What is Glutathione?
Known as the mother of all the antioxidants, glutathione is probably the most essential molecule in the body to help you stay well and protect against disease. It is the essential cellular ingredient to protect all of us against aging, cancer, heart disease, dementia and much more besides.
The scientific literature is replete with articles about its importance with nearly 100,000 articles published to date and yet when it comes to glutathione deficiency, many doctors are in the dark.
Glutathione is produced naturally by the body and is present in every one of our cells. Unfortunately, it is depleted by a number of factors including poor diet, stress, premature aging, pollutants, infections, medication and radiation treatment. When your levels of glutathione become depleted, you are vulnerable to cellular damage caused by oxidative stress with some serious knock on effects including heart disease and cancer.
The link between serious illness and low levels of glutathione is well known including people suffering from cancer, asthma, arthritis, kidney conditions and liver disease. The ability to maintain adequate levels of glutathione is absolutely critical to your chances of recovery
from illness and for preventing disease in the first place.
How to increase your glutathione levels
Now that you know how important this antioxidant is, I am sure you are curious to know what we can do to ensure that our bodies have it in ample amounts. Glutathione supplements have become increasingly popular over the past ten years or so but do they actually work?
Dietary glutathione supplements are known as reduced glutathione, L-glutathione or GSH. They are available in several different forms including pills, tablets, capsules, powder and liquid extracts. Because these days more and more people are taking an interest in health issues, many more will have heard of the importance of glutathione for the immune system, detoxification, disease prevention and overall wellbeing. The web is awash with articles by health experts pointing out the importance of glutathione and naturally people have increasingly gravitated towards supplementation.
Doctors often recommend glutathione supplements for their patients and because supplements are so convenient and easy to find in the health stores, they are being taken more than ever.
However, glutathione supplements taken orally may not be having the desired effect and nearly all of the growing body of research suggests that oral glutathione supplements have little or no effect on the glutathione levels in the body.
The problem with glutathione supplements
The reason for this is that only a very tiny amount of manufactured glutathione is capable of entering the body’s bloodstream. The vast majority of glutathione is lost as it works its way through the digestive system. It is therefore unable to increase glutathione levels where it is most necessary especially in the detoxification organs like the kidneys, liver and lungs. Glutathione is such a tiny protein that it gets easily digested and the bulk of its use is lost. Fortunately, there are more effective methods of raising your glutathione levels naturally more of which will be discussed later in the article.
It is also possible for glutathione supplements to interfere with the body’s own production of glutathione. Naturally, glutathione is produced in the cells and is used within the cells as an antioxidant defense and for the purposes of detoxification.
If you flood the bloodstream with oral supplements of glutathione, your body’s natural production may slow down or stop entirely. A similar phenomenon to that observed with the synthetic supplementation of hormones where the body detects an adequate amount of the hormone.
Research on oral glutathione supplements
Most of the research done to date has been conducted on rats and mice though some has been conducted on healthy adults and other studies have been conducted on children and adults with serious conditions such as autism and cystic fibrosis.
Research done into the effects of oral glutathione supplements on healthy subjects has by and large demonstrated that glutathione taken orally has little or no effect because of how well it is absorbed in the digestive tract with very little of it transferring to the cells.
Studies such as this one published in 2011 which examined the effect of glutathione supplements on 40 healthy adults concluded that there were no significant alterations in the biomarkers for oxidative stress which included glutathione status. (1)
However a more recent study published in 2013 which examined the effects of glutathione supplements on 54 adults was more promising. At a dose of 1000 mg a day for 6 months, the subjects given supplements registered an increase in glutathione levels in blood plasma of around 30 to 35%. (2) A month after the trial had ended, glutathione levels had returned to baseline levels.
Alternative ways to boost glutathione levels
It seems that oral glutathione supplements might help but only temporarily and only to a limited degree so it is important to look at alternative methods of raising our body’s levels of this vital antioxidant molecule.
1. Other supplements to raise glutathione
- Alpha Lipoic Acid
One method of enhancing your body’s level of glutathione is to take another supplement. In particular, alpha lipoic acid has been proven to increase and regenerate glutathione levels in the body. This supplement also helps the body by regenerating your body’s supply of vitamins C and E allowing them to remain active in your body for longer. While alpha lipoic supplements are available, you can get it through your diet instead. The best way to increase your dietary source is by eating more organs and red meat.
Another supplement that is often recommended for increasing glutathione levels is a supplement called N-acetyl-cysteine also known as NAC. Unfortunately it can interfere with mercury detoxification and many experts including Dr Mercola recommend that you don’t take it. Make sure that you speak to your doctor before taking any supplements to boost your glutathione levels.
- Vitamin D
According to a number of experts, Vitamin D can help boost your cells production of glutathione. You could take it in supplemental form or try adding it to your diet naturally through food. The food from which you will derive the greatest amount of vitamin D includes fatty fish like mackerel, beef, mushrooms and egg yolks.
2. Food that can boost glutathione
- Whey Protein
When it comes to the best food to boost your glutathione levels, whey protein comes out on top. According to experts however, not all whey protein has the same effect. It is important that the whey protein you are buying and consuming is of the highest quality.This means that it should be produced from hormone free grass-fed cows and also cold pressed. High quality whey protein provides your body with the vital amino acids like glutamine and cysteine necessary to maximize glutathione production.A unique cysteine by-product called glutamylcysteine is present in good quality whey protein (and rarely found elsewhere) and is notable for its ability to convert into glutathione.
- Milk thistle
Milk thistle is an herb with a huge range of medical benefits but it is also a rich source of an antioxidant known as silymarin. It is believed that silymarin can help prevent the depletion of glutathione within the liver.We know that glutathione is vital in the liver for detox purposes and that the liver’s levels of glutathione are depleted by certain medications, alcohol and other toxins.
- Fruit and veg
Certain fresh vegetables and fresh fruits such as okra, broccoli, avocado, asparagus and squash are excellent natural sources of dietary glutathione. However, the process of cooking these fruits and vegetables will deplete their value so they should be eaten raw or drunk in a smoothie to get the maximum benefits.