Most serious human diseases and perhaps even the process of aging can be credited to oxidative stress1 which research has found to play a definite role in the development of such problems as heart disease and conditions relating to blood pressure2. The oxidative stress occurs largely in mitochondria from free radicals (reactive oxygen and reactive nitrogen species). Oxidative stress manifests through lipid metabolism, apoptosis, and formation of atherosclerosis, thrombosis, plaque rupture, fibrosis, myocardial injury, and failure. Recent and continuing research has generated a keen interest of both scientists and the general public in oxidative stress. This has encouraged the use of antioxidants to prevent development of oxidative stress and thus reduce the risk of heart disease which researchers believe to show much promise3.
Introduction to Oxidative Stress
Oxidative stress is better understood as the imbalance between the production of free radicals and antioxidant defenses. Oxidative stress, therefore, means the reduced ability of the body to eliminate toxins presented by free radicals (reactive oxygen species) and a leading to an inability to repair the damage caused by these free radicals. Long-term oxidative stress culminates in an enhanced formation of free radicals and peroxides. This, in turn, diminishes the effectiveness of the body’s natural antioxidant mechanism which is responsible for protecting the body against these free radicals.
The situation described is that in which the amount of glutathione in the body is diminished such that an imbalance begins to exist between the formation of free radicals and the production of antioxidant defenses. As the body’s ability to clear the toxins presented by free radicals is diminished it progressively becomes unable to repair the damage caused by these free radicals. Free radicals may damage and alter some macromolecules in cells, such as Deoxyribonucleic Acid, Ribonucleic Acid, proteins, and lipids. These alterations may develop even stronger reactive species. The effect of oxidation of DNA could be harmful as it may alter transcription and replication of many pervasive serious illnesses that are to blame for a great degree of human suffering.
As the period which the body experiences oxidative stress continues, the accumulation of these free radicals increases. In the long run, the level of free radicals in the body becomes abnormal hence degrading the self-repair system of antioxidant defense. This imbalance creates an upheaval of the normal conditions within the cells of the body.
What is Glutathione?
Glutathione is widely described as the master antioxidant of the human body. This antioxidant is naturally produced in the whole body and is found within all the cells even though its concentration in various parts of the body may differ. The antioxidant is most present in the liver but is in all other organs of the body such as the heart. It is referred to as the master antioxidant as it plays a major part the body’s defense against toxins. These are the toxins which are presented in the body by reactive oxygen species, otherwise known as free radicals.
Glutathione is the body’s natural way of preventing imbalances in the redox state in the body and is therefore tasked with the responsibility of repairing the damage caused by oxidative stress. Furthermore, glutathione attempts to decrease oxidized forms of other antioxidants like alpha-tocopherol and ascorbate in the cells of the body. Consequently, glutathione serves to reduce oxidative stress4 which according to available research plays a big role in the development of heart disease and complications relating to blood pressure5.
Oxidative Stress and Heart Disease
Free radicals, produced by the process of oxidation, are very unstable and extremely reactive. They are therefore highly toxic for tissues such as the heart. Studies performed on isolated perfused hearts have shown that even short-term attacks by oxygen radicals may cause a decline in high-energy phosphates, diminish contractile function and distort the normal structure. Free radicals may also react with unsaturated lipids and set off the process of peroxidation of lipids in the membranes.
Free radicals may also oxidize sulfhydryl groups in proteins and may also facilitate strand scission in nucleic acids. According to initial vivo studies, heart disease and complications relating to blood pressure are, to a large extent, encouraged by the formation of free radicals stimulated by auto-oxidation of catecholamine. These vivo studies have also documented the part played by free radicals in ischemia. It is these vivo studies that created a foundation for numerous further studies relating to the significance of free radicals and hence oxidative stress in the development of cardiomyopathies and heart disease.
What part does glutathione play?
When the body system is operating normally, approximately 5% of the oxygen absorbed by the cell is taken through univalent reduction (oxidation) which results in the formation of free radicals. However, the levels of free radicals in body tissues are regulated by a mechanism of natural antioxidants and free radical destroyers that are generated endogenously throughout the human body. Such antioxidants include the enzymes superoxide dismutase, glutathione peroxidase, and catalase enzyme. Superoxide dismutase is responsible for catalyzing the dismutation of superoxide anion to hydrogen peroxide, while catalase enzyme and glutathione peroxidase act as catalysts for the reduction of hydrogen peroxide to water. Besides, glutathione peroxidase eliminates other hydroperoxides that are produced through reactions of free radicals.
These natural antioxidants of the human body have been found to adapt according to physiological and pathological conditions, such as age, hypertrophy, and exercise. In pathological or disease conditions, like diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease among others, the formation of free radicals can supersede the self-repairing mechanism of antioxidants resulting in a situation referred to as oxidative stress.’ Various scientific and clinical research has shown that long-term oxidative stress and diminished antioxidant effectiveness have detrimental impact on the structure and functioning of the heart. Clinical studies on patients with heart disease have also given credence to the significance of free radicals and hence oxidative stress in the development of heart disease. The benefits of antioxidant therapy, such as with glutathione may also have therapeutic Benefits.
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