Glutathione. You’ve probably never heard of it, but this powerful antioxidant has so many health benefits you’ll never forget it. If you’re frequently feeling sluggish, picking up every germ that comes your way, or are having trouble getting quality sleep, boosting your glutathione levels may be the answer.
What is Glutathione?
Glutathione is an antioxidant produced by the body and it is composed of three amino acids: cysteine, glycine, and glutamine. And while our bodies make it, our levels decrease as we age—as well as due to exposure to pollutants, eating a diet high in processed foods, chronic alcohol use, poor GI health, and chronic illness. Thankfully, boosting glutathione levels through diet is possible—as is through high-quality supplementation, if necessary.
The way glutathione works is by protecting our mitochondria—aka, the powerhouse of our cells. Mitochondria are responsible for converting glucose into ATP—cellular energy. Glutathione has the important job of neutralizing free radicals during the ATP process, as well as removing toxins and other heavy metals from that ATP. This ensures that our cells remain healthy and functioning properly.
The Benefits of Optimal Glutathione Levels
1. It boosts your immune system. Glutathione is a great immune system regulator. Not only does it protect cells from damage and acts as an antiviral, it also boosts an underperforming immune system and tamps down an overactive one—the latter key to those suffering from an autoimmune condition.
2. It reduces oxidative stress. Oxidative stress occurs when your body has more free radicals than antioxidants, which damages DNA and hinders proper cell function. Oxidative stress is associated with a variety of diseases and conditions, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s.
3. It supports your body’s natural detoxification processes. Glutathione is critical for proper liver function, as it binds to toxins—such as heavy metals, peroxides, chemicals, pollutants—and sends them out through urine or feces.
4. It will help you glow from the inside out. Glutathione helps your body produce B-vitamins which reduce free radical damage caused by sun exposure, as well as supports the regeneration of melanin in the skin. People supplementing with glutathione also reported significantly less wrinkles as well as an increase in skin elasticity.
5. It supports healthy sleep. Glutathione is a powerful foe of the stress hormone cortisol, as it helps regulate stress and hormonal fluctuations. Without spikes in cortisol, your body naturally falls into healthy sleep patterns as well as supports deeper, more restful sleep.
6. It may support insulin sensitivity. Two small studies in 2013 and 2018 found that people with insulin resistance were more likely to have lower glutathione levels. In another study, older adults with naturally declining glutathione saw an improvement in insulin sensitivity and fat burning after supplementing with two glutathione components—cysteine and glycine—after just two weeks.
7. It can reduce cell damage brought on by liver disease. Those suffering from both alcoholic and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, as well as hepatitis, may benefit from an increase in glutathione. It is believed its antioxidant properties not only help prevent cell death, but supplementation can improve protein, liver enzyme, and bilirubin levels in people who have liver disease.
Boosting Levels Through Diet
You can boost glutathione levels through diet as well as supplementation, depending on your needs. However, I believe that trying to reach optimum levels through diet is the first step. Luckily, lots of whole foods support glutathione production:
· Whey protein tops the list of glutathione production supporting foods. It restores the amino acid, cysteine, after it’s depleted from an immune response. However, not any old whey protein will do. It is very important to select a high-quality whey protein that is grassfed, organic, and free of pesticides, hormones, and artificial sweeteners.
· Cruciferous veggies are another excellent way to boost your glutathione levels. In fact, research shows that glutathione levels in the lungs and liver decline when you don’t get enough sulfur amino acids. Sulfur-rich veggies include, but aren’t limited to: broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, bok choy, arugula, kale, cabbage, radishes, and turnips.
· Other sulfur-rich foods including garlic, onions, eggs, nuts, and legumes, as well as lean protein like seafood and poultry.
· Selenium-rich foods, as this mineral is critical for the production of glutathione. Top sources of selenium include fish like yellow-fin tuna, halibut, and sardines; Brazil nuts, and grass-fed beef.
· Foods rich in vitamins B6, B9, B12, and biotin—these B-vitamins support methylation processes (cellular detoxification, neurotransmitter synthesis, gene expression, etc.). The easiest way to boost levels is to eat foods rich in folate, including dark green leafy vegetables, chickpeas, pinto beans, lentils, and asparagus.
· Foods rich in vitamins C & E. Vitamin C elevates glutathione in red blood cells and lymphocytes while vitamin E works with glutathione to prevent oxidative damage. Vitamin E sources include wheat germ oil, flax seeds, almonds, and spinach. For vitamin C sources beyond oranges, read my blog post here.
Depending on your health needs, lifestyle, and age, simply boosting glutathione through diet alone might not be enough. This where a high-quality supplement can be beneficial.
· Liposomal glutathione is the most bioavailable glutathione supplement, as it bypasses the GI tract and gets to where it needs to go. Liposomes bond to cell membranes, allowing nutrients to pass easily into cells. Lower doses in this form tend to be more effective than higher doses in less bioavailable forms. 1 mL daily is the recommended dose.
· N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) is a precursor to glutathione and that boosts levels within our tissues. In addition to protecting the lungs and gastrointestinal tract from damage, it provides other unique benefits including reducing the severity and frequency of asthma attacks.
· Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) helps restore glutathione levels following depletion from an immune response. It also increases insulin sensitivity and improves symptoms of diabetic neuropathy, as well as restores lymphocyte function in those with HIV/AIDS.
· Milk thistle supplements are another way to boost glutathione levels naturally. They are a source of silymarin, the active ingredient in milk thistle extract, which has been shown to increase cysteine levels.
· Curcumin, the extract form of turmeric, has also been shown to restore glutathione levels in the body. Curcumin is also a powerful anti-inflammatory and can help with chronic pain and arthritis.
If you think you may be struggling with sub-optimal glutathione levels—whether due to age, lifestyle, or a health condition, please contact me. I can help you reshape your diet, as well as navigate the tricky world of supplements. Glutathione shows a lot of promise, and you will want to see how it can help you reach your health and wellness goals.