If you have not already, please first take a look at our section on the Role of ROS.
We have just learned that if Reactive Oxygen Species(ROS) are not quickly disposed of, they will cause damage to our cells and that can lead to various problems, aging, or disease. To remove ROS immediately, our bodies utilize antioxidants, antioxidant Vitamins C and E, peroxisomes, and a variety of specialized enzymes to remove ROS. However, perhaps the most important molecule in the removal of ROS is Glutathione (GSH).
In our cells, Glutathione (GSH) can:
- Function as an antioxidant in itself
- Be used by enzymes to help break down ROS
- Re-activate vitamins C and E
- Re-activate certain enzymes to be used again
- Help in the production and repair of DNA molecules
- Help maintain homeostasis when cells divide
In unfavorable cell conditions, GSH can:
- Signal the cell when it needs to go through apoptosis(programmed cell death)
- Signal the cell to undergo necrosis (less orderly than apoptosis)
Glutathione can be made in your body from 3 amino acids. When these 3 amino acids form into Glutathione, it gains an active Thiol group (that is a Sulphur atom(S) bound to a hydrogen atom(H)) which we will call SH. As you can see, Glutathione G has an SH group, GSH.
When GSH removes Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) from the body, it donates an electron to the ROS, and a Hydrogen proton soon follows. By donating these electrons, antioxidants and enzymes can eventually transform the dangerous ROS into water (H2O).
When GSH donates an electron, it becomes deactivated. Two deactivated Glutathiones then join by their sulfur atoms, forming GSSG.
To reactivate GSSG back into its active form, GSH, a special enzyme, Glutathione Reductase, uses an energy molecule, NADPH, to put 2 electrons back onto 2 Glutathiones. After that, the cycle is complete, GSH is ready to help protect your body again.
So as you can see, it is good to have more of GSH than GSSG available. GSH will be able to protect your body against any oxidative stress and helps to prevent you from developing cancer, disease, or increased aging. The faster rate that you can convert GSSG back into its active form of GSH determines how healthy your cells are. Now, if only there were a way to do real-time measuring of the amount of GSH in your cells. Oh, wait… There is!