Glutathione, a powerful antioxidant found in every cell of the body, could be a secret fountain of youth. Some health experts call it the “mother of all antioxidants.” Sounds powerful, right? Its reputation comes from the ability to prevent premature aging, reduce oxidative stress and fight the impact of chronic stress. It serves as protection caused by the environment. Glutathione levels are believed to be one of the main predictors of longevity (1). So, where can you find it, and how do we get enough?
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 make it from other amino acids. But, this doesn’t reduce its importance. Important functions 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 achieves these 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 is called 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 further problems. Glutathione excels at this, helping the body fight off free radicals, preventing disease and promoting health and youthfulness.
Helps Reduce Risk of Cancer
Glutathione, with its antioxidant abilities, protects the body’s cells from developing cancer, preventing the spread of tumors. It also help lower the impact of cancer, reducing damage to important organs in those fighting the disease. It’s resistant to the action of chemotherapy, so it keeps 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
Glutathione deficiency has been connected with the development of several diseases of the liver. Glutathione has been used to treat people with liver damage with promising results. It has helped reduce markers of inflammation and liver failure. Adequate levels of glutathione seem to help protect the liver from further damage (6).
Reduces Symptoms of Neurological Diseases
As people age, they produce less glutathione. Could the decline increase the incidence of neurological diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s? 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 may 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 high in glutathione since the body makes it on its own, but some boost glutathione production. Foods that help boost glutathione:
Glutathione contains sulfur, so foods high in sulfur 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, Brussels sprouts
- Allium vegetables: onions, leeks, shallot, 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 contains 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, while vitamin E works with glutathione to help it do its job more effectively. They both 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
So many foods help boost glutathione levels! If you are concerned about your intake, try to eat a varied diet with plenty of lean protein, along with 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, look for a liposomal or s-acetyl supplement, not a reduced form. These types of supplements cost more, but are worth the additional cost. These forms seem to be better absorbed when compared to other types of supplements (13).
There is no specific information on ideal dosage 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 not. Potential side effects include: abdominal pain and allergic reactions (14).
If you don’t want to take glutathione supplements directly, but still want a little boost, 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: glutathione is an important antioxidant with more research needed. 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 improving 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.