Almost everyone is deficient in this antioxidant that fights cancer, de-stresses, and supercharges the liver. The glutathione is one of the most popular and most researched antioxidants. Once you hear about the health benefits, it is natural to want to run to the store and buy some supplements.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of confusion about this, especially in supplementation, and today’s post explores what you can do to raise your levels naturally.
What is glutathione?
Before we get started on supplements, let’s take a second to find out why glutathione is so important.
Glutathione is a molecule (a peptide, to be precise) made up of three amino acids:
- L-glutamic acid
Your doctor and the internet have been raving about this stuff because it is an antioxidant. Some people even call it the “master antioxidant” due to its presence throughout the body and its powerful effects.
The key difference between this and other antioxidants: your body produces glutathione on its own. You would drink wine to ingest resveratrol or eat blueberries for anthocyanins. But glutathione occurs naturally within the body , so it is not considered an “essential nutrient.”
This unique characteristic has a great impact on the effectiveness of supplements.
Glutathione Benefits: What Does Glutathione Do?
Scientists continue to explore potential health benefits, but the results so far have been quite impressive. More than 130,000 studies have been published (and counting) in the PubMed database exploring these same topics.
Here are some of the most important health benefits:
1. Protects against oxidative stress
Above all, glutathione is considered a powerful antioxidant.
This antioxidant neutralizes free radicals, unstable oxygen molecules, and heavy metals within the body. This helps you avoid the consequences, which range from premature aging and fatigue to intestinal disorders and neurodegenerative problems.
Glutathione neutralizes free radicals and heavy metals within the body.
A review published in the journal Biology and Pharmacotherapy reviewed the importance of glutathione in biological processes. The researchers noted glutathione’s ability to target reactive oxygen species. They also described connections between inadequate glutathione levels and aging, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases.
2. Strengthens the immune system
Glutathione has a significant effect on the immune system.
A fascinating study published in the journal The Proceedings of the Nutrition Society describes how the process works. In individuals with strong immune systems, lymphoid cells contain a precise balance of glutathione.
Even small changes in glutathione levels can disrupt the entire system because certain biological functions, such as DNA synthesis, are “exquisitely sensitive” to reactive oxygen.
Research published in Clinical Immunology explored this further. In that study, the researchers found that glutathione enhanced immune system function by protecting activated T cells.
3. Regulates risk factors for cardiovascular problems
Glutathione is also good for your heart.
A major risk factor for cardiovascular problems is something called endothelial dysfunction. This occurs when the endothelium (the inner lining of the blood vessels) does not work properly.
That’s where glutathione comes in. One study gave glutathione to patients with atherosclerosis and found that it significantly improved endothelial function by increasing nitric oxide activity. Another study confirmed the effect in rabbits.
4. Helps cleanse the liver
The liver helps detoxify the body and glutathione helps cleanse the liver.
Glutathione binds to toxic chemicals before your body excretes them. As a result, it plays an important role in helping your body process toxins from food and the environment.
One study compared the livers of healthy men with those with cirrhosis of the liver and found that the key difference was reduced glutathione levels.
Another study focused on more than 200 people in northern Sweden who ate fish several times a week or more. The researchers tracked mercury exposure and found that the level of mercury retained in the body was connected to genes that regulate glutathione synthesis.
The less glutathione that is produced, the greater the exposure to mercury.
5. It can help prevent certain types of cancer
Some of the most interesting research focuses on anticancer effects.
A review published in the journal Cell Biochemistry & Function offers a good overview. The researchers noted that it is “crucial in the elimination and detoxification of carcinogens” thanks to its antioxidant effects.
However, this effect works both ways. As research in the journal Hindawi pointed out , we can also intentionally lower the glutathione of tumor cells to make them more susceptible to chemotherapy treatments, a process known as “chemosensitization.”
More research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms by which these processes work. But some researchers are already beginning to attribute higher cancer rates to glutathione deficiency.
What Causes a Glutathione Deficiency?
Certain risk factors increase the likelihood of deficiency.
Years. Research comparing young and old found that some older people become deficient in glutathione because their bodies synthesize it more slowly than young people’s bodies.
Intestinal diseases Conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) have been shown to decrease production.
Adrenal gland problems / chronic fatigue syndrome. Researchers have observed decreased levels in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome.
Athletes who train too hard without proper nutrition and rest. Regular, moderate exercise helps raise glutathione levels, but overdoing it can decrease production.
Diabetes / blood sugar problems. Research in people with uncontrolled type 2 diabetes found glutathione levels “severely deficient.
If you fall into any of the above categories, it does not necessarily mean that you have a deficiency. Just take it as a warning sign to be careful.
Should you take glutathione supplements?
All of this brings us to the most important question: figuring out how to address a glutathione deficiency.
Why not just take a supplement?
It is natural for you to think this way. After all, this is how endless pharmaceutical advertisements have conditioned us to react (have a problem, take a pill). And, while the supplement route works well for other nutrient deficiencies, it’s not the best option here.
The key issue is absorption.
Our bodies have a hard time absorbing a significant amount of glutathione from external sources. The vast majority are broken down during the digestion process. So even if you eat glutathione-rich foods or take supplements, only a small fraction of the amount affects your actual levels.
A study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine tracked the effects of oral glutathione supplements and found no “significant changes” in biomarkers of oxidative stress.
Other studies had significant results, but generally by using huge amounts of supplements and / or combining oral supplements with injections or transdermal skin patches.
Supplements offer a convenient (and often expensive) “solution” to a complex problem. Remember we mentioned that glutathione is among the most important antioxidants in the body? A deficiency generally indicates deeper health problems.
Oral glutathione supplements don’t work as well. Even if they did, relying on them to solve the problem would be like drinking caffeine to overcome chronic fatigue. You are treating a symptom of the problem, rather than the problem itself.
Supplement manufacturers are probably not trying to be manipulative. It’s easy to cling to the idea that your products will fix the problem with little effort on your part.
However, getting to the root of the problem requires more effort. Instead of trying to take as many supplements as possible, you can work to optimize your body for glutathione production.
How To Naturally Increase Your Glutathione Levels
Supplements are not a cure for a deficiency. Fortunately, there are other things you can do to increase your levels naturally.
Let’s take a look at the diet and lifestyle factors:
Because glutathione is involved in so many biological functions, it regularly interacts with these nutrients. A deficiency in one nutrient can increase the likelihood of a deficiency in another. Everything is connected.
The following nutrients have been shown to be especially important for proper glutathione production:
- Vitamins B
In addition to making sure you are getting enough nutrients, you can also eat more glutathione-rich foods. Here, however, we again run into the problem that your body cannot absorb most of the external glutathione, just like with supplements.
But eating more foods rich in this antioxidant certainly won’t hurt. If you eat enough, you can still raise your levels.
A wide variety of paleo-friendly foods contain glutathione. If you are looking for the richest fonts, try these:
- Brussels sprouts
In addition to the dietary adjustments above, you can optimize your lifestyle to encourage increased glutathione production.
It may be time to cut down on your alcohol consumption. We have already mentioned the important relationship of glutathione to the liver . A research study found that chronic alcohol abuse reduces the stores of this antioxidant in the liver.
On the other hand, some people even use the supplements before drinking to prevent hangovers.
Also, be sure to exercise. You don’t have to train too much or every day. But one study found that a moderate exercise regimen increased the intake of this antioxidant.
A combination of resistance training and cardio led to the greatest increase. Try circuit training to get two things in one.
Check out the general trend here: Lifestyle changes that are good for your glutathione levels are also good for your overall health.
Glutathione is one of the most important antioxidants. It is so crucial to our health that our bodies do things for themselves. This humble molecule can help protect you from oxidative stress and all the health conditions that accompany it.
But raising your levels is not as simple as eating foods rich in glutathione or taking a supplement. The relationships between this antioxidant and other aspects of your health are complex.
Our best bet is to do everything possible to optimize our bodies for glutathione production. Then we can let Mother Nature take care of the rest.