Glutathione, a powerful antioxidant found in every cell of the body, maybe a secret fountain of youth. Some health experts have called it the “mother of all antioxidants”. Sounds powerful, right? It has received this reputation because it may be able to prevent premature aging, reduce oxidative stress, and fight the impact of the chronic stress many of us face. This powerful antioxidant is found in every cell of the body because it is so important to helping fight damage caused by our environment. Glutathione levels are believed to be one of the main predictors of longevity (1). So, what is this miraculous antioxidant anyway and where can you find it?
What is Glutathione?
Glutathione is a peptide (a small protein) made up of three amino acids linked together. It is not considered an essential nutrient, meaning we don’t need to get it from our diets, because our bodies can make it from other amino acids. But, this doesn’t reduce its importance. It has important functions in the body, a few of these include (2):
- Immune function
- Helps medications and drugs work better
- Protects us from damage from environmental toxins
- Reduces oxidative stress (a cause of many illnesses and aging)
- Prevents cancer progression
- Helps maintain a healthy brain
Glutathione is able to do all of these things because of its antioxidant abilities. Basically, antioxidants help prevent damage from free radicals, little molecules that go around destroying the cells in our bodies. These free radicals come from many different places, environmental toxins, stress, poor food choices, and even from a few natural metabolic processes. The destruction they cause is referred to as oxidative stress. If this type of stress gets out of control it leads to premature aging, inflammation, and disease. “Anti”-oxidants work against oxidative damage, neutralizing the free radicals so they can’t cause any more problems. Glutathione seems to be really great at doing this, helping the body fight off the free radicals, preventing disease and keeping you young and healthy.
In addition to the amazing ability to fight aging and disease, glutathione also has many additional health benefits. These are likely related to its ability to reduce oxidative stress. Here are just a few research highlights:
Helps Reduce Risk of Cancer
Glutathione, with its antioxidant abilities, is able to protect the body’s cells from developing cancer preventing the spread of tumors. It can also help lower the impact of cancer, for those who have already been diagnosed, reducing damage to important organs. It is also resistant to the action of chemotherapy so it can keep working to fight the disease even when other antioxidants are destroyed (3, 4).
Improves Symptoms of Psoriasis
Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease of the skin that leads to inflammation and itchy or scaly rashes. A 2013 study found that an oral supplement of whey protein, found to boost glutathione levels, helped reduce symptoms and improve the condition of the skin (5).
Reduces liver damage.
A deficiency in glutathione has been connected with the development of several diseases of the liver. Glutathione has been used to treat people with liver damage and the results have been promising. It has helped reduce markers of inflammation and liver failure. Adequate levels of glutathione also seem to help protect the liver from further damage (6).
Reduces symptoms of neurological diseases.
As people age, they produce less glutathione. This may be one reason why there is an increased risk of developing neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease as we get older. Glutathione may help slow the progression and improve the symptoms caused by these debilitating diseases. A study involving Parkinson’s patients found that intravenous glutathione reduced symptoms such as tremors (7). More research is needed to help identify exactly how to use glutathione to help people manage neurological illnesses.
Lowers risk of diabetes.
Low glutathione levels increase insulin resistance, a risk factor for diabetes. It also slows fat burning, increasing your risk of obesity. Insulin resistance and obesity can increase your chances of developing type 2 diabetes. Supplementation with amino acids that help the body make glutathione has shown to speed up fat burning and improve insulin sensitivity, lowering overall risk of diabetes (8).
Improves symptoms of autoimmune diseases.
Autoimmune diseases are all related to inflammation levels in the body. Glutathione is able to reduce oxidative stress, which in turn reduces inflammation. This may help the body normalize the immune response and lead to an improvement in symptoms (9).
Foods High In Glutathione
There are no specific foods that are high in glutathione since the body can make it on its own. But, there are many foods that help boost glutathione production. These fall into a few specific categories, here are a few of foods that help boost glutathione:
Glutathione contains sulfur, so foods high in sulfur will provide a raw material to make more if your body needs it (10). A few sulfur-containing foods include:
- Cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, Brussel’s sprouts, etc.
- Allium vegetables, such as onions or garlic
- Animal protein: chicken, fish, meat
- Nuts and seeds
- Legumes and beans
Methylation nutrients include vitamin B6, B9, B12, and biotin. These foods also provide raw materials for your body to make more glutathione. Foods high in these nutrients include:
- Beans and legumes
- Green leafy vegetables: spinach, asparagus, broccoli
Foods High in Selenium
Selenium is a mineral that has antioxidant properties of its own but is needed to make glutathione. A few foods high in selenium include:
- Brazil nuts
- Fish: tuna, halibut, sardines
- Beef liver
Foods High in Vitamins C and E
Vitamin C helps increase levels of glutathione in specific cells, where vitamin E works with glutathione to help it do its job more effectively. They both also help recycle glutathione, so the body does not run out (11, 12).
Foods high in vitamin C:
- Red and green peppers
- Green vegetables: kale, broccoli
Foods high in vitamin E:
- Nuts and seeds: almonds
- Green leafy vegetables: spinach
- Wheat germ
- Olive oil
As you can see, there are many foods that can help boost glutathione levels. If you are concerned about your intake, try to eat a varied diet with plenty of lean protein as well as fruits and vegetables to help your body make all the glutathione it needs.
Another option is to take glutathione supplements or use supplements that boost glutathione naturally, in the same way food does. If you want to supplement directly with glutathione, you want to look for a liposomal or s-acetyl supplement, not a reduced form. These types of supplements may be a bit more expensive, but are worth the additional cost, since glutathione is so important. These forms seem to be better absorbed when compared to other types of supplements (13).
But, it is important to note that there is no specific information as to what dosage is ideal or how the body reacts to glutathione supplements. The research on their efficacy has mixed results at this time, with some studies saying direct supplementation of glutathione is effective and others saying it is not. There may also be some side effects, including abdominal pain and allergic reactions (14).
If you don’t want to take glutathione supplements directly, but you are still interested in the benefits, you may want to consider supplements that help increase production in the body. These include (15, 16, 17):
- Milk thistle
- Whey protein (from pasture raised cattle)
- N-acetyl cysteine
- a- Lipoic acid
The bottom line is glutathione is an important antioxidant that we are still learning a lot about. Your body does make it on its own, but it needs a few raw materials from foods to help. You can use a supplement to try to improve your levels, but eating a healthy diet with plenty of variety is probably enough to help your body make the glutathione it needs.
To learn more about oxidative stress, inflammation and ways to naturally reduce them via diet, check out the 131 Method.