Archive for May, 2011
Conquer the most extreme workouts & races with complete confidence!
By Steve Born
In mid-October of 2002, I set out on an ultra cycling feat that had never been attempted – a back-to-back crossing of the brutal Furnace Creek 508 route (a total of 1,016 miles and approximately 70,000 feet of climbing). The plan was to ride the course backward in a fast-but-sensible amount of time, stop for a couple hours of sleep at the starting line hotel, then do the actual Furnace Creek 508 race—competing against the rest of the field of riders—as the second half of the record attempt . . . a Double Furnace Creek 508.
My primary fuel? A new concoction developed by Dr. Bill Misner, Hammer Nutrition’s now-retired head of R & D. I remember him hand-making batches of this new fuel for me to test in my training and, not to sound too clichéd, I took to it like a fish to water. This new fuel really, really worked, even better than I could have imagined, and I had the best training sessions in memory. I received one final batch of the product prior to the record attempt and planned on using it as my primary fuel during an undertaking I could only imagine would be as difficult, if not more so, than anything else I had ever attempted.
To make a long story short, my support crew and I successfully completed history’s first and only Double Furnace Creek 508, finishing the 1,018-mile, reverse-to- forward course in a bit over 82 hours (sleep break and other stops, such as clothing changes, included), with about 75.5 hours of the 82+ comprised of on-the-bike time. I used this new fuel, which would eventually be called Perpetuem (think “perpetual energy”) for roughly 70% of the time that I was on the bike, which equates to 53 or so hours out of the 75.5 hours of riding time. That’s a lot of hours to test the effectiveness of a fuel and I can tell you from firsthand experience that Perpetuem worked perfectly (NOTE: Sustained Energy and Hammer Gel took care of most of the remaining hours of fueling requirements).
I was so thrilled about how well Perpetuem worked that the first person I called upon completion of the race was Hammer Nutrition company owner, Brian Frank. I had completed my successful Double 508 somewhere between 11 p.m. and midnight, Pacific Coast Time (an hour earlier than the time in Montana), so I knew that I’d most likely be waking him out of a deep sleep. It didn’t matter, I had to tell him that I was successful and that Perpetuem worked phenomenally (I think I said something like, “Dude, this stuff is awesome; we just have to get it in other endurance athletes’ hands as soon as possible!”)
In early 2003, we introduced the original Orange-Vanilla Perpetuem. Six years later we introduced the caffè latte flavor, and endurance athletes have been raving about how incredibly well Perpetuem works for them. If you’ve never given Perpetuem a thorough test in your training, now is the time to do so. You can definitely rely on it to fuel your body thoroughly; it will get you where you want to go, no matter how long or hard it may be, trust me. To give you a better idea about Perpetuem’s efficacy, some ingredient information is in order . . .
Complex carbohydrates – Approximately 75% of the formula is comprised of long-chain maltodextrins (complex carbohydrates), with no added simple sugars. Later in this piece we’ll discuss precisely why we don’t use simple sugars (such as glucose, sucrose, or fructose), or combinations of different types of carbohydrates in Perpetuem or any of the Hammer Nutrition fuels. For now, we’ll simply say that if you want consistent, reliable, and long-lasting energy, complex carbohydrates are the ONLY kind of carbohydrates that you want to put in your body.
Soy protein – When exercise goes into the second hour and beyond, you need to incorporate some protein into the fuel mix. At this time, and continuing until you stop your activity, about 5-15% of your caloric utilization comes from protein. This process, called gluconeogenesis, is unavoidable and if you don’t supply the needed protein in your fuel, your body will literally scavenge it from your own muscle tissue. This is called catabolism (muscle breakdown), known informally, but quite accurately, as “protein cannibalization.” It can cause premature muscle fatigue—due to excess ammonia production from the protein breakdown process—as well as excess muscle tissue breakdown and post-exercise soreness. Protein cannibalization also compromises your immune system.
A “carb only” fuel (Hammer Gel or HEED) is perfectly acceptable for workouts and races lasting up to two hours, sometimes up to three hours under certain conditions. The majority of the time, however, when training sessions or races go beyond two or so hours, a “carb + protein” fuel, Perpetuem, should be used as your primary-to-sole fuel, fulfilling about three-quarters or more of your energy requirements.
The preferred protein for use during prolonged exercise is soy, primarily because its metabolization does not readily produce ammonia. Whey protein, with its high glutamine content, makes an excellent post-workout protein, but is not a good choice before or during exercise. You’re already producing ammonia during exercise, so consuming glutamine-enhanced whey protein will only exacerbate the problem.
There is some confusion regarding the glutamine and ammonia buildup. Yes, glutamine does eventually scavenge ammonia. The key word, however, is “eventually.” When glutamine metabolizes, it increases ammonia initially, but then scavenges more than originally induced, but it takes approximately three hours or so to accomplish this.
Soy protein has a couple of other great features, too. First, it is an easily digestible protein. Second, it has an excellent amino acid profile, with a substantial proportion of branched chain amino acids, or BCAAs, which your body readily converts for energy. During exercise, nitrogen is removed from BCAAs and used in the production of another amino acid, alanine, high amounts of which also occur naturally in soy protein. The liver converts alanine into glucose, which the bloodstream transports to the muscles for energy. BCAAs and glutamic acid, another amino acid found in significant quantities in soy protein, also aid in the replenishing of glutamine within the body without the risk of ammonia production caused by orally ingested glutamine.
Soy’s amino acid profile has high amounts of both alanine and histidine, which are the amino acid components of the dipeptide known as carnosine, a nutrient known for its antioxidant and acid buffering benefits. Soy protein also has a high level of aspartic acid, which plays an important role in energy production via the Krebs cycle. Additionally, soy protein has high levels of phenylalanine, which may aid in maintaining alertness during extreme ultra distance races.
Lastly, soy produces more uric acid than whey protein. This might not sound good, but uric acid is actually an antioxidant that helps neutralize the excessive free radicals produced during exercise. High uric acid levels, from soy’s naturally occurring isoflavones, are another strong reason for preferring soy protein during endurance exercise.
Lyso-lecithin fatty acids – The longer you exercise, the more your body relies on stored fatty acids to satisfy its fueling requirements. This is because the body, though burning upwards of several hundred calories hourly, is not capable of accepting or assimilating more than approximately one-third of its calorie expenditure from your fuel donation. In other words, you can’t replace all of the calories that you expend. Fortunately, your body easily “bridges the gap” via its vast supply of calories in the form of fatty acids. Needless to say, fatty acids are the fuel of choice when exercise goes beyond about two hours, providing approximately 60-65% of your caloric expenditure.
The small percentage of healthy, soy-derived fat in Perpetuem seems to cue your body to more liberally release its fatty acid stores. A little fat in the fuel also slightly slows the rate of digestion and thus promotes “caloric satisfaction,” another attractive plus during primarily aerobic ultra distance events.
Sodium tribasic phosphate – This is the main nutrient found in Hammer Nutrition’s Race Day Boost product, and is included in Perpetuem in a specific, hourly effective dose. Sodium phosphate is an exceptional buffering agent that neutralizes the effects of excess lactic acid during exercise and helps to increase endurance by balancing the acid/alkaline levels in the blood. Phosphates are also part of a compound found in red blood cells known as 2,3-DPG, an enzyme that releases oxygen from hemoglobin into the muscle cells. Increased amounts and availability of sodium phosphate in the body helps to increase/maximize the concentrations of 2,3-DPG, which improves the availability of oxygen to working muscles for the process of creating ATP, thus aiding in increased endurance.
The electrolytes that are in Perpetuem weren’t put in there intentionally, as they are in HEED; they’re just what occurs naturally from the ingredients in the product. For example, Perpetuem has a bit more sodium in it because of the sodium tribasic phosphate nutrient that it contains (sodium phosphate being a great acid-neutralizing agent). In addition, it has a pretty good amount of calcium and potassium (which comes from the soy protein and maltodextrin) in a two-scoop serving.
Dr. Bill Misner writes, “The electrolyte profile in Perpetuem must be described with reservations as a ‘Self-Contained Electrolyte Profile.’ This merits a precautionary statement suggesting that an athlete may not need to consume as many Endurolytes with Perpetuem. Some using Perpetuem, but not all, who normally use only 1-2 Endurolytes per hour may be able to go without Endurolytes supplementation. The self-contained electrolyte profile in Perpetuem is therefore equivalent to approximately 1-2 Endurolytes per hour dose, depending on the individual athlete. All athletes using Perpetuem should trial this suggestion first in training by reducing a former Endurolytes dose 1-2 capsules per hour.”
What this means is that there are some athletes who find that they can lower their Endurolytes intake by one capsule per hour, sometimes two, when they use Perpetuem. I (Steve Born) have personally not found this to be the case for me but some athletes (again though, not all) are able to get by on just Perpetuem—or with fewer Endurolytes—for meeting their electrolyte requirements.
Auxiliary nutrients – Perpetuem also contains:
- L-carnosine (a.k.a. Carnosine), a naturally occurring dipeptide from the amino acids histidine and alanine, it functions primarily to buffer lactate buildup in the muscles and acts as a multiple free radical-scavenging antioxidant.
- L-carnitine, which is made in the body from the amino acids lysine and methionine, acts as a transporter of fatty acids into the mitochondria (energy producing “furnaces”) of muscle cells where they are burned for energy production. If the body is depleted or low in L-carnitine, our fatty acid reserves are unavailable because they lack sufficient amounts of this carrier agent.
- Chromium polynicotinate, a trace mineral that supports efficient carbohydrate metabolism and stable blood sugar levels.
- Choline Barbitrate, a member of the B-complex family, also helps the body access its stored fatty acids for energy conversion.
No simple sugars – If you want to enjoy quality energy, it’s imperative to avoid the use of any fuel that contains carbohydrates with the last three letters “ose” in their name. We’re talking about glucose, sucrose, maltose, fructose, and galactose. They’re what we call simple sugars (1- or 2-chain carbohydrates) and here’s why you need to avoid them:
- They provide a very inconsistent and short-lived “peak & valley,” “flash & crash” type of energy. Unless you want to ride a roller coaster of energy—feeling great for a few brief moments, then struggling to get out of an energy rut—you’d do well to avoid consumption of simple sugars.
- Simple sugar fuels have strict limitations in regards to how many calories the body can accept, assimilate, and utilize for energy. A concentration of 6-8% is the limit; any more concentrated than that and the fuel will be substantially delayed from digesting efficiently, which means an increased risk of a variety of stomach-related problems such as nausea, bloating, cramping, and diarrhea. The problem is that a 6-8% concentration is fairly weak in regards to calorie donation, providing only up to about 100 calories per hour, if that. For the average athlete, let alone a larger one, this is an inadequate amount for maintaining optimal energy production hour after hour.What this all means when it comes to an energy fuel that contains simple sugars is that you’ll need more fluid to get it through the GI tract efficiently. When you try to fulfill your body’s optimal calorie requirements by consuming increased quantities of simple sugar-containing energy fuels, you end up having to drink copious amounts of fluids, which can lead to overhydration, and that has a whole host of problems associated with it.
- Most of us already over-consume simple sugars from our daily diets. Numerous studies clearly show that sugar consumption in America is outrageously high. A report from the Berkeley Wellness Letter stated that each American consumes about 133 pounds (60+ kg) of sugar annually . . . that’s over one-third of a pound of sugar every day, 365 days a year! The USDA’s “Dietary Assessment of Major Trends in U.S. Food Consumption, 1970–2005” (www. ers.usda.gov/Publications/EIB33/ EIB33.pdf) illustrates the U.S. sugar/sweetener–consumption problem even more in stating, “In 2005, added sugars and sweeteners available for consumption totaled 142 pounds per person, up 19 percent since 1970.” Excess sugar consumption is implicated in a number of health problems so, for that reason alone, you’d want to avoid putting them in your body during exercise. NOTE: Check out the article, 146 Reasons Sugar Ruins Your Health it’s a real eye-opening article that will enlighten you to the health hazard properties of simple sugars.
Bottom line: Simple sugars are inefficient fuels, they have little or no value for the exercising athlete, and they have numerous negative health consequences associated with them. AVOID THEM!
No multiple carbohydrate sources – Hammer Nutrition is uncompromising in our stance on the use of complex carbohydrates as THE preferred choice, no matter what the distance or intensity, and all of our fuels—including Perpetuem—contain only complex carbohydrates and no added simple sugars.
However, findings from research conducted by the Dutch sport scientist Asker Jeukendrup have caused quite a stir. In fact, a few companies produce fuels that contain the carbohydrate formulations used in the studies. Here’s the deal: Dr. Jeukendrup’s studies found that a blend of carbohydrates increased oxidation rates, indicating higher energy production. In one study, cyclists who ingested a 2:1 mixture of maltodextrin to fructose oxidized carbohydrate up to 1.5 grams/ minute, or 360 calories per hour. Another study used a mixture of glucose, fructose, and sucrose and had rates that peaked at 1.7 g/ min, or 408 calories per hour. Both of those results are pretty eye opening, considering that complex carbohydrates typically oxidize at a rate of about 1.0 g/min.
However, when you look a little deeper into the research, a key thing comes to the surface. In these studies, subjects cycled at low intensity, only 50-55% maximum power output, which I think we’d all agree is very much a recovery pace, if that; it’s definitely not the kind of output you have when training or racing! To be blunt, at a leisurely 50% VO2 Max pace, athletes can digest cheeseburgers and pizza with no gastric issues. However, if the heart rate is raised to only 70% VO2Max—which also means core temperatures are raised as well—everything changes drastically: the body must divert core-accumulated heat from central to peripheral. This reduces the blood volume available to absorb ingested carbohydrates or whatever the athlete has consumed.
After over two decades of experience, we have found that in the overwhelming majority of the athletes we’ve worked with—athletes engaged in typical 70-85% efforts and/or in multi-hour endurance events—the combination of simple sugars and long-chain carbohydrates (and even complex carbohydrates for that matter), in amounts higher than 1.0 – 1.1 grams per minute (4.1 to slightly-over-4.6 calories per minute/240-280 calories per hour), have not yielded positive results. They did, however, increase performance-inhibiting, stomachrelated maladies.
Dr. Bill Misner summarizes: “Absorption rate and how fast the liver can ‘kick it out’ are limiting factors. No matter what you eat, how much or how little, the body provides glucose to the bloodstream at a rate of about 1 gram/minute. Putting more calories in than can generate energy taxes gastric venues, electrolyte stores, and fluid levels.”
Bottom line: The question is not whether Dr. Jeukendrup’s published studies are disputable, but rather, “Do the results of these studies apply to faster-paced, longer duration bouts of exercise?” We adamantly do not believe this to be the case, which is why we do not recommend the use of multiple carbohydrate sources during exercise. Stick with complex carbohydrate fuels—not simple sugars or fuels containing multiple carbohydrate sources—and we guarantee that you’ll see better results.
NOTE: You’ll notice that fructose was used in the Jeukendrup studies. However, we are convinced that this is not an acceptable carbohydrate source. Need proof? Check out the following articles on the Hammer Nutrition website:
- Fructose Sweeteners Negatively Impact Blood Sugar and Lipid Metabolism, Inhibiting Energy Production
- Fructose (corn syrup) is No Answer For a Sweetener
- Osmolality Review: The Biochemistry of Fuels Absorption
No preservatives – Some endurance fuels contain preservatives to help extend the “shelf life” of the protein component once mixed in solution. This may be convenient but we don’t believe that this convenience should take precedent over your health. Preservatives provide absolutely no benefits for athletic performance or general health—we consider them health hazards, in fact—which is why we do not include them in Perpetuem.
As a result of this, however, once mixed in solution the protein component in Perpetuem is affected in the following ways:
- At some point in time it will eventually sour and no longer be acceptable for consumption.
- It tends to separate after awhile and may settle on the bottom of a bottle or hydration pack bladder.
We believe that not having preservatives in the products is far more important than these two minor inconveniences.
No 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein – Earlier in this piece we mentioned that during prolonged bouts of exercise, about 5-15% of your energy needs will need to be fulfilled from protein. When you think about it, that’s actually a very small percentage in the overall fueling “picture.” That’s why the ratio of carbohydrates to protein should be skewed much more in favor of carbohydrates—we believe that during exercise a 7-8:1 ratio is much more appropriate than a 4:1 ratio—and that is reflected in the Perpetuem formula.
It’s one thing for the Hammer staff to give the “thumbs up” when it comes to a new Hammer Nutrition supplement and/or a new flavor of a Hammer Nutrition fuel . . . after testing so many permutations of a product or flavor over the course of many months, chances are we’re going to love the final result.
Conversely, it may be another thing altogether for our clients to embrace a new product and/or flavor as voraciously as we do. With that said, as long as I’ve been working here at Hammer Nutrition (10 years) I have yet to witness such overwhelmingly positive feedback from our clients on any of our products as I have the Caffé Latte flavor of Perpetuem. Now that it’s been in the Hammer Nutrition line for about a year or so, to say it’s been well received is a huge understatement!
If you’ve yet to try Perpetuem (and why have you waited this long to begin with?!?) we have no doubt that you’ll love the Caffé Latte flavor. Seriously, while the Orange-Vanilla flavor of Perpetuem is still loved by many Hammer clients (including yours truly), the Caffé Latte flavor of the finest endurance fuel around is just superb. And, that little touch of caffeine (12.5 mg per scoop) really comes in handy. It’s nowhere near enough to get you “jangled” but it is enough to provide a nice, continuous little energy “spark.”
Lastly, this is one flavor of an energy fuel that tastes good even when it’s warm . . . how could a true Caffé Latte flavor not?! If you even remotely enjoy the taste of coffee, latte, cappuccino, or anything similar, you have simply got to try the Caffé Latte Perpetuem. It really is that delicious and it works even better than it tastes.
While more and more “endurance fuels” seem to be popping up in ever-increasing numbers, Perpetuem stands alone when it comes to enhancing athletic performance during prolonged exercise. Why? Because we didn’t take any short cuts when designing Perpetuem; it contains the highest quality ingredients—the right ingredients— in the correct amounts & ratios.
Perpetuem has been successfully used in the world’s toughest endurance contests. By using Perpetuem during your longerduration workouts and races, you can stay focused on the job at hand and not have to worry about whether or not you’re going to come up short on energy or get sick from your fuel. As with all Hammer Nutrition products, we guarantee your satisfaction with Perpetuem 100%. Give it a thorough test in your training— especially the phenomenally-tasting Caffé Latte flavor—and see how good you’ll feel when you fuel right! We guarantee you will not find a higher quality, more powerful fuel to use when your workouts or races go beyond 2-3 hours in length.
The goal in fueling is not to try and replace all of the calories that your body is burning with equal to near–equal amounts from your fuel. As explained in various articles found in The Endurance Athlete’s Guide to Success, on the Hammer Nutrition website, and in back issues of Endurance News, the human body is not equipped to replace “X” out with “X” or “near–X” in. Fortunately, the body has many built–in mechanisms that effectively bridge the gap between what it’s losing and what it can comfortably accept in return from your fuel donation. That’s why your focus should NOT be “How many calories can I consume before I get sick?” but rather, “What is the least amount of calories that I need to consume to keep my body doing what I want it to do hour after hour?”Fueling this way—the “less is best” approach—makes much more sense, if only because a “not enough calories” problem is significantly easier to fix (you simply consume more calories) than an “uh oh, I overdid it on the calories” problem.
During exercise, the average–size athlete’s liver can effectively return 4.0 to slightly over 4.6 calories per minute back to the energy cycle. That’s 240 – 280 calories per hour MAXIMUM for the average– size athlete under normal conditions. However, we have consistently noted that most athletes do well on even fewer calories, so average-size athletes (approximately 160–165 lbs/approx 72.5–75 kg) should look at that 240 – 280 gauge only as a reference point (you’ll notice that our recommendations are even less than those amounts). Of course, larger athletes, on occasion, may need slightly more calories and lighter athletes will most certainly need fewer calories.
All athletes must be willing to alter their calorie intake in deference to the weather, the terrain, their pace, and any pre–race anxieties they’re experiencing, as all of these things negatively affect optimal digestive system functioning.
Specifically in regards to Perpetuem, due to this being a high concentration, “meal in a bottle” calorie source (via its complex carbohydrate, soy protein, and healthy fat components), we have noted that many athletes do well with a substantially lower calorie intake when using Perpetuem as their primary–to–sole fuel. Therefore, with this particular fuel we highly recommend starting with the lowest amount suggested— perhaps even a bit lower—and work your way up to a higher amount, if a higher amount has proved to be necessary via testing in training. Please refer to the dosage recommendation chart later in this mailer.
Suggested Doses by Body Weight*:
up to 3/4 scoop/hr. This provides approx. 101 calories.
1 scoop/hr. This provides 135 calories.
1.25 to 1.5 scoops/hr. This provides approx. 169 to 202.5 calories.
up to 2 scoops/hr. This provides 270 calories.
*These are estimated doses. Each athlete should determine in training, under a variety of conditions, their personal optimum.
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Hammer Nutrition Supplements: Real Athletes, Real Results!
“I’m an ‘old’ guy in cycling terms and I love to compete and do well. I regularly race in eight-hour solo MTB races in Northern California and have been working to optimize my feeding and hydrating protocols for some time. I recently tried Perpetuem on a recent training (road) ride. I was reluctant to place my bets on one product because I couldn’t believe it could be so easy . . . I read the book from your site and gave the pre-race concept and Perpetuem a try. I was shocked. Since I wanted to leave early, I didn’t eat breakfast and left with only a bottle of water and a two-hour Perpetuem bottle. I carried enough product for a second batch at the half-way point. sixty miles and just over four hours later I returned to the house completely amazed by my performance. No bloating from breakfast, no spikes from gels and no bonking . . . Steady energy throughout the ride and a surprising finish to what started out as an experiment. Can’t wait to try it in a race. I’m hooked!”
- Michael W.
“Love the Caffè Latte Perpetuem! I never used Perpetuem before this year and it is the bomb! I used it on a 60-mile MTB race this spring and a few long road rides this summer. I will be fueling with only Hammer fuels for RAIN (Ride Across INdiana),160 miles in one day. Hammer products have actually been fueling my desire to ride endurance events this year. I know that they work and I feel good during the ride using them. No worries about bonking due to bad fuel.”
- Ben L.
“Any activity I do for more than an hour calls for Perpetuem. It’s easy on the stomach and that lets me concentrate on my sport instead of whether or not I’ll keep my “food” down. I mix it rich, one scoop to 6 oz water, and keep pushing straight water in a second bottle. Good to go, and go some more!”
- David S.
“I use Perpetuem as my main source of fuel for extended races. I put 5-6 scoops in a 24 oz bottle so it’s a thick paste and will use 3-4 bottles during a race. It allows me to maintain a steady intake of calories and proteins, quickly and easily. When we’re racing for 24+ hours, it’s critical to stay properly fueled!”
- Ryan H.
Glutathione: The Great Protector
Find out why this little-known antioxidant is key to fighting toxicity and premature aging — and warding off chronic disease.
By Catherine Guthrie / April 2011
If biochemistry were the stuff of comic books, antioxidants would be the superheroes — with glutathione (gloota-thigh-own) being no less than a cross between Superman and Underdog. As the most powerful antioxidant in the body, glutathione works around the clock to fend off nefarious characters. And yet, few people recognize its importance.
Glutathione is likely to get more attention in the near future, as experts begin to connect the dots between depleted stores of the antioxidant and the likelihood of chronic disease. “If you haven’t heard of glutathione yet, you will,” says Mark Hyman, MD, founder of The UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Mass., and a pioneer in the field of functional medicine. “In terms of staying healthy, it is one of the most important molecules in the body.”
Glutathione is a triple threat to toxins. It neutralizes free radicals, enhances the immune system and detoxifies the liver. But some worry that it has met its match. The trappings of modern life — everything from refined foods to over-the-counter painkillers to stress — rob the body of this vital antioxidant. And, even if you’re doing everything right, aging takes a bite. Around age 45, our glutathione levels start to slip. Ultimately, those levels can dip as much as 50 percent below optimal as we age.
Some scientists are now wondering if low glutathione levels aren’t partly to blame for the free-radical-induced illnesses so common in middle age and later, such as Alzheimer’s, cancer and heart disease. Indeed, research published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that, among people with heart disease, those with the least amount of glutathione in their blood were 30 percent more likely to have a heart attack than those with the most glutathione.
Hyman didn’t understand the full ramifications of a glutathione deficiency until his own health was in peril. In the mid-1990s, he was besieged by muscle pain, brain fog and “bone-numbing” exhaustion. “I went from feeling really healthy one day to really sick the next,” he says.
After months of medical sleuthing, he discovered he had mercury poisoning — probably due to eating contaminated fish and breathing tainted air while working in China. He suspects that the burden of detoxifying the mercury depleted his glutathione levels, leading his body to break down under the strain. “As you detoxify, your body uses up more and more of your glutathione stores until it’s gone,” he says. “That’s when you end up with toxic overload.”
In exploring what went wrong, Hyman discovered he lacked a gene, called GSTM1, crucial to making and recycling glutathione. He estimates that roughly half of Americans are missing one or more of the genes necessary to produce enough of the antioxidant. The percentage climbs even higher among his critically ill patients, the vast majority of whom have rock-bottom glutathione levels. “At first I thought it was just a coincidence,” he says, “but I’ve come to realize that making and keeping a high level of glutathione is critical to preventing disease.”
Found in every cell in the body, glutathione protects the cell’s engine, called the mitochondria, from bacteria and viruses as well as toxins. It’s considered “the mother of all antioxidants,” as Hyman calls it, because all other antioxidants, including vitamin C and vitamin E, rely on it to give them a second life.
The average antioxidant has a short life span, sacrificing itself whenever it wipes out a free radical. But glutathione carries enough extra zip to not only bring spent antioxidants back from the dead but also to recharge itself, explains Leslie Fuller, ND, an educator at the National College of Natural Medicine and practitioner at the Nature Cures Clinic, both in Portland, Ore.
Most glutathione is made inside the body from three amino acids: glutamic acid, cysteine and glycine. In addition, some foods, particularly asparagus, spinach, avocado and squash, are high in a plant version of glutathione that the body converts to replenish its supply.
Under healthy conditions, and in a healthy environment, our bodies would be able to churn out plenty of glutathione to meet our daily needs. But cigarettes, alcohol, caffeine, processed foods and certain medications deplete the body’s stash. So does stress. And as Hyman discovered, toxic surroundings may pose an even bigger threat to our body’s glutathione supply.
To fully appreciate glutathione, it helps to know a little more about its nemesis: free radicals. Free radicals are unstable oxygen molecules created by our metabolism. The instability stems from a missing electron. In a mad attempt to find balance, the misfit molecules rip electrons from their neighbors. As a result, those molecules also turn into free radicals. This damage can eventually snowball and disrupt a cell’s integrity, causing it to behave abnormally.
“Almost every chronic illness known to humankind has been linked in some measure to free-radical-induced tissue damage,” says Lise Alschuler, ND, FABNO, coauthor of The Definitive Guide to Cancer: An Integrative Approach to Prevention, Treatment, and Healing, Third Edition (Celestial Arts, 2010).
That’s not to say the goal is zero emissions. Indeed, some free-radical damage is natural. Every breath inhaled, every calorie burned, every muscle contracted leaves a wisp of free radicals in its wake. “Even if we lived in a pristine environment, our bodies would make free radicals,” says Alschuler. And, as she explains, some free-radical damage is a good thing because a damaged cell is triggered to be either repaired or destroyed. By sparking either a renovation or a demolition, free-radical damage gets the body’s attention, and, if the body is healthy enough and the free-radical damage is not overly extensive, free radicals may play a role in preventing diseases like heart disease and cancer.
Unfortunately, our bodies must contend with an ever-growing onslaught of free radicals in the environment. Free radicals hitchhike into the body on the backs of chemicals in the air, the water supply and the food chain. The cumulative load is called oxidative stress. Corrosion caused by oxidative stress (or oxidation) inside the body is often compared to the slow rusting of metal when it’s exposed to the elements.
Protecting cells from oxidation is where antioxidants, particularly glutathione, come into play. All antioxidants retard oxidative stress, but because glutathione recharges its allies, it plays a particularly important role in helping the body keep up with our accelerated modern-day demands.
“We are in a situation where our manufacturing and our recycling of glutathione is maxed out,” says David Perlmutter, MD, FACN, ABIHM, author of Power Up Your Brain: The Neuroscience of Enlightenment (Hay House, 2011). “We just can’t detoxify fast enough.”
Found throughout the body, glutathione is concentrated in the liver. The body’s primary detox organ, the liver is charged with giving nutrients the nod to be absorbed and giving toxins the boot. But expelling a toxin isn’t easy. In phase one, liver enzymes must convert the toxin into a compound that can be flushed. In phase two, glutathione is used to grab hold of the toxin and escort it out of the body via urine or bile. If there isn’t enough glutathione on hand, the toxins stack up like so many cars in a traffic jam.
Glutathione owes much of its detoxifying prowess to cysteine. A sulfur-rich amino acid, cysteine is abundant in eggs, garlic and whey protein. “Sulfur is a sticky, smelly molecule that acts like flypaper trapping toxins in the body,” explains Hyman. This is why vegetables high in sulfur, including garlic and onions, have been at the heart of detoxification diets for years.
Another plant substance, called cyanohydroxybutene (found in broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage) helps restock the body’s glutathione supply. “We’ve always been taught that broccoli and other cruciferous veggies are important to the detox protocol, but we didn’t fully understand why,” says Perlmutter. “Now we know that it’s because they enhance glutathione production.”
Green tea, fish oil and resveratrol also house substances that switch on genes responsible for making glutathione, Perlmutter notes. Aerobic exercise and yoga are thought to goose glutathione levels as well.
Although glutathione doesn’t come in a simple pill form, Perlmutter says, “You can take and do things that turn on your body’s genes to make more glutathione, and that’s pretty powerful stuff. You are modifying your own genetic expression.”
Logically, if more glutathione means better detoxification, people with the highest levels of the stuff should live the longest. That was the theory that drove Danish researchers to enroll 41 centenarians in a study of glutathione levels. Their results, published in the journal Age and Ageing, found that glutathione levels were highest in the healthiest seniors. Additionally, they discovered that the centenarians had higher levels of glutathione than people 20 to 40 years younger, hinting that glutathione may be one reason why their subjects had lived to such a ripe age.
Need More? Make More
Recognizing when the body is running low on glutathione takes some detective work. Because it oxidizes quickly outside the body, the antioxidant does not lend itself to a blood test. So some healthcare practitioners, like Hyman, look for missing genes. Others consult indirect biochemical markers, such as short telomeres (the caps of DNA on either end of a chromosome, like handles on a jump rope) or high levels of oxidation in the blood. A history of chronic illness is also a clue.
But don’t wait until you’re sick to think about glutathione. High stress levels, certain medications, past infections and a poor diet can all nibble away at the body’s glutathione stash. The average American consumes only 35 milligrams of glutathione per day, says Alschuler, far short of the optimal daily intake of 250 milligrams. “This, coupled with decreasing glutathione production as we age, leaves most of us deficient.”
The good news: Protecting your glutathione levels is fairly simple, says Perlmutter, and “the health implications can be profound.”
Easy Ways to Maximize Glutathione Production and Activity
Eat lots of glutathione-rich foods, such as asparagus, spinach, avocado, squash, melons, grapefruit and peaches. Whenever possible, eat these foods raw or minimally heated, since heat — and microwaving — tends to destroy antioxidants.
Eat more colorful, antioxidant-packed produce, such as strawberries, bell peppers and mangoes, all of which are particularly high in vitamin C. The more one-shot antioxidants you’ve got on board, the less your body needs to lean on its glutathione reserves.
Eat more foods high in cysteine. The sulfur-rich amino acid is a key building block for glutathione. The best sources are eggs, garlic and whey protein. If you buy whey protein, make sure it is bioactive and made from undenatured (or nondenatured) proteins, meaning the bond between the amino acids is preserved, and the cysteine is more bioavailable.
Limit exposure to toxins by buying organic produce, filtering your water, cutting down on refined foods, and avoiding chemical-packed personal-care and cleaning products. Minimizing your toxic burden will help preserve your body’s ability to produce glutathione, and also reduce excess demands on your body’s glutathione supplies.
Catherine Guthrie is a health writer in Bloomington, Ind., and a contributing editor to Experience Life.
The brain makes up only 2 percent of the body’s weight but eats up roughly 20 percent of its oxygen. Because the body spews free radicals when it uses oxygen, the brain is awash in rogue molecules. Glutathione helps protect the brain against their ravaging effects.
Uncontrolled free-radical damage is the tie that binds a handful of diseases that target the brain, including schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s. Evidence suggests that a shortage of glutathione is a factor in all of the above, but some of the most telling evidence is in people with Parkinson’s disease.
Parkinson’s disease corrupts the files in the brain that make dopamine, a chemical instrumental in coordinating the body’s movements. When researchers looked at the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease, they discovered that the area that makes dopamine, the substantia nigra, contained up to 40 percent less glutathione than the rest of the organ. “So, here’s an area that’s being damaged by free radicals, that’s low in glutathione, and therefore at more risk for free-radical damage,” says neurologist David Perlmutter, MD, FACN, ABIHM.
While much about Parkinson’s disease remains a mystery, a role for glutathione seems certain. For his part, Perlmutter sees glutathione as a vital treatment option. “We are all about getting as much glutathione to the brain as possible,” he says. “It really is one of the most protective agents around.”
Some free-radical damage is the natural byproduct of our body’s cellular processes; however, our bodies are made ever more vulnerable to an increasing amount of free-radical damage due to environmental factors, including the sun, pollution, poor nutrition and chronic stress.
Enter glutathione, “the mother of all antioxidants,” which helps to recharge other antioxidants, thus protecting our cells from free-radical-induced oxidation.
Glutathione is concentrated in the liver, the body’s primary detox organ. Glutathione grabs hold of toxins in the liver and escorts them out along with the body’s waste products.
Too little glutathione? Toxins accumulate in the body and can contribute to many inflammation-based diseases.
The Next-Best Things: Glutathione Precursors
One reason that glutathione wallows in relative obscurity is that, unlike vitamin C or E, it isn’t easily shoehorned into a supplement you can swallow. “With glutathione it’s not that easy,” says David Perlmutter, MD, FACN, ABIHM, author of Power Up Your Brain: The Neuroscience of Enlightenment (Hay House, 2011).
That’s because to succeed as an oral supplement, a nutrient must be able to wiggle through the intestinal wall and into the bloodstream, he explains. Otherwise it’s doomed to be destroyed in the gut. Here is where glutathione’s size works against it. A large molecule, called a tripeptide, glutathione cannot sneak through the intestinal wall intact. Instead, its three amino acids are broken apart during digestion and reassembled in the blood. (To get around this problem, many practitioners give therapeutic doses of glutathione intravenously.)
Experts disagree on exactly how much oral glutathione reaches its final destination, but all agree the best bet is to deliver plenty of building blocks (a.k.a. precursors) the body needs to make glutathione on its own.
In addition to eating glutathione-rich foods (see above) here are four more ways to get the raw materials you need:
N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC): NAC supplements are made synthetically from the amino acid l-cysteine. The small molecule slips seamlessly into the blood where it combines with glutamic acid and glycine to restock the liver’s supply of glutathione. A potent liver detoxifier, NAC is approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a tool to limit liver damage caused by acetaminophen overdose.
Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA): A key antioxidant, alpha-lipoic acid (not to be confused with alpha-linolenic acid) is both water- and fat-soluble, meaning it can vanquish free radicals throughout the body, including in the brain. That’s no small matter, since oxidative damage is tied to many brain diseases, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. The best dietary sources of ALA are organ meats (such as liver) and brewer’s yeast.
Selenium: A mineral found in Brazil nuts, meat and seafood, selenium boosts the body’s ability to recycle glutathione. “Eating just one to two Brazil nuts daily supplies enough selenium for most people,” says Lise Alschuler, ND, FABNO, coauthor of The Definitive Guide to Cancer: An Integrative Approach to Prevention, Treatment, and Healing, Third Edition (Celestial Arts, 2010).
Vitamin C: One of the most well-known antioxidants, vitamin C is glutathione’s crime-fighting cohort. In studies, people with high levels of vitamin C typically have high glutathione levels, as well. The two antioxidants work in tandem to rid the body of water-soluble toxins.
Can’t I Just Take A Pill?
The Good News …
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