With so many man-made chemicals being released into our atmosphere, waterways, foods and medications today, you might wonder how your body even knows what to do with them. Relentless toxic exposures, poor diets, medication overuse, chronic stress and insufficient exercise compound our toxic burden and whittle away our reserves of energy and resistance. Fortunately, your body has wisely equipped itself with a natural detoxification system that relies primarily on one powerful antioxidant: glutathione.
How Glutathione Works
Glutathione is different from other antioxidants in that it’s intracellular, so it supports detoxification at the cellular level and nit just a kidney, liver, or bowel. Although GSH plays a role in dozens of important biological operations, its benefits can generally be grouped into two broad categories: detoxification and immune support.
GSH can eliminate an impressive array of toxins (carcinogens, heavy metals, herbicides, pesticides, xenobiotics, radiation). It binds with them to form soluble compounds that can then be excreted through the urine or bile. Its sulfur atoms scavenge free radicals, transforming them into harmless compounds, such as water.
This is why your body must continuously replenish its GSH by making more. If you become deficient, toxins can build up—a bit like overflowing dumpsters during a garbage strike.
Glutathione Declines With Age
Glutathione levels tend to decline as we age, therefore deficiency is common among the elderly, and among alcoholics and athletes who overtrain. Individuals with the lowest GSH levels are 30 percent more likely to have a heart attack than those with the highest levels. (1). Essentially, the more glutathione your body can make, the healthier you will be—and some research suggests, the longer you will live. (2, 3) [the_ad id=”1217″]
The problem is that your body faces a number of challenges in maintaining adequate glutathione levels, which may explain why so many people today are battling toxicity-related diseases. We are bombarded daily with thousands of man-made chemicals that continuously use up our glutathione reserves, and most of us don’t derive enough glutathione (or its building blocks) from our daily diets to keep up.
Glutathione Deficiency Causes Diseases
Glutathione deficiency is linked to a number of serious illnesses such as cancer, neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases, arthritis, diabetes, cystic fibrosis, HIV infection and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome—and those are just for starters.
Boosting Your Glutathione Production Naturally
It is difficult to optimize GSH levels through diet alone. A large percentage of oral glutathione breaks down and oxidizes in your digestive tract, with only a small fraction making it into your bloodstream, tissues and cells.
Nevertheless, you can increase your glutathione levels to some degree by consuming foods rich in glutathione and its building blocks. Cooking raw vegetables destroys nearly 100 percent of their usable GSH. Similarly, the glutathione stores available in meat, dairy, and eggs, are only significant when the foods are consumed raw. It’s unlikely you’ll be consuming large quantities of raw meat and eggs, but have no fear—it turns out the top ten glutathione-containing foods are actually plants:
Other foods may boost your GSH levels by providing the nutritional building blocks to support your body’s own GSH production. Sulfur-rich cruciferous vegetables are great for this (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, etc.). Others include garlic, onions, parsley, spinach, beets, curcumin (turmeric), cinnamon, cardamom and black cumin. High-cysteine foods are also beneficial. Raw dairy is the best source of cysteine. Not surprisingly, GSH is almost entirely absent in pasteurized dairy.
Other nutritional compounds play important roles in glutathione synthesis—your body can’t make GSH without them:
- Vitamin C: Vitamin C is glutathione’s number one “crime-fighting cohort,” working with GSH to purge water-soluble toxins from your body. Vitamin C raises glutathione levels by helping your body manufacture it, and glutathione helps recycle vitamin C.
- Vitamin D (plus zinc): Vitamin D appears to increase glutathione production. In a rat study, GSH levels tripled when the rats were given vitamin D. However, the zinc-deficient rats did not make as much GSH as rats with adequate zinc.
- Sulfur: Sulfur is a key compound in GSH, which is why cruciferous vegetables are so beneficial. MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) can be used for additional sulfur. In animal studies, MSM is shown to promote glutathione synthesis and upregulate the activity of glutathione enzymes.[the_ad id=”1217″]
- B vitamins: Vitamins B1, B2, B6 and B12 are required for synthesis of glutathione. Folate (B9) is able to divert cysteine preferentially towards glutathione and away from homocysteine.
- Selenium and Magnesium: Along with vitamin E, selenium is required for your body to manufacture GSH. The best source of selenium is Brazil nuts, and you only need two or three per day. Magnesium is also required for glutathione synthesis.
- Alpha lipoic acid (ALA): ALA is important for recycling GSH and restoring its levels after depletion. Food sources of ALA include organ meats and spinach, although the human body has difficulty extracting it from foods, so the majority must be produced.
- Green tea, fish oil, and resveratrol: These substances have been found to switch on the genes responsible for glutathione synthesis.
- Milk thistle: A source of silymarin, milk thistle stimulates the growth and regeneration of liver cells by helping prevent glutathione depletion in the liver.
Are There Any Glutathione Supplements Worth Taking?
Oral supplementation has been the subject of much debate as studies are inconsistent and technology is evolving. The studies showing effectiveness tend to involve higher doses and longer treatment duration. Research supports the efficacy of the following three strategies for glutathione supplementation, so my recommendation would be to experiment and see what works best for you.
1. Glutathione Intra-Oral Spray
Glutathione sprays have been shown as effective in increasing intracellular GSH levels. They are rapidly absorbed through oral mucus membranes, largely bypassing the digestive tract.
2. Liposomal Glutathione
Liposomal Glutathione —meaning glutathione combined with liposomes—is an excellent option. The liposomes help the glutathione survive your digestive tract in order to make it to your cells. Be sure to avoid the varieties that use soy lecithin, opting for sunflower lecithin instead.
Recommended Dosage: 200-500 mg taken 1-2 times daily, away from food
3. Acetylated Glutathione
The acetylated form is quite similar to liposomal glutathione in that it also survives the gut and makes it into your cells, but it has an additional advantage. Acetylated GSH is cleaved by cellular enzymes, so utilizing it requires no energy expenditure by your body. My personal favorite is the S-acetylated Glutathione due its superior bioavailability compared to NAC and liposomal glutathione.
Recommended Dosage: 200-500 mg taken 1-2 times daily, away from food
Ultimately, the best way to determine which method works best for you is to test your body’s levels of GSH, before and after supplementation over a period of time.
One thing we know for sure: Exercise Boosts Glutathione
If you wish to boost your glutathione naturally, get off your butt. The first longitudinal study measuring the effect of exercise on glutathione levels found a positive connection—physical activity increased glutathione. A combination of cardio and weight training was most effective.
If you want higher glutathione levels without turning to a supplement, you have to get your body to make more, and this requires providing it with the right building blocks and ample energy to fuel the operation. Moving your body, improving your diet and reducing your toxic load are the best strategies for accomplishing the task.