Glutathione & Energy Levels – Does Glutathione Give You Energy?
In the final article of the glutathione series, we will discuss the interesting concept of using glutathione as an energy booster and, related, the influence of glutathione on neurological diseases. You will find the answer to the following:
- How does glutathione play into the mitochondrial metabolism?
- How is it related to stress and how energetic you feel?
- How can glutathione supplementation help in some conditions that cause fatigue and weakness?
- What neurological disorders are related to glutathione levels?
Does Glutathione Give You Energy?
Not directly, no. Nutrients like sugars and fats are what gives you direct energy, they are the fuel for your body. However, glutathione plays an important role in the process of burning these nutrients and creating energy. We will talk about it in the following paragraphs and for that, it is necessary to learn how mitochondria work.
Yes, you’ve heard it many times in many different places. Mitochondria are the powerhouse of the cell; they supply you with energy. But considering they are a key element in the life of (almost) every cell in our body, it is important to understand how they work and how they can be damaged or malfunctioning.
In short and very simply put: Mitochondria make energy in the form of ATP molecules.
These molecules contain chemical bonds which, upon breaking, release a (relatively) large amount of energy which is used for every other metabolic process in the human body.
Mitochondria make ATP by burning (oxidizing) glucose molecules using oxygen. This process creates a lot of energy in the form of ATP and heat, but also, as a by-product, the oxidizing process creates various molecules jointly called ‘reactive oxygen species’ (ROS).
These molecules are highly reactive and are able to damage various cell structures and also the DNA molecules in the cell nucleus.
This is where glutathione comes in. As stated in the article, Benefits of Glutathione Injections, glutathione is one of the most important cellular antioxidants, specializing in catching and getting rid of these reactive oxygen species.
Mitochondria in human cells always try to maintain a healthy level of glutathione at hand in order to neutralize the ROS and prevent the damage of cell structures and DNA. They are actively bringing in a fresh supply of glutathione from the cell and excreting the glutathione-bound ROS.
Many things can go wrong in this process.
The patient’s body might not produce enough glutathione to catch all ROS – the patient might be malnourished, have a disease that impairs the glutathione production, or might be in a situation that demands high levels of glutathione. If the mitochondria or the surrounding cell structures sustain enough oxidative damage, it might lead to the cell death. If the oxidative damage happens in the DNA, it might lead to mutations or cancer. If the mitochondria don’t have enough glutathione, it might slow down their activity which will halt all cellular processes.
Damaged mitochondria are a cause or a symptom of multiple diseases which mainly present as neurological disorders. To name a few: schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, chronic fatigue syndrome, MELAS syndrome, Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy and mitochondrial myopathies.
Stress and Stress: What is the Difference?
To understand how glutathione plays into how we feel on a day-to-day basis, we must understand the medical difference between the two kinds of stress. What is commonly known as “stress”, is correctly called psychogenic stress. It is defined as a state of imminent or perceived threat to homeostasis, where the brain and body invoke various physiological responses to adapt. In acute situations, the stress response helps the organism mobilize the resources needed to either meet or prepare for a physical or psychological challenge.
You certainly know how it feels: a situation demands a high performance from you. You feel stressed, on edge or under a threat and this feeling makes you perform the best you can and sometimes you even surprise yourself. Once the situation is over, the stress fades away and you need to rest and recover.
Underneath this process there is a whole plethora of metabolic steps that help you prepare for the stressful situation. They all require a lot of energy in the form of ATP for increased brain and muscle activity, they make you breathe faster to obtain more oxygen and they make large demands on all mitochondria to increase their ATP production.
This is what leads us to the second kind of stress – the oxidative stress. Increased mitochondrial activity also means more toxic ROS in our cells as a result of the high energy demand. More ROS also need more antioxidants, glutathione included, to maintain a healthy balance. Under normal circumstances, the antioxidant system of our body is able to recharge itself if we give it time to rest and plenty of nutritional antioxidants.
The nervous system is particularly sensitive to the oxidative stress because even under basal conditions, the brain consumes more than 20 % of the O2 and glucose used by the human body, despite representing only 2% of the total body mass. This number gets even higher under psychogenic stress when there are spikes in the energy demands by the neurons. The nervous system is also the one that is the most dependent on glutathione as its main antioxidant – other antioxidants are in the minority there.
One of the dangers of today’s modern world, a prolonged psychogenic stress, carries with it the risk of stress-related illnesses.
Chronic stress is a risk factor for psychopathologies such as anxiety and depression. Epidemiological studies have shown that stress-related psychopathology (anxiety disorders, mood disorders and PTSD) may affect more than 100 million people in Europe alone, revealing the urgent need to understand the molecular mechanisms underlying these disorders in order to develop new effective treatments.
Due to the increased energetic toll that stress exposure exerts on the brain, and the importance of GSH to neuronal function, it comes as no surprise that GSH levels and related genes have been found altered under stress conditions or stress-related psychopathologies.
Many of these come with the total exhaustion of the neuronal GSH levels and a significant increase in the neuronal oxidative stress, which might outwardly present as fatigue, inability to perform basic tasks, physical and mental exhaustion and lack of energy.
How can we break the stress-related cycle?
The biggest difficulty lies in the correct diagnosis. There are other conditions that might make you feel fatigued and exhausted: vitamin D deficiency, malnourishment, hormonal imbalances and many others. However, if your fatigue comes from prolonged psychogenic stress, the knowledge of glutathione might come in handy.
The natural first step is always to remove the cause of the psychogenic stress. Unfortunately, this is not always possible – sometimes we cannot leave the stressful environment but as much rest as possible is always recommended. Luckily, there are ways to help our body deal with the oxidative stress and those lie mainly in the supplementation of antioxidants.
Apart from dietary vitamins such as vitamins A, C, and E, and endogenous compounds such as melatonin and L-carnitine, glutathione supplementation might help alleviate the symptoms of prolonged psychogenic stress. More on the various ways to supplement glutathione can be found in this article. Generally speaking, when you make sure you take in plenty of antioxidants, it should prevent you from breaking under the stress, you should feel better and more energetic.
As an interesting side note: because the generation of ROS demonstrates diurnal rhythm simultaneously with oxygen consumption, glutathione levels also display diurnal rhythms in the brain, with a peak at night time in most species. Therefore, it might be beneficial to take supplements aimed to increase the glutathione levels in the evening to simulate the healthy rhythms.
Other Neurological Disorders That May Benefit From Glutathione Supplementation
Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease are among the most well-researched neurodegenerative diseases. There is an agreement in the neurological circles that the imbalance between oxidant and antioxidant species may affect the onset and/or the course of these diseases, particularly the imbalance in the glutathione antioxidant system.
A depletion and in some cases even a complete lack of glutathione was found in the regions of brain that are damaged during the course of these diseases.
When it comes to treatment, glutathione appears to be a potential new way of slowing down the degenerative process. One study even reported an improvement of symptoms in Parkinson’s patients who received glutathione injection supplements regularly for 4 weeks.
Summary: Glutathione & Energy
In order for your body to maintain its energy metabolism, you need the mitochondria to function properly.
Glutathione is a necessary component that fishes out the harmful reactive oxygen species which are produced by the mitochondrial metabolism. Especially during high levels of psychogenic stress, the requirements for glutathione are higher than usual.
The lack of glutathione might lead to mitochondrial and cellular damage or manifest as a stress-related disease. To keep your body healthy and on top of everything, it might be a good idea to supplement plenty of antioxidants, glutathione included.
It should ensure that your body does not collapse under the stress and make you feel more energetic.
- Glutathione and Energy Levels
- Glutathione and Immunity
- Glutathione Benefits for Skin
- Benefits of Glutathione Injections
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 Zalachoras I, Hollis F, Ramos-Fernández E, et al. Therapeutic potential of glutathione-enhancers in stress-related psychopathologies. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2020;114:134-155.
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 Hauser, R.A., Lyons, K.E., et al. Randomized, double-blind, pilot evaluation of intravenous glutathione in Parkinson’s disease. Mov. Disord. 2009, 24 (7), 979–983
Absolvent of the Comenius University in Bratislava, Slovakia, Faculty of Pharmacy. Zuzana holds a PhD. in Pharmacognosy and Botany, during the course of which she worked on two projects studying medicinal plants, their active constituents and their effects on the human body. A trained pharmacist with 3 years experience and a first author of three publications, she is currently working on continuing her study of medicinal plants at University of Vienna, Austria.