Glutathione isn't something you hear about a lot in everyday conversations, but maybe it should be. This tripeptide is made from three different amino acids — cysteine, glycine and glutamic acid.
From making small changes to your diet to getting more shuteye, there are a couple of things you can do to boost your glutathione levels. Although glutathione isn't found in food, you can fill up on whey protein, Brazil nuts, beef, eggs and other products containing the amino acids that make up this compound.
What Is Glutathione?
Glutathione is found in extremely high concentrations in almost all of your body's cells. Its concentrations are similar to those of glucose, potassium and cholesterol, according to a report that was published in Integrative Medicine: A Clinician's Journal in February 2014.
There are two major types of glutathione: GSH, or reduced, and GSSG, or oxidized. This is important to know because the ratio of GSH glutathione to the GSSG type determines how effectively your cells and your body as a whole are able to detoxify. In a healthy body, the ratio of GSH to GSSG is more than 100 to 1, but in a body that's under oxidative stress, that ratio drops to 1 to 10.
In addition to helping aid the detoxification process, glutathione has a number of other roles to play in your body.
- It helps neutralize free radicals
- It acts as a cofactor for various chemical reactions
- It helps your body make vitamins C and E
- It helps your kidneys eliminate waste
- It carries mercury, a toxic heavy metal, out of your brain and other body cells
- It regulates the creation of new cells and the death of old cells that your body no longer needs
- It maintains the DNA in your cells and improves the function of your mitochondria, the structures in your cells where most of your body's energy is made
Problems With Low Glutathione
What happens when glutathione levels get low or the amount of GSSG type starts to outweigh the GSH glutathione? Aside from the fact that GSSG is highly toxic to your cells, the report in Integrative Medicine: A Clinician's Journal notes that low glutathione levels have been linked to:
- Premature aging — and the aging process in general
- Neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (or ALS)
- Autoimmune diseases
- Liver disease
- Cystic fibrosis
- Heart disease, high blood pressure, heart attack and high cholesterol
- Eye diseases, such as cataracts, macular degeneration and glaucoma
- Age-related hearing impairment
On the other hand, higher glutathione levels have been linked to better physical health and fewer illnesses overall. Because of this, it would make sense that you would want to raise your glutathione levels, but the question remains: how do you do it? Are there glutathione supplements you can take? Are there glutathione foods that you can include in your diet?
The answer to these questions is yes. There are several ways to increase your GSH glutathione levels and boost your health.
Taking a Glutathione Supplement
GSH glutathione levels in the body typically fall between 0.1 and 10 millimolar (or mM). A lot of this glutathione is found in your liver, kidneys and red blood cells, which all play major roles in the detoxification process, according to an older but still relevant report published in Alternative Medicine Review in 2001. The goal is to keep your glutathione levels on the higher end of this range, if possible.
An obvious solution would be to supplement with glutathione, but unfortunately, not all supplements are effective. The report in Integrative Medicine: A Clinician's Journal points out that most oral glutathione supplements won't make it through the digestive tract and into the blood in high enough concentrations to raise the levels of glutathione in your cells. However, liposomal oral glutathione supplements may be more effective.
You can also get supplemental glutathione through injections, which seem to work better than oral formulas, but you'll have to get approval from your doctor first. That's OK, though, since you should talk to your doctor before taking any type of new supplement — whether oral or intravenous.
Raising Glutathione With Foods
Although there aren't any food sources of glutathione, there are some things you can consume that provide the amino acids your body needs to build glutathione. One of these is whey protein. According to a report featured in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry in December 2017, whey protein can help increase the amount of glutathione reductase, an enzyme that converts GSSG to GSH, in your body.
The report in Integrative Medicine: A Clinician's Journal adds that whey contains cysteine, one of the major amino acids that make up glutathione, so consuming it gives your body the building blocks it needs to produce more glutathione when necessary. The same report notes that almonds and alcohol-free beer may also increase glutathione levels.
Another nutrient that helps increase glutathione in your cells is selenium, which is a key component of glutathione reductase, according to a small clinical trial published in Neuro-Urology Monthly in May 2014. Brazil nuts are one of the richest sources of selenium — six to eight nuts provide more than 700 percent of the amount you need for the entire day — but you can also get it from:
- Organ meats
- Cottage cheese
- Baked beans
You can also increase your intake of other antioxidants, such as alpha-lipoic acid, or ALA, which helps neutralize free radicals and decrease oxidative stress so that your body doesn't have to use all its glutathione for that purpose. Flaxseed is one of the richest sources of ALA.
Boosting Glutathione in Other Ways
One of the other things you can do is focus on decreasing your toxic load. While this won't directly raise glutathione, it does increase your levels indirectly by reducing your body's need for glutathione and allowing it to remain in your cells. You can lower your toxic load by limiting alcohol intake and avoiding persistent organic pollutants, which are compounds most commonly found in conventionally-grown (or non-organic) foods.
Another way you can increase your glutathione levels (by as much as 20 percent) is to get more rest. A small study published in Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry in June 2012 points out that another big factor is sleep, which can directly boost GSH glutathione levels. According to the study, people with insomnia who didn't get enough sleep had significantly lower levels of GSH than those who got adequate rest.
While there's no definitive answer for exactly how much sleep you need each night, if you're an adult between the ages of 18 and 64, you should aim for seven to nine hours per night. If you're 65 or older, you generally need between seven and eight hours.
- Integrative Medicine: A Clinician's Journal: "Glutathione!"
- Alternative Medicine Review: "Glutathione, Reduced (GSH)
- Nephro-Urology Monthly: "Effect of Selenium Supplementation on Glutathione Peroxidase Enzyme Activity in Patients With Chronic Kidney Disease: A Randomized Clinical Trial"
- The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry: "Effects of a Whey Protein Supplementation on Oxidative Stress, Body Composition and Glucose Metabolism Among Overweight People Affected by Diabetes Mellitus or Impaired Fasting Glucose: A Pilot Study"
- Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry: "Oxidative Stress in Patients With Primary Insomnia"
- National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements: "Selenium"
- National Sleep Foundation: "National Sleep Foundation Recommends New Sleep Times"