Opposites attract. This is a fundamental force through the natural world – think of the positive and negative ends of a magnet, for example. So it is with electrons, the charged particles that bond atoms together. An atomic bond consists of two electrons, one positive and one negative. When something removes an electron, the compound becomes unstable and highly reactive: it goes looking for a replacement electron as fast as it can and steals one from the next victim, and that one from another, and so on. The reactive compound with an unpaired electron is called a free radical. The reaction set in motion is a chain reaction, and the entire process is called oxidation. Unchecked oxidation causes damage to cells and tissues. Oxidative damage is implicated in a wide range of diseases and chronic conditions, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, age-related eye diseases, asthma and inflammatory disorders. How does it get started? One source of free radicals is simply the normal process of metabolism. We breathe oxygen, which is metabolized to fuel the basic processes of life. Most of it is reduced to water, but about 5 percent escapes and is converted to free radicals. Other common sources of free radicals are ultraviolet radiation, X-rays, tobacco smoke, air pollutants, alcohol and saturated fat. Some immune cells generate free radicals to kill bacteria. Inflammation is a sign of free radical chain reactions. As a counter-measure, all living beings have evolved with an antioxidant defense system that keeps free radical reactions in check. Vitamins C and E are powerful antioxidants in the human body, both having the capacity to donate electrons without becoming harmful radicals themselves. Glutathione is the most powerful antioxidant of all, and Nature in its wisdom has seen to it that this protective molecule is present throughout the body both inside cells and in the fluids surrounding cells, constantly on patrol for free radicals.Accurate picture of how well the body is producing and using glutathione. Redox balance is assessed by measuring the ratio of glutathione to oxidized glutathione products in the blood. A higher ratio indicates better protection and the potential for better health.1 Using this method, researchers have found that redox balance tips more toward oxidation as age advances, beginning in one’s mid-forties.2 Redox balance is more oxidized in association with chronic conditions including type 2 diabetes,3 age-related macular degeneration,3 cardiovascular disease4 and chronic lung diseases,5 as well as with lifestyle habits such as smoking cigarettes6 and drinking too much alcohol.7 How can we rebalance? Redox balance can be improved by enhancing glutathione status. Glutathione status is responsive to the diet and can be enhanced by increasing one’s intake of glutathione containing foods and/or by taking glutathione supplements.Glutathione supplements are available under the brand name Setria® Glutathione. Good food sources include fresh fruits and vegetables and freshly prepared meats, including poultry and fish. In particular, cruciferous vegetables are important because they not only provide glutathione, but also increase the body’s ability to make glutathione internally. If poor lifestyle choices such as smoking and overindulging in alcohol are present, of course, ceasing these habits will also improve glutathione status. These choices grow increasingly important as a person moves through the fifth decade of life and thereafter. As we age we must compensate for the loss of enzyme function and other factors that diminish our capacity to produce glutathione. Improvements in both dietary and lifestyle habits are key to maintaining a healthy glutathione system and proper redox balance.