Cysteine and Glutathione

The amino acid cysteine contains a sulfur group that allows it to function as an important antioxidant. Cysteine can function independently as an antioxidant, or it can be combined with glutamic acid and glycine in liver cells to form glutathione. Glutathione is a principal water-soluble antioxidant in cells and the blood.1 The dietary supply of cysteine is a primary determinant of how much gluta-thione is synthesized in the body, and supplements of cysteine can boost tissue levels of glutathione.

Functions

Antioxidant and detoxification function.

Cysteine, alone or as part of glutathione, is a potent antioxidant, protecting against free radical damage.2 Glutathione, working with the enzyme glutathione peroxidase (a selenium-containing enzyme), detoxifies free radicals, drugs, and toxic chemicals. It also recycles oxidized vitamin E and vitamin C, conserving body stores of these antioxidants.3

Cell-membrane synthesis and repair. Cys-teine (working together with pantothenic acid) plays a central role in the synthesis of important fatty acids used in production of cell membranes and the myelin sheath surrounding nerve cells. Glutathione plays an important role in the health of red blood cells, maintaining the integrity of the red cell membranes.

Connective-tissue synthesis. In connective tissue, muscle, and bone two molecules of cysteine are joined by their sulfur groups in a "disulfide bridge." These bridges impart strength and stiffness to connective tissue.

Leukotriene synthesis. Glutathione plays an important role in the production of leuko-trienes. Leukotrienes are important chemical messengers. They modulate the activity of white blood cells in inflammatory and immune responses.

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