Coined “The Mother of All Antioxidants” by Mark Hyman, MD, glutathione remains one of the hottest topics in both natural health and medical circles today. 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 for a variety of reasons, including chronic stress, environmental toxins and excessive use of antibiotics.
Glutathione is critical to many aspects of our health, including our immune system and longevity. Therefore, after learning the many benefits of glutathione, it’s worth learning how to naturally increase your levels.
What Is Glutathione?
Glutathione is a peptide consisting of three key amino acids that plays several vital roles in the body. Longevity researchers posit that it is so pivotal to our health that the level of glutathione in our cells is becoming a predictor of how long we will live.
The key to understanding why glutathione 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.”
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.
Although the National Institute of Health (NIH) still claims that glutathione 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).
Some of the functions that glutathione is responsible for include:
- 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”)
What are other health benefits of glutathione? In addition to helping these vital functions continue in the body, the list of glutathione benefits is extensive:
- 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
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.
How to Boost Levels
How can one boost glutathione levels? And what foods are high in glutathione? There aren’t specific foods naturally rich in glutathione, but there are foods and supplements that are known for boosting glutathione in the body.
Essentially, if you regularly consume these foods and supplements to reach your overall health and wellness goals, you’ll also enjoy the naturally occurring glutathione benefits.
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 glutathione. 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.
2. Whey Protein
Whey protein replenishes glutathione by boosting cysteine, which helps rebuild glutathione when it is depleted from an immune response. 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.
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. We 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 glutathione concentrations decline in the liver and lungs when sulphur amino acid intake is inadequate. This is one of the many reasons sulfur-rich, cancer-fighting cruciferous vegetables are recommended as part of a natural health regimen.
MSM’s sulfur also plays an important role in the production of glutathione.
NAC is actually a precursor to glutathione, and it has recently been proven highly efficient at treating neurocognitive issues like addiction, compulsive behaviors, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The recommend is taking 200–500 milligram once daily.
5. Alpha-Lipoic Acid
Alpha-lipoic acid helps restore glutathione levels with any immune system depletion. 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 glutathione 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.” The best (natural) way to keep your methylation ingredients at optimal levels is to simply eat these top folate foods: garbanzo beans, liver, pinto beans, lentils and asparagus.
Selenium works as a powerful anti-oxidant and is required for your body to create glutathione. Be sure to stock your refrigerator and pantry with these top selenium foods: Brazil nuts, yellow fin tuna, halibut, sardines, grass-fed beef, turkey and beef liver.
8. Vitamins C & E
Vitamin C helps raise glutathione in red blood cells and lymphocytes. Vitamin E is an important antioxidant that works with glutathione to prevent damage from reactive oxygen and protects glutathione-dependent enzymes.
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.
Excellent vitamin C foods include oranges, red peppers, kale, Brussels sprouts and broccoli. Top vitamin E foods include almonds, spinach, wheat germ and sunflower seeds.
9. Beef Liver
Not only is beef liver a top selenium food, 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.
An Anti-Cancer Agent?
One of the most promising areas of glutathione 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.”
The reverse is also true. According to Italian researchers from the Department of Experimental Medicine, Section of General Pathology (Genoa), glutathione deficiency causes cells to be more vulnerable to oxidative stress, which contributes to cancer development.
As researchers have continued to investigate these phenomena, they have actually discovered that glutathione 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.
Because no one knows for sure the exact reasons why glutathione 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. 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.
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. 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.
Glutathione is absolutely crucial to so many vital aspects of our health including our immune system and longevity. Scientific research and many experts suggest that glutathione may act 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.
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. It may be wise to eat many of the above foods in order to boost glutathione.