Glutathione and Colostrum

Colostrum is the most significant food in the world. It was designed by natural to to protect the newborn. The significance of colostrum and the role it plays is best illustrated in the typical farm animal. Take the horse, cow, sheep, goat, cat, dog - unless these and most other animals receive colostrum in the first day or two of life they have a very significant chance not surviving. This phenomenon is due to a wonderful mechanism by which the mother can pass on her complement of antibodies on to her newborn and is known as passive transmission of immunity. Because of this significance and the role that colostrum plays in the newborn some other very important actions or properties associated with the biological function of colostrum have been over-looked.

One of these properties is the fact that Colostrum, in addition to all its other benefits, is a source of a wide range antioxidants.One such antioxidant - Glutathione - has been described as the "Ultimate Antioxidant". It is very well documented that glutathione and it's precursors are present in colostrum in relatively high levels. In this capacity glutathione and glutathione precursors play an important part in colostrum's role in overall health.

Glutathione also referred to, as GSH is a naturally occurring peptide or small protein, which has a primary function as an antioxidant. Linus Pauling was a leading advocate of antioxidants and their respective role in prevention of disease and the promotion of overall good health. Antioxidants for the most part are naturally occurring compounds that possess the ability to neutralize unstable "free radicals". Unchecked these free radicals have been linked, at least in part, as the causative agents of a number of disease conditions including cancer, heart disease, stroke, and improper nervous & immune system function. A growing number of scientific and medical research studies have successfully shown that that antioxidants can deactivate free radicals and thus limit the spread of certain disease states. Basically antioxidants act as free radical scavengers and thus removing them from the body before they can cause their harmful effects.

Many foods such as fruits, vegetables, grains, and oils contain vitamins and minerals that have antioxidant properties. Vitamin A, C & E, carotenoids, and flavonoids are probably the best known antioxidants. The growing body of scientific and medical research substantiates the significance glutathione and other antioxidants play in sustaining health and combating the disease state.

This mountain of evidence suggests that by simply increasing one's cellular levels of glutathione a corresponding increase of overall good health can be envisioned.

The development of cancer and disease for the most part is a long and slow process. One exception are childhood cancers, which are usually attributed to, inherited defective genes. Cancer cells in adults contain a large number of mutations acquired over a lifetime's exposure to environmental carcinogens, toxins, and free radicals. These substances damage the bodies DNA - the blueprint of life. Antioxidants have been shown to protect the DNA from excessive damage and help in the synthesis and repair. In fact the cellular level of glutathione has been described as predictive factor in determining our life expectancy. Glutathione regulates the actions of other less effective antioxidants such as vitamins C & E.

It has been reported that low levels of cellular glutathione are associated with liver and immune system malfunction, heart disease, premature aging, and death.

Further, it has been reported that glutathione functions in not only detoxification of toxins but of also neutralizing carcinogens.

Glutathione has also been described as having potent anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties. Glutathione has also been shown to have a wide variety of functions that help boost the immune system. Lymphocytes (T cells and B cells), so vital in the immune response have been shown to be dependent on glutathione for proper function. As we age our cellular levels of glutathione drop and it is these lower levels of glutathione that have been implicated in diseases associated with aging. Finally, glutathione has been shown to enhance athletic performance by increasing muscle strength and weight gain.

As an antioxidant glutathione helps protect the overall integrity of every cell and tissue against damage caused by free radicals and disease. Acting as a scavenger of free radicals glutathione helps to protect us from pollutants and other disease causing agents. Glutathione is a trimer composed of three amino acid precursors - glycine, glutamic acid and cysteine. Though free glutathione is surely of benefit the main benefit comes from the internalization of it's precursors and subsequent assembly and action within the cell. In fact a recent investigation involving piglets it was revealed that intercellular glutathione was most exclusively from dietary consumption of glutathione precursors.

There are a number of products available that contain glutathione and it's precursors. For the most part they are derived from colostrum, milk, and or whey. They are typically referred to as whey protein isolates. A number of these are marketing the fact that their respective products are significantly higher in glutathione and it's precursors.

The fact is that in relation to New Zealand colostrum (low temperature processed) these products do not have significantly higher levels of either glutathione, glutathione precursors or other bioactives present in properly processed colostrum. In fact it has been recently reported that antioxidant activity of bovine colostrum is significantly greater as compared to number of such products, including whey protein hydrosylates. Figure 1 illustrates that lack of any significant difference between a whey protein isolate glutathione enriched product and a quality produced colostrum.

Of special significance are the glutathione precursors Glycine, Glutamic Acid, and Cystine (2 linked Cysteine molecules) and the relative values found in the respective products.

Figure 1.

Reported composition of a commercially available whey protein isolate which is reportedly enriched with glutathione & it's precursors and a quality processed New Zealand colostrum product.

Amino Acid Whey Derived Product NZ Colostrum 20% Ig's
Glycine 20mg/g protein 18.1 mg/g protein
Glutamic Acid 201 126.3
Cystine 24 16.8


Lactoalbumin 9.7% 2%
lactoglobulin 59.1% 19%
lactoferrin 0.14% 0.15%
Total Immunoglobulins 24.6 25%

IGF-1 1000ng/g
IGF-2 250ng/g
TGF-B1 150ng/g
TGF-B2 950ng/g
EGF 250ug/100g


A 100 IU/100g
B1 1.5 - 2.0 mg/60g
B2 1.7 - 2.2 mg/60g 1.12 mg/100g
B6 0.03 mg/100mg
B12 13.6 ug/100g
C 2.5 mg/100g
D < .2ug/100g
E 130ug/100g

It is of interest that the whey protein isolate which is reportedly enriched with glutathione and it's precusors does not contain a significantly greater amount of glutathione precursors as compared to the quality colostrum product. This is also true of other constituents that make up the composition of the respective products. It is of interest that Cysteine has been reported to be a rate limiting amino acid for the biosynthesis of glutathione. The fact that lactoglobulin and lactoalbumin are a rich source of this essential amino acid and they are found in relatively high amounts in colostrum should be noted. Of outmost importance is the simple fact that if there is a substance that can improve the quality of life then this information should be available to and shared by everyone. The scientific and medical evidence generated from producers of whey protein isolate products is significant. However most if not all their claims based on their findings can and for the most part have been attributed to the same claims generated from investigations centering on colostrum.

Further the process of manufacturing whey protein isolated products for the most part includes ultrafiltration or microfiltration of raw material in order to concentrate the various constituents responsible for bioactivity. Typically this requires that this material is subjected to filtration through 10,000 molecular weight (Dalton) membrane. Thus many small molecular weight molecules are removed from solution. These include many growth factors that are involved with the healing and recovery process, including growth factors and cytokines which have a wide variety of biological functions. This is most probably indicated by the fact the manufactures of whey protein isolates who claim enriched glutathione levels typically do not include growth factor and cytokine levels as part of their respective compositional information.

Colostrum is a magical substance composed of many, many substances that work together in a synergistic manner in such a way that the overall effect of colostrum is greater than the individual components. In regard to whey protein isolated products they have attributed the action to one constituent - glutathione. This is only part of the answer as many other bioactive molecules are involved - antibodies, immune factors, growth factors, cytokines, etc. In reality it is an "Ever Ending Story" with only part of the answer on how colostrum and in fact it's derivatives, such as whey protein isolates, actually function and work only partly known. The wonderful thing is that they actually do work and that this is backed by scientific and medical evidence.


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