lang, a professor of biochemistry, at the University of Louisville Medical School, found that certain humans maintained high blood and tissue levels of a natural compound called glutathione throughout their lives. These same individuals experienced superior health and extreme longevity.
What Is Glutathione?
Glutathione was discovered in 1888 but it wasn't until the 1920's and 1930's that it received much attention. During that time it was discovered that there was a strong relationship between glutathione and aging of the lens of the eye. Since that time, we've learned that maintaining low levels of glutathione is directly linked to cataracts, macular degeneration and a long list of other eye diseases.
Glutathione is a tripeptide. A peptide is a compound that breaks down into two or more amino acids. Since glutathione is a "tri" peptide it is composed of three amino acids, namely glycine, glutamic acid and cysteine. Glutathione is present in every cell of your body and essential for life itself.
Dr. Lang discovered that glutathione levels decline with old age and with this decline, there is a corresponding decline in overall health and survival rates. He has spent decades studying the role of glutathione in aging. Many of Dr. Lang's studies have involved the elderly in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky and those of one of his colleagues, Dr. Mara Julius in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
A Biochemical Marker For Aging
Physicians evaluated the health of hundreds of the elderly in these cities and discovered that those with arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease had lower levels of glutathione than those who were disease free. (J Clin Epidemiol 94;47:1021-6.)
Higher glutathione levels were also associated with less illness, higher levels of self-rated health, lower body mass index and lower blood pressure. Physicians also found that those in the oldest age group (80-95) all had high levels of glutathione. This last finding may at first seem somewhat contradictory until you look a little deeper.
From this and other similar studies, it appears that the ability to maintain high levels of glutathione is essential for optimal health and survival into the 80's, 90's and older. Apparently, high levels of glutathione are also necessary to help us survive severe chronic and infectious diseases. Even though patients suffering from conditions like polio and MDS have lower glutathione levels than healthy subjects, those who are able to survive these diseases somehow manage to maintain higher levels of glutathione than those who succumb to the disease.
No one has undertaken a large-scale, 90-year study to prove that one's life span can be lengthened by maintaining high glutathione levels. Given the time and expense of such a study, it may never be done. Instead, scientists rely on test results using insects and animals with shorter life spans. And while every finding can't obviously be applied to humans, there are several lessons to be learned from the tests.
Diet and lifestyle changes can be made rather easily. And best of all, results from these studies can be tabulated in a matter of months instead of decades. Several kinds of studies have been performed on glutathione levels and the results are quite dramatic. In one such study, Dr. Lang found that by correcting glutathione deficiencies in mosquitoes, he could increase their longevity by 40%. Similar results were found during tests with mice and rats.
In Spain, researchers at the Complutense University in Madrid evaluated the change in the life span of frogs given supplemental vitamin C, glutathione, glutathione reductase and superoxide dismutase (SOD). At 14.5 months into the study, 91 percent of the supplemented animals were still alive, compared to only 46 percent of the untreated animals. When the supplements were withdrawn, at 26.5 months, the survival rates of the remaining frogs plummeted. This is reportedly the first study ever to show that supplementing these antioxidants could increase the life span of a vertebrate animal. By the way, frogs were used in this study because 1) they are a vertebrate species, like man and 2) they have an oxygen consumption rate similar to that of humans. (Free Radic Biol Med 93;15:133-42.)
The Missing Link in the Aging Process
It is clear that individuals who, by whatever means, are able to maintain high levels of glutathione remain the healthiest and live the longest. The definition of biological aging helps explain this phenomenon. Aging occurs when the cell loses its ability to replicate and regenerate itself. Aging is also associated with a decline in the function of the immune system.
The Major Functions of Glutathione are:
1) regulating protein and DNA biosynthesis and cell growth;
2) maintaining the strength and integrity of cell membranes;
3) enhancing the functions of the immune system by increasing the production of disease-fighting blood cells called lymphocytes;
4) detoxifying external compounds like environmental pollutants and drugs; and
5) acting as an extremely powerful antioxidant, protecting cells against free radical damage.
A brief look at some of these functions will give you a pretty good indication of the wide variety of ailments low glutathione levels have been linked to.
Glutathione and DNA Repair
Your ability to repair damaged DNA is essential in helping to retard the aging process. And glutathione levels play an extremely important role. DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is the master molecule of all body functions. This complex molecule resides in every cell of your body and provides both the blueprint and the instructions necessary for each cell to replicate and repair itself. It determines the particular build of your body, your height, skin color, hair texture and color, blood type and to which diseases and ailments you are most susceptible. DNA damage is a primary cause of aging.
Studies have shown a direct relationship between the life span of a species and its ability to repair damaged DNA. (Man and elephant have roughly the same life span and ability to repair DNA. Man lives about twice as long as chimpanzees and has twice the ability to repair DNA.)
DNA can be damaged in thousands of ways. This includes everything from breathing polluted air to lying in the sun too long. When a strand of DNA is damaged, researchers believe two things can occur. If glutathione (or possibly another antioxidant) is available, it can attach to the damaged area and the DNA strand can be repaired. If glutathione is not immediately available, then oxygen attaches to the area and the damage will become irreversible. (Biomedicine 81;35:35-7.)
Increasing the levels of glutathione in the body have been shown to both decrease the frequency of DNA breaks and aid in their repair when necessary. Whenever you increase your ability to repair or protect DNA, you are in effect retarding the aging process. Glutathione has the ability to do both.
Mutations or damage to DNA strands have also been linked to cancer. In addition to x-rays and UV light exposure, several other factors can promote DNA damage leading to cancer. A few of these include: tobacco and tobacco smoke; various hormones (like estrogen); drugs (legal and illegal); and environmental toxins and irritants like asbestos, coal tar products, benzene, cadmium, uranium and nickel.
By preventing DNA damage, glutathione can be a potent agent in the prevention of cancer. However, increasing levels of glutathione during the acute or active phases of cancer is not recommended. According to Dr. Mara Julius, one of the top researchers on this topic, glutathione augments the functions of every cell in the body. It makes no distinction between normal cells and those of a cancerous tumor.
Her personal recommendations involving a close friend who contracted cancer was that during the active stages of the cancer, there should be no attempt to increase glutathione levels. However, following a treatment program where the cancer was determined to be in remission, glutathione supplementation was started. Dr. Julius' position is well-founded based on the findings of her colleagues. (Proc Soc Exp Biol Med 86;181:326-32.) (J Exp Med 81;153:766-82.)
Glutathione's Antioxidant Activity
Glutathione may be one of the granddaddies of antioxidants, right up there with Microhydrin. Many of the newly discovered substances found to exhibit antioxidant properties actually work by increasing the production of glutathione enzymes. Melatonin is a good example.
Melatonin is a very powerful antioxidant. It has the unique property of being both water- and fat-soluble. Not only can it protect against free radicals that develop in the water-filled interior of your cells, much like vitamin C, it can also protect the fat-containing cell membranes like vitamin E. What many don't realize, however, is that the effectiveness of melatonin is increased because it also stimulates the production of glutathione peroxidase. Laboratory studies have shown that administering melatonin causes a twofold increase in glutathione peroxidase within the brain in just 30 minutes. (Neurochem International 95;26:497-502.)
Glutathione peroxidase is considered to be the principle enzyme for controlling free radical damage in the human brain. Dr. Lang, among others, have found that glutathione levels in the brain are highest during the growing years and plateau during maturity, then will decline as much as 30% as we age. This decline could help explain the numerous age-related brain and nervous system diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's that have become so commonplace.
Melatonin isn't the only newly discovered antioxidant that achieves some of its success by increasing glutathione levels. Pycnogenol (pine bark extract), grape seed and bilberry extracts, and turmeric all elevate glutathione levels.
It's been a slow process, but orthodox medicine has begun to accept the idea that cholesterol in itself isn't the cause of heart disease. Instead, much of the problem stems from cholesterol or other fats or fat-like substances that become oxidized in the blood. If you can stop this oxidation process, where the fats become rancid and subsequently damaged and stuck to the interior walls of the arteries, you can correct the situation.
Both Dr. Lang's and Dr. Julius' work has shown that individuals with heart disease and/or high blood pressure consistently have lower levels of glutathione than those of the same age without these diseases. In France, researchers have also demonstrated that the lower levels of glutathione in the elderly are directly related to an increased amount of oxidized fats in the blood.
Cataracts are the leading cause of impaired vision. Four million people in this country have cataracts and as many as 400,000 people are legally blind as a result. Although cataracts can result from injury, diabetes, eye disease and radiation, age-related, free radical damage to the sulfur-containing proteins of the lens is the most common cause.
The lens of the eye is a living component that under ideal circumstances retains its ability to change shape while still remaining transparent. Levels of glutathione remain high in the healthy lens and perform several crucial functions. Glutathione protects the sulfur-containing proteins from oxidizing. It aids in the constant exchange of sodium, potassium and calcium moving in and out of the lens cells. When the exchange of these minerals is interrupted and/or the sulfur-containing proteins become oxidized, the lens of the eye becomes cloudy. Almost every single cataract can be linked to a decrease in the level of glutathione.Japanese researchers have found that in the normal lens glutathione levels decrease gradually with age. Levels dropped most significantly in the 50-year and older age groups. Their research has confirmed the fact that changes in glutathione levels significantly increase the vulnerability of the lens to cataract formation. (Biol Pharm Bull 93;16:870-5.)
Later, I'll mention several methods for increasing tissue and blood levels of glutathione, however; while we're on the topic of cataracts, I'd like you to know about a Chinese herbal formula that has been shown to increase glutathione levels, specifically in the lens of the eye.
A traditional Chinese medicine called Hachimijiogan (Ba-wei-wan) has been used for ages to restore the function of degenerated organs. When Japanese researchers tested the product on animals, they discovered it exhibited several positive effects. It raised levels of HDL-cholesterol ("good" cholesterol) while significantly lowering levels of triglycerides, blood fats and LDLcholesterol ("bad" cholesterol). Additionally, it noticeably increased the level of glutathione in the lens of the eye, suggesting it could offer protective, as well as therapeutic effects against the formation of cataracts. (Am J Chin Med 86;14[1-2]:59-67.) Hichimjiogan can be found in most Chinese pharmacies and herb shops located in the larger cities.
Macular degeneration has become one of the leading causes of blindness in individuals over 55 years of age. On the back, interior wall of your eye, in the center of the retina, there is a small spot called the macula. It is a yellowish, oval area, mostly devoid of blood vessels, which contains a vast network of nerve fibers. These nerves transmit visual signals directly to the brain. It is an extremely sensitive area that enables you to read fine print or focus on small details such as picking out a particular face in a crowd. Studies suggest that age-related macular degeneration (ARMI)) may be a result of oxygen-free radical damage to this area.
In a recent California study, it was discovered that ARMD was linked to lower levels of glutathione. The blood from 36 patients was analyzed. Half the patients had ARMD and half did not. After accounting for variables like smoking, age, multivitamin use and cardiovascular disease, it was determined that low levels of glutathione activity was a major contributor to the disease. (Br J Ophthalmol 94;78[1O]:791-4.)
Past research has found that several supplements can help halt macular degeneration. These include vitamins E and C, the trace minerals selenium and zinc, and the herbs Ginkgo biloba and Vaccinium myrtillus (huckleberry). Of particular interest is selenium.
Selenium by itself is a potent antioxidant. Additionally, four atoms of selenium are required in the formation of every molecule of glutathione peroxidase, a crucial enzyme derived from glutathione. Studies have shown that patients deficient in selenium have lower glutathione activity. Very often this activity can be increased by adding 200 mcg of selenium daily through the use of a selenium-rich yeast. (Klin Padiatr 82;194:303-5.)
History has shown over and over again that inadequate levels of glutathione lead to eye and vision problems. In the 1920's and 1930's there was an overwhelming amount of research data linking most eye diseases to glutathione deficiencies. Glutathione supplementation (or supplementing with selenium and other compounds known to increase glutathione levels) should be one of the initial steps in treating eye diseases. In our society, aging and vision problems have almost become synonymous. Perhaps much of this is due to dietary habits and the frequent use of over-the-counter drugs. As you'll see in the next section, several seemingly harmless medications may be contributing factors to a wide range of health problems.
Glutathione's anti-viral activity
Recent reports in two prestigious medical journals indicate that glutathione is effective at decreasing viral activity, which is particularly important for AIDS patients. Several studies in both Italy and this country have shown that AIDS patients with normal to high levels of glutathione live far longer and experience fewer AIDS-related symptoms than patients with low levels. (JAMA 97;277(8):630) (The Lancet 97;349:781)
Glutathione also interferes with the reproduction of the herpes virus, and as such could be a big help in treating herpes problems.
Glutathione and Detoxification
Last month under "Medications" I discussed how researchers have linked the use of the painkiller acetaminophen (Tylenol) to both asthma and rhinitis. This month I will expand that list. If you use Tylenol or any other acetaminophen product, this should interest you.
Glutathione is an essential player in helping your body detoxify drugs and foreign chemicals. As such, with our increased exposure to environmental pollution, we want our glutathione levels to be high enough to handle the detoxification. Acetaminophen doesn't help. The ingestion of acetaminophen depletes both glutathione and cysteine in the liver, lungs and kidneys.
Three groups of animals were evaluated for glutathione after being given acetaminophen. Each group represented a different biological stage of life--growth, maturity and aging. At the beginning of the study, glutathione levels were already 30% lower in the aging animals than in the other two groups.
Four hours after administering acetaminophen the glutathione levels dropped 70 to 80 percent in each group. After 24 hours the glutathione levels in the first group (the growing animals) had recovered to 94% of their original value and to 66% of the original value in the mature group. In the aging group, glutathione levels only returned to 41% of their original level. (Drug Chem toxicol 81;4:37-48)
Perhaps the lesson to be learned from the above study is that young individuals are better equipped to replenish their supplies of glutathione and this probably accounts for their having fewer health problems. Lower levels of glutathione would also help explain increased drug sensitivity in the elderly. In mature individuals and especially those in older age groups, certain drugs like acetaminophen reduce your capacity to detoxify harmful chemicals, which in turn increases your susceptibility to disease.
The latest information shows that Tylenol taken with just three alcoholic drinks can poison your liver to the extent you may need a liver transplant. Overdosing with Tylenol or using it in conjunction with other cold and flu remedies can also poison the liver. Acetaminophen overdoses are probably a bigger cause of liver failure than the prescription drug Rezulin which was recently banned for liver poisoning.
Tracking acute liver failure cases in 22 hospitals, researchers linked 38% to acetaminophen. If you include severe liver injury cases (short of liver failure) another 35% are related to acetaminophen. That's 73%! And this is an over-the-counter drug!
To help you understand the seriousness of this, consider the case of the 23-year-old non-drinker. A young man who took Tylenol and codeine for a wrist injury for 10 days followed by over-the-counter acetaminophen for another 10 days. Liver failure ensued and he was dead in a week. This was a healthy, young, teetotaler!
Generally, liver toxicity followed by death will result when 10 to 12 gm of extra-strength acetaminophen tablets are taken (24 tablets). But amounts as small as 4 gm (8 tablets) can be fatal if you've been fasting or drinking alcohol before taking the medication. This is from a drug the general public considers safe.
The following all contain acetaminophen: Tylenol, Percocet, Vicodin, 4-way Cold, Bayer Select Flu Relief, Benedryl Cold, Comtrex Hot Flu Relief, Dristan Cold and Flu, Nyquil Liquicaps, Robitussin Honey Flu, Tylenol Cold and Flu, Vicks Dayquil Liquicaps, Aspirin-Free Excedrin Caplets, Anacin-3, Children's Tylenol Cold, Dorcol Children's Fever and Pain Reducer, Feverall Children's, Infants' Anacin-3, Tylenol Children's Elixir, St. Joseph's Aspirin-Free Fever Reducer for Children.
If caught quickly enough, acetaminophen toxicity can often be treated before severe liver or kidney damage results. Interestingly, the treatment involves the use of (NAC) N-acetylcysteine which is a very closely related chemical derivative of the amino acid L-cysteine. Compared to L-cysteine, the pharmaceutical product NAC is more soluble in water and can more easily be taken as liquid and used as an aerosol.
Both L-cysteine and NAC help neutralize toxins in the liver because they increase glutathione levels. Probably, the biggest difference between NAC and L-cysteine stems from the fact that NAC is patentable and L-cysteine is not. Far more profits can be made by studying and promoting the prescription use of NAC than the over-the-counter amino acid, L-cysteine.Physicians treating acetaminophen toxicity have found that equal amounts of NAC, if given in time, will often prevent liver toxicity and damage. (NEJM July 20, 1995;196.) L-cysteine would most likely provide very similar protection.
The Dallas hospital calculates that the cost of hospitalizing each patient trying to commit suicide with acetaminophen ranges from $600 to $45,000. For each patient with accidental poisoning the cost is $2,200 to $82,000. Keep in mind this is only one hospital out of thousands. How many reports of poisoning from an herb might it take for the FDA to ban it?
L-cysteine has several amazing attributes which have recently come to light. Undoubtedly, this is one of the reasons pharmaceutical companies are now putting enormous pressure on the FDA to take it and other amino acids off the market. Although it is very safe and non-toxic, long-term use and under certain circumstances it may cause a loss of zinc and/or copper. A good multivitamin/mineral, however, should prevent any such problems.
Increasing Your Glutathione Levels
Ideally, before attempting to raise your glutathione levels, it would be nice to know your current levels. Some people have the innate ability to maintain high levels throughout their lifetime and enjoy extremely long, healthy lives. Increasing levels would not be harmful but, if you're lucky enough to fall into that category, you may not need to go to the expense of taking additional glutathione.
Unfortunately, testing for glutathione levels really isn't very feasible. Glutathione is very sensitive to heat, light and air which has made it almost impossible to measure before it oxidizes. This has made developing a simple test for measuring glutathione difficult.
We don't yet have the full story on glutathione. There are no definitive studies indicating the best method of raising glutathione levels to correct a deficiency. Research is currently underway that should shed more light on this topic in the future. However, although we don't know the best method, we do know there are several methods you can use now to increase your glutathione levels.
1) All food groups contain glutathione. Cruciferous vegetables are particularly rich in this High glutathione levels are also found in raw cow milk, raw or pasteurized goat milk and avocados as well as Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, kale, bok choy, cress, mustard, horseradish, turnips, rutabagas and kohlrabi.
Dr. Julius explained that because of newer technology we can look closer at foods containing glutathione. For instance, the flowers of broccoli--not the stem, actually contain most of the glutathione. This new data will hopefully be published soon by Dr. B. J. Mills of the University of Louisville.
These same vegetables contain a compound called indole-3-carbinol that inactivates the hormone estrogen. By reducing the effects of estrogen, cruciferous-rich diets have been shown to significantly reduce the risk of cancer in the breast, prostate, lungs, esophagus, bladder and especially the colon. (For references, please see Dr. David William's Newsletter, Alternatives, Vol.3, No.15.)
2) We also know that the amino acid Nacetycysteine is a precursor of glutathione. In other words, N-acetycysteine is metabolized or converted by the body into glutathione. In one European study, 600 mg a day of Nacetylcysteine was given to former cancer patients for a period of three months. Upon evaluation, blood plasma levels of glutathione increased by 38%. (Euro J Can 95;31A:921-923.)
It is interesting to note that this large, ongoing European study is testing for ways to prevent throat and lung cancer from recurring in patients whose primary tumor has been cured. The researchers felt that N-acetylcysteine and glutathione could accomplish this by protecting the DNA from free radical damage. So far it appears to be working. After three years of the therapy, researchers believe N-acetylcysteine has been able to prevent early damage to DNA, while glutathione has a more long-term protective effect.
Another very interesting finding coming from this study has to do with the use of glutathione and fibrous changes in the lungs. Researchers report that glutathione levels in lung cells can best be raised by inhaling an evaporative form of the compound. When glutathione was used in an inhalant medium, the glutathione levels in the epithelium (the internal surface of the lungs) increased significantly.
Lung cancer is one of the most difficult cancers to treat successfully. Perhaps we will see additional lung cancer prevention research along these lines in the near future. Positive results from something as simple as a glutathione inhalant would truly be a godsend.
N-acetylcysteine is available from Jo Mar Laboratories, 251 B East Hacienda Ave., Campbell, CA 95008 (800) 5384545. The last known price for 1000 gm was just over $200, making a daily dose of 600 mg about 13 cents a day. (Jo Mar kindly gives Alternatives subscribers a 10% discount on their first order, if you mention it.)
3) Dr. Julius, one of the research scientists deeply involved with glutathione, takes 500 mg of glutathione in pill form each day. She feels glutathione may be more effective at raising tissue levels than Nacetylcysteine. Although N-acetylcysteine raised plasma levels in the European study, this may not be the more accurate method of measurement. (Dr. Lang's research has shown that only 5% of the blood's glutathione is in the plasma compared to 95% in the red blood cells. Possibly a more accurate method of measuring glutathione tissue levels is measuring the content in red blood cells instead of plasma.)
Dr. Julius uses the product Glutathione500 from Health Maintenance Programs Inc., 7 Westchester Plaza, Elmsford, NY 10523 (800) 362-8673. The cost is about 67 cents a day.
Jo Mar Laboratories also sells glutathione in bulk powder form at $38.50 for 50 gm. If you make your own capsules or mix it with your food or drink, a daily dose of 500 mg will run in the neighborhood of 39 cents a day.
Jo Mar also sells a product they call Glutathione Blend. It is available in both capsules and bulk powder and is much cheaper but it is not glutathione. It is rather a simple mixture of the three components that form glutathione--cysteine, glycine and glutamic acid. There is no information on how effective this "blend" is at raising glutathione tissue levels.
Another way to raise glutathione levels is to use a cold-processed whey protein powder called The Ultimate Whey Designer Protein. It is an excellent source of gamma-glutamylcysteine which increases the production of glutathione in the body. There are dozens of whey protein powders on the market, but this is the only one that is cold-processed and then membrane-filtered. This process keeps the active proteins intact. Other processes denature many of the proteins and render them inactive.
Probably the most expensive product available to raise glutathione tissue levels (costing close to $100 a month) is a product called Immunocal currently being used in the treatment of AIDS, hepatitis and cancer. Immunocal is a protein concentrate made from whey by Immunotec Research Ltd. in Quebec, Canada (514) 424-9992.
You may find a few other companies that sell glutathione products, but most only contain small amounts of the compound. The sources mentioned here are extremely reliable. Use caution in buying from other suppliers. Obviously, the least expensive way to increase glutathione levels is to eat glutathione rich foods. That's an option everyone can afford.
Regardless of which method you use to raise glutathione levels, there's a couple of points to keep in mind. Check your multivitamin to make sure it contains riboflavin (B2), selenium, zinc and magnesium. Riboflavin assists in recycling the enzymes created from glutathione and selenium aids in their formation. Zinc and magnesium also appear to be necessary in glutathione enzyme production.
Slowing the Aging Process
People in this country spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year trying to slow the aging process and recapture lost youth. They buy creams and ointments and don't seem to hesitate before taking the latest age-reversing hormone or drug.
But hormones and seemingly harmless drugs, which are often taken for years, may prove to be especially dangerous. Who would have guessed that acetaminophen depleted a compound as important as glutathione? To date, few, if any, other drugs have been tested to see how they affect glutathione levels. It was only recently that we've been able to accurately measure glutathione levels and discover their true importance.
From all appearances the glutathione level could turn out to be one of the premiere biological "markers" of aging. Every major function of glutathione coincides with what we call aging. Glutathione levels seem to give a pretty good indication of the overall health of an individual, as well as provide an indication of potential longevity.
However, let me call your attention to the article on water I published last year. If you haven't read it yet, you may want to do so now because it contains invaluable information on longevity and details the importance of pH and hydrogen in maintaining the good health and vitality we experience in youth. It also discusses the super antioxidant called Microhydrin.
The Link Between Sugar and Aging
How Sweet it Isn't!
At the beginning of this century, when the health movement was just getting started, refined sugar was Enemy #1. Pioneers in this area almost universally believed that health and longevity required the total elimination of sucrose from the diet.
Despite these early warnings, U.S. sugar consumption has been steadily increasing. According to the most recent statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans take in 20 teaspoons of sugar per person, per day--and that's just added sugar, not the sugars that occur naturally in fruits and other foods.
Even with the introduction of artificial sweeteners such as saccharin and aspartame later in the century, sugar remained the sweetener of choice. These lower-cost, non-caloric "sugar substitutes" initially threatened the sugar industry, but their downsides quickly made them even less attractive than plain old sugar.
Research shows that eating foods artificially sweetened with these chemicals increases a person's cravings for sweets. This finding quickly negated the highly touted weight-loss benefits of artificially sweetened foods and drinks. Even more significant is that each popular artificial sweetener has now been shown to cause a long list of health problems, from headaches to an increased risk of cancer.
Fructose Isn't the Solution
The manufacturers of many so-called "health foods" have led the way in denouncing the use of artificial sweeteners, and fortunately people seem to be listening. Unfortunately though, health food manufacturers are now touting the fruit sugar fructose as a healthy alternative. They point out that because fructose is the natural sugar in fruit, it doesn't lead to the quick spikes in blood sugar levels associated with sucrose. These spikes trigger mood swings and energy level fluctuations, and place additional stress on the pancreas and adrenal glands.
What makes this unfortunate is that the manufacturers' claims about fructose are only half-right. It's true that fructose consumed in fresh, whole fruits doesn't cause spikes in blood sugar. But when that same fructose is extracted from the fruit and used in processed foods, it acts just like sugar... if not worse!
Research has recently revealed that the consumption of fructose, sucrose and all the other forms of sugar could turn out to be one of the biggest "hidden" threats to our overall health. When the early pioneers sounded the warning against sugar, it seems they knew exactly what they were talking about.
Glycation (the Maillard Reaction)
One of the major problems stemming from sugar consumption has to do with a chemical process called glycation (or the Maillard Reaction). In the future you may begin to see more emphasis placed on the harmful health effects of glycation. But if you're concerned about preventing health problems like heart and artery disease, Alzheimer's, cataracts, vision loss and aging in general, glycation is something that you should know about now, not in the future.
In simplest terms, glycation refers to the combination of a sugar and a protein molecule. Most everyone has seen the effects of glycation in the kitchen. During baking, sugar (whether it be white table sugar--sucrose; fruit sugar--fructose; or milk sugar--lactose) combines with certain amino acids in the grain proteins of flour. The chemical reaction that takes place causes loaves of bread and pastries to turn brown. The same reaction also occurs when meats are glazed and coffee is roasted.
Glycation also occurs in the body when the sugar in your blood (glucose) combines with the amino acids tryptophan, lysine and arginine. During this reactive process, certain by-products are created and released within the body. The byproducts are known scientifically as Advanced Glycation Endproducts. And in terms of what Advanced Glycation Endproducts do inside the body, well, their acronym says it all: AGE.
How do AGEs Work?
AGEs are now thought to accumulate in your body and remain there throughout your entire lifetime. The formation of these endproducts is accelerated when you have lower levels of antioxidants in your system and when the kidneys are weak or malfunctioning. More importantly, extremely large numbers of AGEs are also created when blood sugar levels are high. This helps explain why diabetics always seem to have abnormally high levels of AGEs.
To help get a better picture in your mind about AGEs, visualize the clear, runny portion of a raw egg. This part of the egg is mostly protein. An amazing chemical reaction takes place when you heat this clear portion of the egg. It quickly and permanently transforms from a runny, clear liquid to a rubbery, white solid.
Proteins similar to those in the egg are found throughout your body. Proteins, after all, are the body's building blocks. They are used in the construction of enzymes, blood vessels, muscles, nerve fibers, organ tissue and just about every other body part. When glycation occurs and AGEs form, these proteins are changed forever. Just like the changes to the egg, the process is irreversible. The long-term health consequences of this protein-altering process can be disastrous.
For example, when proteins in blood vessels undergo glycation, you get stiffer, less flexible arteries which lead to higher blood pressure, plaque formation, blood flow blockages, heart and artery disease, stroke, heart attack, etc. The smallest blood vessels are the hardest hit, such as those in the back of the eye, the kidney and the brain. These areas require a constant supply of glucose to meet their high energy requirements. As a result, they have the highest degree of glycation of any tissue in the body.
Animal studies have confirmed that damage occurs to areas like the eyes when diets high in sugar are consumed. In particular, we now know that cataracts are a result of glycation. The increasing incidence of cataracts in this country seems to be linked to our ever-increasing sugar consumption.
Researchers also now believe that glycation lies at the heart of the alteration of proteins in the brain that causes Alzheimer's disease. (Metabolism 80;29:1247-1252) (J Nutr 98;128:1442- 1449) dementia
What all this boils down to is that refined sugars speed up the aging process and accelerate the formation of what we commonly call "age-related" diseases. If you are diabetic, you're well aware of the importance of monitoring sugar intake. For those of you who are not diabetic, here are some steps you can take to help keep your own blood sugar levels in the healthy range.
How To Guard Against Glycation
1. The most obvious step is to cut back on your intake of refined sugar... not just the white granules we all keep out on the counter. Sugars of all types are being added to just about every processed food imaginable, even unsweet things like ravioli and soup! Because these sugars undergo glycation during processing, they're every bit as harmful as table sugar--and maybe even more so.
Up until just recently, no one really gave much thought to the effects of these processed foods. Researchers at the Picowe Institute for Medical Research in Manhasset, New York have developed assays that show considerable amounts of AGEs from food are absorbed into the blood.
In other words, not only will consuming sugar trigger glycation in the body and create AGEs, but if you consume foods that have already undergone glycation you absorb the harmful byproducts directly into the bloodstream. Eating these foods year after year leads to accelerated aging and disease.
Based on these latest findings and the ever-increasing levels of sugar consumption, it's no wonder diseases like diabetes, Alzheimer's, heart disease, cataracts and kidney failure are on the rise.
In general, the easiest way to cut back on refined sugars is to read food labels and make sure sugar (sucrose, dextrose, fructose, maltose, lactose, etc.) is not one of the first four or five ingredients on the label. The most popular sugar among manufacturers these days is high-fructose corn syrup--which, unfortunately, also appears to be the most active in triggering the glycation process and the formation of AGEs. Steer clear of that ingredient as much as possible.
Also, if you do choose to buy processed foods, opt for those that have at least a few grams of fiber. This will help slow the release of sugar into the bloodstream.
2. Use stevia to sweeten beverages and baked goods. Unlike sugar, stevia doesn't trigger glycation or spikes in blood sugar. In fact, it's now used in South America to help stabilize blood sugar in diabetics. And unlike artificial sweeteners, stevia has no aftertaste, side effects or connection to cancer.
Stevia is readily available in health food stores, although you likely won't find it alongside sugar or other sweeteners. The Food & Drug Administration has approved the importation and sale of stevia as a "dietary supplement," but not as a sweetener so you'll need to look in the supplement aisle. It comes in both powder and liquid forms. Most people find the liquid extract easier to use -- approximately four drops equals one teaspoon of sugar. I have found it to be less expensive to buy the powder in bulk and make my own liquid.
If you have trouble finding stevia in your area, try the following mail-order sources: Body Ecology, 1266 West Paces Ferry Road, Suite 505, Atlanta, GA 30327, 800-478-3842; The Heritage Store, P.O. Box 444, Virginia Beach, VA 23458, 800-862-2923; or Allergy Resources, 557 Burbank Street, Suite K, Broomfield, CO 80020, 800-873-3529.
3. It is also recommend that you eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. Eating unprocessed fruits high in fructose doesn't appear to cause the problems associated with glycation and AGEs. As is usually the case in nature, fruits have built-in co-factors like fiber, antioxidants, minerals, etc., that help prevent such problems. So go for the pineapple, not the pineapple upside-down cake.
4. You can slow the aging process and dramatically improve your health by maintaining high antioxidant levels. Eating more produce and using a high-quality daily supplement to ensure adequate and consistent levels of these nutrients is an excellent start. Vitamins C, E, B6 and alpha-lipoic acid are ones that have been shown to be particularly beneficial in combating the effects of glycation.
Early health pioneers knew that refined sugar was dangerous. And while some studies have detected a link between high-sugar diets and problems like heart disease, no one seemed to be able to pinpoint the connection. The latest research on glycation provides that connection.
It may not be long before we begin to hear more and more reports about the effects of glycation and the dangers of eating sweets and highly sweetened foods. Whether the public takes notice or not is another matter. Our society's addiction to sweets will be a hard one to break, and as long as we continue to invest in these foods at the grocery, they'll always be in ample supply on the shelves.
Don't wait until all of this becomes public knowledge. Eat whole foods. Take your natural supplements faithfully and begin to cut back on or eliminate processed sweets and products loaded with sugar.
A little bit of willpower now can help you slow the aging process and significantly lower your risk of developing diabetes, Alzheimer's, cataracts, heart and kidney disease and dozens of other so-called "age-related" problems. They're not age-related. They're diet-related.
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