Eating an antioxidant-rich diet full of berries and kale is a great way to ensure our bodies have a sufficient supply of free-radical fighting antioxidants. However, did you know that your body actually produces its own superhero called glutathione? It’s true!
This mighty little molecule is your body’s master detoxifier. No other nutrient works as hard to eliminate toxins, chemicals, and free radicals from your body. Unfortunately, those very same toxins all disrupt your body’s natural production of this detoxifier.
The good news is that you can support your body’s production of glutathione through a supplement and reap all of its benefits that I will discuss later.
Let’s look closer at this powerful peptide.
What is Glutathione?
Glutathione, or GSH, is a tripeptide consisting of three amino acids: L-cysteine, L-glutamic acid, and glycine.1 It is produced by your liver and recycled continuously, however it is actually found in every single cell in your body.
It is the most important detoxifying molecule you have. Toxins lurk in our air from pollution, in our food which is sprayed with pesticides, and in our water which has trace amounts of heavy metals. Glutathione helps clear heavy metals such as mercury, aluminum, and cadmium from your body. It also helps eliminate toxins found in plastics and conventional cosmetic products, or in mold.
Glutathione supports detoxification due to its high sulfur content. Sulfur is sticky so toxins and free radicals easily adhere to it and are then removed from your system.
Its natural production can be slowed as a result of autoimmune disease, medications, stress, trauma, aging, infections, a poor diet, pollution, and radiation. Some of these factors are uncontrollable, such as aging and our environment while others are factors you can control.
Our body’s production of glutathione can also be halted by intense physical activity over longer periods of time. For example, marathon runners may deplete their body’s supply long before their 26.2-mile race is finished, while soccer players have time to replenish their supply between bursts of intense activity.
The best way to ensure your body is producing enough glutathione is through eating lots of antioxidant foods like strawberries or blueberries or by taking a supplement.
What Happens When You Don’t Have Enough Glutathione?
When you don’t have enough of this free-radical fighter, your body suffers from oxidative stress, an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants, at a cellular level. Free radicals are highly reactive molecules that are missing their second electron and stop at nothing to find one.
Normally, an antioxidant would step in to donate an electron and stabilize the free radical. However, when you have an insufficiency, your body is not producing enough antioxidants to donate electrons, leaving the free radicals at liberty to steal them from healthy cells.
Free radicals can cause significant damage to living cells, tissues, and even your DNA; your predisposition to developing autoimmunity, your risk of cancer, and the rate in which you age are all affected. So it is important to maintain healthy levels of glutathione to combat these electron-stealing free radicals through diet or by supplementation.
What Are the Benefits of Glutathione
As I mentioned, glutathione is a master detoxifier. If you’ve been exposed to mold or mycotoxins, glutathione is crucial to your health. Mold and mycotoxin exposure take a terrible toll on our inflammation status, toxic burden, immune system, and, you guessed it, glutathione levels.
It’s an unfortunate fact that in the face of mold exposure, chronic disease, and increased toxic burden, that glutathione is so depleted. This is when we need this all important micronutrient the most! As you work to rid your body of toxins or mold exposure, glutathione offers critical support.
As part of The Myers’ Way®, I recommend a two-step approach for taming the toxins: 1) Minimize your exposure and 2) support your detox pathways. However, the bombardment of environmental toxins we face each day — in the form of water and air pollution, pesticides and herbicides in our food, and chemicals in our beauty products and cleaning products — requires us to turn to our body’s most powerful methods of detoxification to keep up with our individual toxic burdens. That’s where glutathione comes in!
And it doesn’t stop there. Glutathione supports energy production like no other supplement can. It is critical for coordinating the activity of antioxidants in your cells. The power of Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and even the free radical fighters CoQ10 and Ubiquinol are all coordinated by appropriate glutathione levels. This activity clears your cells of toxins and protects your cells and their mitochondria (the “power plants” in cells that provide your body with fuel known as ATP) from oxidative damage, allowing them to function at peak efficiency.
Here is what else glutathione can do:
- Support athletic performance
- Promote a balanced inflammatory response
- Encourage healthy aging
- Promote lean muscle mass
- Modulate insulin resistance
- Protect against environmental toxins
What are Healthy Levels of Glutathione?
Your single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) is an indicator of a genetic mutation. The GSTM1 gene helps your body process glutathione. If you have a GSTM1 SNP, you can support a healthy level of glutathione with an adequate intake of cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, and brussel sprouts and a detox supplement that your body can absorb, because most glutathione supplements, unfortunately, don’t work at all!.
It is not a standard practice for conventional medicine doctors to test glutathione levels, nor are they trained on how to do so. The testing of glutathione levels is not very reliable either, in part because the levels in your body fluctuate widely, although a number of companies are attempting to develop an accurate test.
On the chance that your functional medicine doctor can actually test your glutathione levels, the test is conducted in both red blood cells (RBC) and plasma. Plasma testing generally reflects both the reduced and oxidized forms of this peptide. If you do get a test, the parameters are:
The normal ranges in plasma:2
- Reduced GSH: 3.8 – 5.5 umol/L
- GSS (oxidized glutathione): 0.16 – 0.50 umol/L
- Total glutathione (GSH+GSSG): 3.8 – 5.5 umol/L
- The standard reference range in RBCs:
- 1,000-1,900 umol/L (some clinicians consider 1,100 -1,200 umol/L to be “low.”)
Due to the inaccuracies and lack of availability I prefer to diagnose a deficiency based on symptoms. Now that you understand what your levels should be, let’s talk about the signs of a deficiency.
How Do You Know if You Have a Glutathione Deficiency?
Because we don’t live in a perfect world and are all aging, we all need some support in maintaining our glutathione levels at times. Here are some early warning signs that you may have a mild to moderate deficiency:3
- Lack of energy
- Joint and muscle aches and pains
- Foggy brain
- Low immunity
- Poor sleep
These are the symptoms of a severe insufficiency:4
- Anemia (low levels of iron)
- Metabolic acidosis (build-up of too much acid in the body)
- Frequent infections
- Seizures, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease
- Loss of coordination (Ataxia)
- Liver disease
- Heart attack and stroke5
If you feel like you have a deficiency, I recommend increasing supplemental glutathione levels using the methods I outline below.
How Do You Get Enough Glutathione?
As discussed earlier, glutathione is produced naturally in your body, and maintaining optimal levels of it can be enhanced through a healthy lifestyle. Minimizing stress, toxins, infections, and getting plenty of sleep and exercise all support glutathione production in your body.
Natural Ways to Support Glutathione Levels
- Consume sulfur-rich foods: Sulfur is required for the synthesis of glutathione. Dietary proteins such as beef, fish, and poultry or cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower, brussel sprouts, and broccoli have sulfur-containing amino acids methionine and cysteine, and can help increase your production of glutathione.
- Get enough sleep: Sleep is a vital part of daytime cognitive function, and can even play a part in detoxifying your body. When you don’t get enough sleep, your risk of developing chronic issues including hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, depression, and obesity increases dramatically. When I’m having trouble falling asleep, I turn to my chiliBLANKET by ChiliSleep to offer the comfort of a weighted blanket with the sweat-free sensation of cooling water channels. If you’re a fan of weighted blankets but live in a hot climate like me, the chiliBLANKET is the perfect way to create a cozy cocoon while staying dry and cool.
- Incorporate selenium-rich foods: Selenium is a glutathione cofactor, and is needed in all glutathione activity. Foods such as brazil nuts, fish, sunflower seeds, and bananas are all selenium-containing.
- Experiment with turmeric extract: This vibrant herb contains the powerful antioxidant curcumin, which has been shown to naturally increase glutathione levels.6
- Lower your stress levels naturally: Stress isn’t just a feeling, it’s a physical response that can lead to hormonal imbalances including the antioxidant/free radical imbalance that creates oxidative stress. No one can avoid stress completely, so learning to relieve it by finding a relaxing activity, being outdoors, exercising, or listening to music can help keep your body balanced.
Additional Ways to Support Glutathione Levels
When you’re under stress or toxic burden, glutathione is rapidly depleted, so a supplement is crucial in helping your body combat these challenges. Unfortunately, most oral glutathione supplements on the market just don’t work!
Years of research and clinical experience have led me to discover the optimal form, molecular structure, and delivery method supplemental oral glutathione needs to have in order to viably arrive in the gut and properly absorb.
I formulated Acetyl-Glutathione which uses an acetylation process and microcluster molecular structure – the most advanced available. This ensures that it won’t break down before your body has a chance to absorb it and that it is in the right form to actually be absorbed.
When you combine the added support of acetylated glutathione with a healthy diet, plenty of sleep, and exercise, you’re ensuring that your body has enough of this master detoxifier.
Glutathione Deficiency FAQs
What is glutathione?
What is glutathione?
Glutathione benefits your body by being it’s master detoxifier. No other nutrient works harder to get rid of heavy metals such as mercury, aluminum, and cadmium. It also helps the body process and eliminate other toxins such as those found in plastics and conventional body products.
What foods are high in glutathione?
What foods are high in glutathione?
Foods high in B vitamins as well as certain sulfur-rich cruciferous and allium vegetables are great glutathione boosters. Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and brussel sprouts will help you see the benefits of glutathione. However, appropriate supplementation remains the best way to boost glutathione levels.
How long does it take to replenish glutathione?
How long does it take to replenish glutathione?
The amount of time that it takes to restore healthy glutathione levels varies from person to person; one patient might see results in a week where another might need a few months to recover from their toxic burden.
- Glutathione Benefits. Corey Whelan. Healthline. 2018.
- Do You Have a Glutathione Deficiency?. Bogdan Popa, MD. Core Med Science.
- Glutathione syntheses deficiency. Core Medicine. 2018.
- Glutathione syntheses deficiency. National Institute of Health. 2018.
- Glutathione Metabolism and Its Implications for Health. Guoyao Wu, Yun-Zhong Fang, Sheng Yang, Joanne R. Lupton, and Nancy D. Turner. Oxford Journal of Nutrition. 2004.
- Curcumin, a natural plant phenolic food additive, inhibits cell proliferation and induces cell cycle changes in colon adenocarcinoma cell lines by a prostaglandin-independent pathway. PubMed. 1997.