Can Glutathione Protect Against Radiation Damage?

One of the primary ways that low-dose ionizing radiations create havoc in your body is through the generation of free radicals, and especially hydroxyl radicals.

Free radicals cause oxidative damage to fragile cellular structures such as DNA, lipids and mitochondria. All this mayhem triggers DNA damage, chromosomal abnormalities, mutations and unwanted immune and inflammatory responses – giving rise to chronic inflammation throughout the body with long-term serious health consequences.

And these effects are not restricted to the cells that are directly hit by radiation but also observed in near-by and even distant cells [1], casting a wider net to increase your overall risk of poor health and disease. No wonder the detrimental effects of ionizing radiations, even at low doses, are not limited to cancer risk but also extend to non-cancer diseases such as heart disease. [2]

Anti-oxidants to the rescue

It’s well-known that antioxidants help the body scavenge free radicals. And glutathione – the master antioxidant of your body – is central to this anti-oxidant defense. Before we delve deeper into how glutathione offers incredible protection against free radicals, let’s first know glutathione a little more and understand why it is so important.

What is glutathione?

Glutathione is an amazing molecule present in every cell of your body. Your body can naturally make this substance on its own by using three simple amino acids – cysteine, glycine and glutamine. Also known as the “master anti-oxidant”, glutathione is your body’s first line of defence against free radicals.

Besides its role as a super anti-oxidant, glutathione performs many other crucial roles in the body:

  • Involved in detoxification processes; helps liver remove toxins from the body
  • Supports immune functions
  • Helps in DNA synthesis and repair
  • Involved in cell growth and replication processes
  • Supresses inflammation
  • Facilitates important enzymatic reactions
  • Increases energy levels and endurance
  • Prevents premature cellular aging

Glutathione as a radioprotector

A healthy body has its own intelligent mechanisms in place to provide protection against radiation damage to a certain extent; for example, through an anti-oxidant defence system and DNA repair. And glutathione, along with other antioxidant super-heroes such as superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalase, Vitamin C, Vitamin E and selenium, form an important part of this protective mechanism.

Coming back to glutathione, your body relies on its amazing antioxidant capabilities to protect cells from oxidative stress and ensuing cellular damage, that would otherwise manifest into cancer, heart disease, poor immunity, infertility, neurological decline, cataracts and a host of other diseases.

Glutathione and its antioxidant prowess

Glutathione is an exceptionally important antioxidant as it is present within the cell, which means it is strategically positioned to neutralize dangerous free radicals.

How does it work?
  • Neutralizes hydroxyl free radicals, the most dangerous free radical species generated during radiation exposure
  • Protects DNA from oxidative damage during cell division
  • Helps in DNA repair
  • Recycles other antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E and lipoic acid.
  • Keeps heart healthy by protecting lipids from oxidative damage. (Oxidation of lipids cause atherosclerosis, that increases your risk of heart attack and stroke)
Once antioxidant vitamins C and E calm down highly volatile free radicals by donating their electrons, they too get neutralized and lose their antioxidant capabilities in the process. Now glutathione takes upon itself to resurrect these powerful free radical scavengers. This recycle function is important to keep your body’s antioxidant defense system very much in place, thus preventing the build-up of free-radicals and maintaining overall cellular health and longevity.

Studies have shown that endogenous levels of glutathione are inversely associated with cellular radio-sensitivity. Reports also show DNA repair in cells depends on glutathione availability. A 2013 study published in the journal Nutrients reported:

GSH, as a single agent, is found to affect DNA damage and repair, redox regulation and multiple cell signaling pathways. Thus, seemingly, GSH does not only act as a radioprotector against DNA damage induced by X-rays through glutathionylation, it may also act as a modulator of the DNA-repair activity.” [3]

Simply put, your cells use glutathione to limit the damage caused by radiation. This also means that continued exposure to radiation, whether from repeated X rays, CT scans, UV rays or radiotherapy to treat cancer, exhausts your glutathione reserves. High levels of glutathione in your system will protect cells from toxic effects of radiation exposure at many levels.

More than just the master antioxidant

Besides working as a super anti-oxidant, glutathione also supports your immune system in doing its job. [4] [5] When you are sick, your body uses more glutathione to help you cope better. Research suggests that people with chronic illness such as AIDS, cancer and diabetes tend to have low levels of glutathione in their body.

Glutathione is also an integral part of any detoxification processes taking place inside the body. In this capacity, it helps the liver remove toxic substances including drugs, heavy metals, radiation and other toxins. It contains sulphur, a sticky molecule that bind to toxins in the liver and flush them out of the system through bile or urine.

Normally, glutathione is regenerated in the liver once it is depleted. But your levels drop with age. So, when you are 60, you are not making as much glutathione naturally as you were during your peak years. Other factors such as chronic illness, poor diet, chronic stress, lack of sleep, lack of exercise, infections, certain medications, and long-term exposure to environmental toxins such as radiation, pollution and heavy metals further deplete glutathione from the body.

In such stressful situations, your body faces a two-pronged attack. While these situations place an enormous stress on your system and generate more free radicals, there is also less glutathione available to protect cells against all this oxidative stress. In this position, your body is no longer able to get rid of toxins or keep a tight rein on free radicals. As a result, you are caught in a downward spiral of disease and deterioration – translating into flagging energy and all sorts of health problems.

How can you raise your glutathione levels?

Here are a few ways you can naturally achieve healthier levels of glutathione:

  • Eat a well-balanced diet with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Eat foods that contain sulphur such as garlic, onions, leeks, chives and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, kale and cabbage).
  • Include nutrients such as selenium, vitamin C, vitamin D and vitamins B6, B12 and folate.
  • Bring positive changes in your lifestyle: Exercise, get good amount of sleep and reduce stress
  • Minimize your exposure to toxins; cut down on sugar and processed foods, stay away from alcohol and smoking and use natural products for household cleaning and personal care.
  • Add organic, non-denatured whey protein from grass-fed cows in your diet (Avoid this if you are dairy-intolerant)

Could supplements help? Oral supplements are not very useful as they are poorly absorbed in the body. Liposomal glutathione supplements, on the other hand, bypass the gastrointestinal route (read more about Liposomes here) and escape degradation that otherwise causes poor absorption. Liposomal technique enhances bio-availability and absorption rates, resulting in better glutathione levels. Supplements like Alpha lipoic acid and N-acetylcysteine, and herbs like milk thistle are also known to boost glutathione.

  1. Desouky et al. Targeted and non-targeted effects of ionizing radiation. Journal of Radiation Research and Applied Science. 2015.
  2. Azimzadeh et al. Proteome analysis of irradiated endothelial cells reveals persistent alteration in protein degradation and the RhoGDI and NO signalling pathways. Internation Journal of Radiation Biology. 2017
  3. Anupam Chatterjee. Reduced Glutathione: A Radioprotector or a Modulator of DNA-Repair Activity? Nutrients. 2013
  4. Pietro Ghezzi. Role of glutathione in immunity and inflammation in the lung. Int J Gen Med. 2011; 4: 105–113.
  5. Allen et al. Mechanisms of Control of Mycobacterium tuberculosis by NK Cells: Role of Glutathione. Front Immunol. 2015