Within the human body is an intricate and elaborate system essential to our health and survival. This system is, of course, our immune system. Made up of a vast network of cells, tissues, organs, and organ systems, the immune system is spread all throughout the body.
A healthy functioning immune system depends on the health of our cells and their ability to identify foreign invaders in the body and destroy them before they’re able to cause harm.
Central to cellular health and our immune system’s ability to fight off harmful foreign substances is the cellular antioxidant glutathione. Virtually every living cell within the body depends on glutathione’s protective and detoxifying nature to clean out and dispose of free radicals and metabolic waste buildup.1
Glutathione is well-known as a master antioxidant within the body. And, recently, science has made new discoveries into how glutathione is also a key switch for energy metabolism within cells that controls the immune response.2
Now, more than ever, we understand how glutathione is required by the immune system to regulate the immune response and keep inflammation under control, and to protect cellular health by neutralizing harmful free radicals and reducing oxidative stress.3,4
Glutathione exists in our cells in two forms — reduced (active form) and oxidized (inactive form). Healthy cells have a balance of about 10 to 1, reduced to oxidized glutathione. For the immune system to function at its best, immune cells need to sustain optimal levels of the reduced and active form of intracellular glutathione.5
The health of our immune cells depends on glutathione to both control their activity and to act as an antioxidant. Because our cells are constantly bombarded by free radicals, they need a robust defense system to be protected against this attack.
Glutathione defends our cells from becoming altered and damaged, which can otherwise lead to a weakened immune system, reduced resiliency and frailty. This can eventually cause a variety of illnesses and diseases and accelerated aging.
The overall function of the immune system is to prevent or limit infection. This is based on its ability to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy cells. Unhealthy cells may be the result of infection from viruses or cellular damage.
While incredibly complex, the immune system is based on a network of various types of cells circulating throughout the body or residing within the tissues. It’s composed of two forms of immunity: innate immunity, which we are born with, and adaptive immunity, which we acquire throughout our life.6
The main stages of the immune system’s response are:
- First, a toxin or foreign substance (antigen) is quickly detected by the cells of our innate immune system.
- Next, a rapid non-specific inflammatory response is triggered by the innate immune system to contain the infection.
- Then, if the innate immune response is insufficient to control the infection, the adaptive immune system steps in with the recruitment and activation of two types of white blood cells (lymphocytes) — T cells and B cells.
- T cells and B cells are vital to this part of the adaptive immune system response. They work to coordinate a highly specific response against millions of different antigens.6
When a foreign substance triggers an adaptive immune response, T cells and B cells rapidly expand to effectively defend against the pathogen.6 This dramatic increase in metabolic activity requires the mitochondria (the powerhouse of the cell) to produce huge amounts of cellular energy (ATP).
The increased ATP production causes increased reactive oxygen species (ROS) production, which triggers glutathione to respond as a buffer against ROS to prevent cellular damage.7
When immune cells become overwhelmed by free radicals and ROS, glutathione levels are thrown off and can become insufficient to protect immune cells and defend the body against pathogens.8 As a result, we begin to experience a progressive loss of healthy cellular functioning and eventually, a decline in healthy immune functioning.9
The important role of glutathione in cellular health and healthy immune function is profound. Without a healthy and fully functioning immune system, we simply cannot maintain our health. As we age, these important mechanisms involved in healthy immune function decline if intervention measures are not taken.
The discovery of the expanded role of glutathione to support immune defenses, in addition to protecting our cellular health, offers a new perspective into targeted solutions to improve our body’s resilience and to combat the age-related decline of glutathione.2
The exciting and emerging science of cellular nutrition has opened the door to cellular nutrients. These cellular nutrients show promise for their ability to restore, renew and replenish natural cellular processes that decline with age and enhance healthy cellular functioning to support healthy aging.10