Coined “The Mother of All Antioxidants” by Mark Hyman, MD, glutathione is one of the hottest topics in both natural health and medical circles today. (1) Pronounced “gloota-thigh-own,” over 139,000 peer-reviewed scientific articles have addressed this powerhouse molecule, and experts are now recognizing that an alarming rate of people are deficient because of:
- Pre-mature aging
- Chronic stress
- Environmental toxins
- So-called “health foods”
- Genetically modified foods
- Artificial sweeteners
- Overuse of antibiotics
- And radiation therapy that is all too easily given to cancer patients today.
What Is Glutathione?
So exactly what is glutathione and what does it do? Glutathione (GSH) is a peptide consisting of three key amino acids that plays several vital roles in the body. Longevity researchers believe that it is so pivotal to our health that the level of GSH in our cells is becoming a predictor of how long we will live! (2, 3, 4)
The key to understanding why GSH is so crucial for health is that every cell in our bodies produces it. In the words of Gustavo Bounous, MD, retired professor of surgery at McGill University in Montreal, “It’s the [body’s] most important antioxidant because it’s within the cell.” (5) Although it’s absolutely essential to maintaining a healthy immune system, it is not technically an “essential nutrient” because the body can create it from the amino acids L-cysteine, L-glutamic acid (a component of glutamine) and glycine.
- Conjugates (“links together”) with drugs to make them more digestible
- Is a cofactor (“helper molecule”) for some important enzymes including glutathione peroxidase (which protects you from oxidative damage)
- Is involved in protein disulfide bond rearrangement (which is critical for the biogenesis of one-third of all human proteins)
- Reduces peroxides (natural bleaching agents that are harmful to the body)
- Participates in leukotriene production (vital component for inflammatory and hypersensitivity reactions)
- Helps the liver detoxify fat before bile is emitted, which takes stress off of the gallbladder
- Helps detoxifies methylglyoxal, a toxin produced as a by-product of metabolism
- Cancer apoptosis (“programmed cell death”)
In modern medicine, there are several other glutathione uses as well. Glutathione injections are sometimes given to prevent poisonous side effects of chemotherapy and also for some cases of male infertility. (8) Using intravenous glutathione for skin lightening is now a thing as well, but the evidence is lacking to back up this use. Plus, as the glutathione levels fade, so do the effects — which means more and more treatments are needed. (9)
- Plays a crucial role in immune function
- Promotes T-cell function, which is critical for a strong immune system
- Helps prevent drug resistance
- Protects from environmental toxins
- Discourages cancer progression
Top 9 Foods and Supplements
Although the National Institute of Health (NIH) still claims that GSH deficiency is a rare disease, there are a growing number of reputable sources that state quite the opposite.
What are the symptoms of glutathione deficiency? Glutathione synthetase deficiency can be a mild, moderate or severe disease depending on each individual case. Some of the signs and symptoms of this deficiency can include anemia, the buildup of too much acid in the body (metabolic acidosis), frequent infections and symptoms caused by problems in the brain (including seizures, intellectual disability and loss of coordination). (12)
Because of its role in preventing and managing disease, I recommend to be proactive and take a common sense approach to boost glutathione levels. What foods are high in glutathione? There aren’t specific foods naturally rich in GSH, but there are foods and supplements that are known for boosting glutathione in the body.
Essentially, if you regularly consume these nine foods and supplements to reach your overall health and wellness goals, you’ll also enjoy the naturally occurring glutathione benefits! It’s a win-win!
1. Milk Thistle
Used for centuries by traditional folk medicine all across the world, milk thistle has long been praised as a remedy for immune dysfunction. Specifically, silymarin, a unique flavonoid complex derived from the milk thistle plant, has been used for liver damage and biliary tract disease.
According to scientists, the secret to milk thistle’s healing prowess is its ability to enhance GSH. Shown to boost glutathione levels in ethanol-induced rats, it was discovered that milk thistle could actually help protect the liver from toxicity in the presence of alcohol consumption; which is well-known to cause glutathione levels to plummet. (13)
2. Whey Protein
Whey protein replenishes glutathione by boosting cysteine, which helps rebuild glutathione when it is depleted from an immune response. (14) According to a recent studies, whey protein is the ideal supplement to help naturally increase glutathione for both fighting cancer, strengthening the immune system, increasing metabolism and reducing appetite. (15, 16)
Rich in glutathione, it is extremely important to purchase the right type of whey protein. Avoid any whey protein that is processed or protein isolate. I recommend grass-fed why or goat whey protein as a dietary supplement. You will want to use a whey protein powder that is all natural or organic (when possible) and is completely free of pesticides, hormones, genetically modified organisms, artificial sweeteners and is gluten-free.
3. Sulfur Foods
Since the mid-1990s, it has been a well-established fact that GSH concentrations take a nosedive in the liver and lungs when sulphur amino acid intake is inadequate. (17) This is one of the many reasons I recommend sulfur-rich, cancer-fighting cruciferous vegetables as a critical part of any natural health regimen. These include:
- Bok choy
- Brussel sprouts
- Collard greens
- Mustard greens
N-acetylcysteine (NAC) helps decrease the severity and frequency of wheezing and respiratory attacks by boosting glutathione and thinning bronchial mucus, thus working as an effective asthma remedy. NAC is actually a precursor to GSH, and it has recently been proven highly efficient at treating neurocognitive issues like addiction, compulsive behaviors, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. (18) I recommend taking 200–500m milligram once daily.
5. α-Lipoic Acid
a-Lipoic Acid helps restore GSH levels with any immune system depletion. In fact, it’s part of my Reverse Diabetes Naturally plan. Only 300–1,200 milligrams of alpha lipoic acid daily helps improves insulin sensitivity and reduces symptoms of diabetic neuropathy. It has also been shown clinically to restore total blood GSH status and lymphocyte function in HIV/AIDS patients. (19)
6. Methylation Nutrients (Vitamins B6, B9, B12 and biotin)
In the words of Dr. Mark Hyman, methylation ingredients “are perhaps the most critical to keep the body producing glutathione.” (1) The best (natural) way to keep your methylation ingredients at optimal levels is to simply eat these top folate foods:
- Garbanzo beans (chickpeas) — ½ cup: 557 mcg (over 100% DV)
- Liver — 3 oz: 221 mcg (55% DV)
- Pinto beans — ½ cup: 146 mcg (37% DV)
- Lentils — ½ cup: 179 mcg (45% DV)
- Spinach — 1 cup: 56 mcg (14% DV)
- Asparagus — ½ cup: 134 mcg (33% DV)
- Avocado — ½ cup: 61 mcg (15% DV
- Beets — ½ cup: 68 mcg (17% DV)
- Black eyed peas — ½ cup: 112 mcg (28% DV)
- Broccoli — 1 cup: 57 mcg (14% DV)
Selenium works as a powerful anti-oxidant and is required for your body to create GSH. Be sure to stock your refrigerator and pantry with these top selenium foods:
- Brazil nuts — 1 oz (6-8 nuts): 544 mcg (over 100% DV)
- Yellow fin tuna — 3 oz: 92 mcg (over 100% DV)
- Halibut, cooked — 3 oz: 47 mcg (67% DV)
- Sardines, canned — 3 oz: 45 mcg (64% DV)
- Grass-fed beef — 3 oz: 33 mcg (47% DV)
- Turkey, boneless — 3 oz: 31 mcg (44% DV)
- Beef liver — 3 oz: 28 mcg (40% DV)
- Chicken — 3 oz: 22 mcg (31% DV)
- Egg — 1 large, 15 mcg (21% DV)
- Spinach – 1 cup: 11 mcg (16% DV)
8. Vitamins C & E
Vitamin C helps raise glutathione in red blood cells and lymphocytes. (20) Vitamin E is an important antioxidant that works with GSH to prevent damage from reactive oxygen and protects glutathione-dependent enzymes. (21)
So working together, vitamins C and E help recycle glutathione and can help keep you disease-free. Eating these top vitamin C foods and vitamin E foods should be on all of our to-do lists. They together help keep glutathione at optimal levels, plus boost our immune systems and overall body function.
- Oranges — 1 large: 82 mg (over 100% DV)
- Red peppers — ½ cup chopped, raw: 95 mg (over 100% DV)
- Kale — 1 cup: 80 mg (134% DV)
- Brussels sprouts — ½ cup cooked: 48 mg (80% DV)
- Broccoli — ½ cup cooked: 51 mg (107% DV)
- Strawberries — ½ cup: 42 mg (70% DV)
- Grapefruit — ½ cup: 43 mg (71% DV)
- Guava — 1 fruit: 125 mg (over 100% DV)
- Kiwi — 1 piece: 64 mg (33% DV)
- Green peppers — ½ c chopped, raw: 60 mg (100% DV)
- Almonds — 1 oz: 7.3 mg (27% DV)
- Spinach — 1 bunch: 6.9 mg (26% DV)
- Sweet Potato — 1 Tbsp.: 4.2 mg (15% DV)
- Avocado — 1 whole: 2.7 mg (10% DV)
- Wheat germ — 1 ounce: 4.5 mg (17% DV)
- Sunflower seeds — 2 Tbsp.: 4.2 mg (15% DV
- Palm Oil — 1 Tbsp.: 2.2 mg (11% DV)
- Butternut squash — 1 cup, cubed: 2 mg (7% DV
- Trout — 3 oz: 2 mg (7% DV)
- Olive oil — 1 Tbsp.: 2 mg (7% DV)
9. Beef Liver
Not only is beef liver in my list of top selenium foods, but it has been shown to boost selenium and gluthione production better than supplements. Studies have shown that because the nutrition has been concentrated in the liver, eating this organ from a local grass-fed, organic cow is a highly effective way to boost glutathione levels — plus the levels of selenium in beef and in beef liver are far more bioavailable than supplements.
I recommend only getting high-quality grass-fed beef liver either dried or raw and adding it to your diet to boost selenium and glutathione production. (22)
An Anti-Cancer Agent?
One of the most promising areas of GSH research is the role that it plays in cancer. “By conferring resistance to a number of chemotherapeutic drugs,” an important 2004 study published in the Cell Biochemistry and Function highlights, “Elevated levels of glutathione in tumor cells are able to protect such cells in bone marrow, breast, colon, larynx and lung cancers.” (23)
The reverse is also true. According to Italian researchers from the Department of Experimental Medicine, Section of General Pathology (Genoa), GSH deficiency causes cells to be more vulnerable to oxidative stress, which contributes to cancer development. (7)
As researchers have continued to investigate these phenomena, they have actually discovered that GSH is a more potent anti-cancer agent than previously anticipated. In the words of Jeremy Appleton, ND, chairman of the department of nutrition at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon:
If you look in a hospital situation at people who have cancer, AIDS, or other very serious disease, almost invariably they are depleted in glutathione. The reasons for this are not completely understood, but we do know that glutathione is extremely important for maintaining intracellular health. (26)
Because no one knows for sure the exact reasons why GSH is depleted in these patients and why it’s so effective in fighting against cancer, some question its health benefits. Some even claim that it can harm you.
Naturally made by our cells, there is no record of people “overdosing” on glutathione when supplementing from the natural sources that I discuss below. There are, however, clinical trials highlighting one of the possible glutathione side effects, which is that it may constrict the airways of people with asthma when it is inhaled via a nebulizer. (27)
It’s also important to note that scientists are unsure as to how the body responds to a synthetic glutathione supplement and there is currently no standardized safe glutathione dosage. (28) My recommendation is to stay with the nine natural sources and skip the man-made stuff.
The bottom line, according to Appleton, is that,
There’s no evidence that supplementing with glutathione, even intravenously, is in any way going to make any cancer worse. In fact, the evidence we have suggests the opposite. It suggests that glutathione and other antioxidants, far from interfering with the activity of chemotherapy, appear to reduce side effects without decreasing efficacy and may, in fact, improve the efficacy of the chemotherapy in fighting cancer. (29)
While there aren’t glutathione foods per se, there are things you can eat and supplements you can take to naturally boost your glutathione levels.
Nine of the best foods and supplements you can consume to boost glutathione include:
- milk thistle
- whey protein
- high sulfur foods including cruciferous vegetables
- N-acetyl cysteine (NAC)
- alpha lipoic acid
- methylation nutrients like vitamins B6, B9, B12 and biotin
- selenium-rich foods like Brazil nuts and sardines
- vitamin C and vitamin E
- raw liver from organic grass-fed cows
Glutathione is absolutely crucial to so many vital aspects of our health including our immune system and longevity. Scientific research and many experts confirm that potent glutathione also acts as a potent anti-cancer agent in the body. In other words, it’s worth making an effort to increase your levels, as glutathione is highly beneficial to your overall health!