Glutathione is known as the master antioxidant because it is used in large quantities by nearly every cell in your body. Due to its antioxidant abilities, glutathione inhibits the negative cascade of events created by free radicals, providing systemic benefits. It’s required for a healthy immune response, in metabolic health, detoxification, inflammation regulation, aging and mitochondrial health.
Adequate levels of glutathione are directly correlated to longevity and ability to thrive throughout the lifespan. Inversely, research shows the low levels are correlated with several medical conditions. For these reasons, glutathione is used as a biomarker in functional medicine to assess health as well as risk for chronic disease. Glutathione is made endogenously, however with the influx of excess free radicals generated from modern life, stress, increased chemical burden and dietary choices we often need external help to ensure adequate levels.
Continue reading for tips on how to ensure you have enough glutathione!
Supplementing with glutathione is one of the most effective ways at increasing plasma levels. With this in mind, not all supplements are created equal.
Glutathione is made of three amino acids- cysteine, glycine and glutamine. Research shows that levels of glutathione typically don’t increase with traditional supplements. The poor efficacy of supplemental glutathione is primarily due to two reasons:
- Glutathione by nature, is an unstable molecule. This means it is easily damaged by heat, light, oxygen and it has a short shelf life
- When glutathione is taken in pill form, it is more often than not broken down by stomach acid into its separate amino acid components (cysteine, glycine and glutamate). Each of these have their own stability and absorption rate, and since they are broken down it has roughly the same absorption of glutathione from food, which is low.
When looking to increase levels of glutathione in the body, research suggests only liposomal and IV glutathione have the ability to raise levels to clinical significance.
Lypo-Spheric® Glutathione wraps the glutathione in a fat bubble. This protects it from heat, light and oxygen and allows it to survive the stomach acid, allowing it to be delivered to the cells intact. Lypo-Spheric® glutathione is also packaged in single serve sachets, further protecting the delicate molecules.
Take Away: Evidence suggests that liposomal glutathione has a higher bioavailability than traditional supplementations and has been scientifically shown to favourably impact systemic glutathione levels- which has not been proven by traditional supplementation.
In addition to taking glutathione directly, there are several other ways to boost levels in the body naturally!
Alpha- Lipoic Acid
Like glutathione, Alpha- Lipoic Acid (ALA) is a sulfur-based thiol compound. Given these commonalities, ALA shares similar functions with glutathione. Both ALA and glutathione act as strong antioxidants in the body and help reduce the chemical burden through their role in the detoxification pathways. Both glutathione and ALA work throughout the body, and have the ability to cross into the brain and exert their effects there.
In addition to sharing mechanistic characteristics, ALA can increase and preserve glutathione levels throughout the body. Because ALA neutralizes free radicals, it is able to reduce the workload of glutathione, therefore exerting a sparing effect. By attacking free radicals, and sharing similar characteristics, higher levels of ALA allow for increased levels of circulating glutathione.
Lastly, ALA has the ability to restore glutathione levels by recycling glutathione molecules that have been used, oxidized or damaged.
Through these mechanisms, ALA can be a great substitute for glutathione supplementation in many cases!
N- Acetyl Cysteine (NAC)
As mentioned, three amino acids are needed for glutathione to be produced. Cysteine is one, and it’s known as the rate limiting amino acid in the synthesis of glutathione. When cysteine is in short supply, so is glutathione. Adequate amounts of NAC are necessary for glutathione to be produced as it is a fundamental precursor.
Our body makes small amounts of cysteine, but not enough for it to be able to accomplish its many responsibilities in the body. Because of this, it is recommended to get cysteine from the diet or supplementation.
Supplementing with 500mg a day has been shown to increase plasma levels of glutathione and exert a potent antioxidant effect!
Dietary glutathione is found in trace amounts in foods such as spinach, avocado and asparagus. However, the glutathione found in foods is minimal and it isn’t readily absorbed in the body. Cooking also damages the molecule, further degrading its absorption.
The three components that make glutathione are found in protein sources. Ensuring adequate bioavailable protein at every meal facilitates the synthesis of glutathione in the body. Great sources are beef, chicken, eggs and whey protein!
In addition to this, cruciferous vegetables which are rich in sulfur compounds provide the body with the building blocks to upregulate glutathione production in the body.
Studies have also shown vegetables that belong to the allium family such as garlic and onions are able to help the body produce its own glutathione.
Beyond incorporating these foods into the diet, reducing processed and inflammatory foods indirectly increases glutathione in the body. The less free radicals in our daily lives, the less glutathione we require. One of the largest sources of free radicals come from the diet, providing an easy avenue through which to reduce exposure!
Glutathione is a vital molecule in the body that largely determines our susceptibility to illness, and has several implications in optimal health. It is needed for both basic and complex functions in the body, and it is required by nearly every cell in every system. Our modern world provides us with excess free radicals due to the food we eat, the water we consume, the air we breathe and the high stress levels many of us experience. Because of this, it is paramount to ensure adequate glutathione levels with the help of targeted nutraceuticals and dietary interventions!
Lisa Kowalyk, CNP, B.Kin