Updated on March 23, 2023
Aging takes a toll on all of the body’s tissues, and the brain is no exception. Struggling with memory, mental math, and finding the right word can often interfere with daily life.
The longer patients can maintain good cognitive function, the longer they can be independent and enjoy a high quality of life. This means that individuals who are interested in protecting their cognition are often looking outside of the boundaries of mainstream medicine to optimize their cognitive health.
For many, glutathione supplementation is an attractive choice due to its minimal side effect profile and proven link to cognitive functioning in healthy people.*
Glutathione is a common physiological molecule with a number of essential roles. In humans, glutathione is used in many fundamental metabolic processes ranging from the nitric oxide cycle to dietary mineral incorporation.* Glutathione is also necessary to regulate cell division and the differentiation of progenitor cells to mature somatic cells responsible for carrying out bodily processes.*
During cellular differentiation, glutathione triggers stem cells to change their characteristics and transform into the kind of cell the body needs.* As the differentiation process continues, stem cells become progenitor cells, which are more similar to the intended cell type. Cells then migrate to the location where they will reside in the body and complete the final touches necessary for maturation.
Glutathione is also one of the body’s core antioxidants and binds circulating reactive oxygen species (ROS) that can cause cellular and DNA damage if left unchecked.* Reactive oxygen species, also known as free radicals, are byproducts of metabolism that are broadly harmful. To scavenge circulating ROS, glutathione binds ROS to itself, becoming oxidized.* This means glutathione interferes with the oxidation of cellular proteins or DNA that can inhibit their function.* Glutathione also plays this role for a number of other detrimental substances. Research has linked glutathione to a number of non-ROS detoxification processes, immune cell function, and the regulation of induced cell death.*
Glutathione is a good candidate for promoting cognitive function due to the relationship between cognitive function and oxidative stress.* Furthermore, glutathione’s critical role in a multitude of physiological processes means it might support cognitive function even in the absence of oxidative stress.*
However, one of the primary molecular mechanisms that is detrimental to cognitive function is oxidative stress. Oxidative stress activates many other detrimental mechanisms associated with cognitive function, including inflammation and cell death signals, while interfering with the functioning of many cellular and molecular processes.
As with many pathologies associated with aging, oxidative stress slowly builds as a result of the aging process, exposure to chemical stressors, parasympathetic nervous system activation, and unrepaired stress damage. Antioxidants and molecules that help the brain cope with oxidative stress, like glutathione, are therefore excellent candidates for helping to maintain cognitive function.* By intervening before reactive oxygen species damages neurons, these molecules lighten the load and allow cells to catch up on repairing old damage. Such built-up damage is one of the major causes of age-related cognitive deficits.
As the brain ages, neurons are less capable of forming or strengthening connections to one another and learning becomes more difficult. Simultaneously, neuronal death and degeneration accelerate with age, eventually impairing cognition. Depending on the location of neuronal death, different symptoms of loss of cognitive ability can occur; the most notable symptoms of cognitive impairment, like difficulty with memory recall, are a result of loss of neurons within the temporal lobes. If neurons within Broca’s area or Wernicke’s area die, then patients can exhibit difficulty finding the right words and processing thoughts into narratives.
Glutathione has been identified as having an important role to play in helping to maintain normal cognitive function owing to its ability to help the body cope with oxidative stress.*
In a study assaying glutathione concentrations in the blood plasma of individuals with mild cognitive impairment, all 25 patients with mild cognitive impairment had markedly lower glutathione levels than the study’s 53 control patients. The study did not examine whether the glutathione molecules had scavenged reactive oxygen species at the time of measurement, necessitating further research.
A 2014 study found that increased ratios of oxidized glutathione to its unoxidized state in the anterior and cingulate cortices of the brain were associated with symptoms of mild losses of cognitive function.* Patients from the study who were diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment had 2.2 to 2.9 times as much oxidized glutathione in their brain as the healthy controls, although the authors of the study did not publish the absolute quantities of glutathione in either state. This means both the location and oxidation state of high glutathione concentrations are critical diagnostically.
High concentrations of oxidized glutathione in the brain are evidence that the brain can be in a compromised state, whereas high concentrations in the blood plasma are healthy and normal. This is because oxidized glutathione must return to the bloodstream from the brain to discharge the ROS it carries into a metabolic process that can make use of them constructively. As such, high concentrations of oxidized glutathione in the brain can mean that there is not enough glutathione to remove all of the reactive oxygen species that are circulating, indicating significant levels of stress.
Given that oxidative stress can be partially controlled by glutathione according to the studies cited above, researchers are investigating whether glutathione can be harnessed to enhance cognitive function.* A 2012 review favorably discusses the potential for glutathione to help maintain cognitive function via its ability to scavenge reactive oxygen species in the brain.* Scavenging reactive oxygen species is important because many of the critical enzymes in neurons are easily oxidized, impairing their function in multiple ways. Most importantly, oxidation at the enzyme’s reaction site could restrict the enzyme from performing its primary task entirely. In other cases, enzymes might be oxidized elsewhere and merely have their functionality partially impaired. In rare cases, oxidation could theoretically change the output of the enzyme’s primary reaction, which would have unpredictable physiological results.
In one study discussed by the review, researchers attempted to see whether glutathione infusion could be used to rescue cells that had been artificially stressed by reactive oxygen species and various other toxins in vitro. When glutathione molecules were infused into neurons exhibiting high levels of neuronal stress, their concentration of signaling molecules associated with cellular stress was reduced by 50 percent. This suggests that glutathione supplementation could be a viable option for helping to maintain normal cognitive function.*
Although glutathione supplementation presents a potentially promising method of maintaining healthy cognitive function, there are a few challenges to consider. Glutathione is aggressively metabolized by the liver, and dietary glutathione rarely makes it into the bloodstream to capture reactive oxygen species. This means it is not practical for individuals to consume foods that are high in glutathione, because the glutathione cannot be used by the body in a way that impacts cognitive function. Instead, patients should consider highly bioavailable glutathione supplements contained in sophisticated delivery systems that can traffic the molecule through the first-pass of metabolism. The most modern delivery systems incorporate nanotechnology that encapsulates glutathione in a sphere of fat molecules. After surviving first-pass metabolism, the glutathione supplement will need to find a way to cross the blood-brain-barrier so it can scavenge reactive oxygen species and benefit cognitive function.*
With the right glutathione supplement, the brain’s concentrations of glutathione could be sufficient to help maintain healthy cognitive function.* Currently, glutathione supplementation is under active research by leading scientists, which means more data supporting its use should be actively forthcoming. In the meantime, patients can use glutathione supplementation to proactively support healthy cognitive function.*
The power of Tesseract supplements lies in enhancing palatability, maximizing bioavailability and absorption, and micro-dosing of multiple nutrients in a single, highly effective capsule. Visit our website for more information about how Tesseract’s products can help support your neurological health.*
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