Glutathione, the body’s master antioxidant and detoxifier, is one of the 14 “Superfoods” listed in SuperFoods Rx : Fourteen Foods That Will Change Your Life, co-authored by Dr Steven Pratt.
Glutathione levels cannot be increased to a clinically beneficial extent by orally ingesting a single dose of glutathione. (1) This is because glutathione is manufactured inside the cell, from its precursor amino acids, glycine, glutamate and cystine.
Hence food sources or supplements that increase glutathione must either provide the precursors of glutathione, or enhance its production by some other means.
The manufacture of glutathione in cells is limited by the levels of its sulphur-containing precursor amino acid, cysteine.
Cysteine – as a free amino acid – is potentially toxic and is spontaneously catabolized or destroyed in the gastrointestinal tract and blood plasma. However, when it is present as a cysteine-cysteine dipeptide, called cystine, it is more stable than cysteine.
Consuming foods rich in sulphur-containing amino acids can help boost glutathione levels. Here are some food sources and dietary supplements that help boost glutathione levels naturally.
1. N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC)
It is derived from the amino acid L-Cysteine, and acts as a precursor of glutathione. NAC is quickly metabolized into glutathione once it enters the body. It has been proven in numerous scientific studies and clinical trials, to boost intracellular production of glutathione, and is approved by the FDA for treatment of accetaminophen overdose. Because of glutathione’s mucolytic action, NAC (brand name Mucomyst) is commonly used in the treatment of lung diseases like cystic fibrosis, bronchitis and asthma.
2. Milk Thistle, Silymarin
Milk thistle is a powerful antioxidant and supports the liver by preventing the depletion of glutathione. Silymarin is the active compound of milk thistle. It is a natural liver detoxifier and protects the liver from many industrial toxins such as carbon tetrachloride, and more common agents like alcohol.
3. Alpha Lipoic Acid
Made naturally in body cells as a by-product of energy release, ALA increases the levels of intra-cellular glutathione, and is a natural antioxidant with free radical scavenging abilities. It has the ability to regenerate oxidized antioxidants like Vitamin C and E and helps to make them more potent. ALA is also known for its ability to enhance glucose uptake and may help prevent the cellular damage accompanying the complications of diabetes. It also has a protective effect in the brain.
4. Natural Foods That Boost Glutathione Levels
Asparagus is a leading source of glutathione. Foods like broccoli (2), avocado and spinach are also known to boost glutathione levels. Raw eggs, garlic and fresh unprocessed meats contain high levels of sulphur-containing amino acids and help to maintain optimal glutathione levels.
5. Undenatured Whey Protein Isolate
Whey protein contains proteins like alpha-lactalbumin which is is rich in sulphur-containing amino acids. Heating or pasteurization destroys the delicate disulphide bonds that give these proteins their bioactivity. Undenatured whey protein is a non-heated product that preserves bioactive amino acids like cystine. It has been shown in numerous scientific studies and clinical trials to optimize glutathione levels.
6. Curcumin (Turmeric)
Treatment of brain cells called astrocytes, with the Indian curry spice, curcumin (turmeric) has been found to increase expression of the glutathione S-transferase and protect neurons exposed to oxidant stress. (3)
7. Balloon Flower Root
Changkil saponins (CKS) isolated from the roots of the Chinese herbal medicine, Platycodon grandiflorum A. DC (Campanulaceae), commonly called Balloon Flower Root or Jie Geng, have been found to increase intracellular glutathione (GSH) content and significantly reduce oxidative injury to liver cells, minimise cell death and lipid peroxidation. (4)
Selenium is a co-factor for the enzyme glutathione peroxidase. Selenium supplements have become popular because some studies suggest they may play a role in decreasing the risk of certain cancers, and in how the immune system and the thyroid gland function. However, too much selenium can cause some toxic effects including gastrointestinal upset, brittle nails, hair loss and mild nerve damage.
Disclaimer: The information here is not provided by medical professionals and is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. Nutritional supplements, while usually benign, can produce adverse reactions in some people. As with prescribed drugs, long-term effects from supplements are often unknown. Pregnant women and children should not take supplements except after consultation with their healthcare provider. Never exceed the recommended dosage on the container. If you observe adverse effects stop taking the supplement immediately and contact your healthcare provider.
1. The systemic availability of oral glutathione
Witschi A, Reddy S, Stofer B, Lauterburg BH. [Eur J Clin Pharmacol. 1992;43(6):667-9.]
2. Dietary approach to attenuate oxidative stress, hypertension, and inflammation in the cardiovascular system
Wu L, Ashraf MH, Facci M, Wang R, Paterson PG, Ferrie A, Juurlink BH. [Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2004 May 4;101(18):7094-9. Epub 2004 Apr 21.]
3. Can Curry Protect Against Alzheimer’s?
American Physiological Society (APS) Press release; 16-Apr-2004
4. Protective effect of saponins derived from roots of Platycodon grandiflorum on tert-butyl hydroperoxide-induced oxidative hepatotoxicity
Lee KJ, Choi CY, Chung YC, Kim YS, Ryu SY, Roh SH, Jeong HG. [Toxicol Lett. 2004 Mar 7;147(3):271-82.]
Melatonin: This is a hormone that naturally occurs in the brain. It is made by the pineal gland. It is a derivative of the amino acid L-tryptophan and the neurotransmitter serotonin.
There are some food sources for melatonin, including the tart montmorency cherry, oats, sweet corn, rice, bananas, tomatoes, flax seed, sunflower seeds, and several leaves, such as feverfew and St. John’s Wort.
Melatonin has other roles as well, including functioning as an antioxidant, and also to effectively raise glutathione levels.
There have been many studies done on this aspect of melatonin, but as of yet, the long term safety of melatonin has not been well established, and the effect varies from person to person. If taken as a supplement, this product should only be used in conjunction with your health care professional.
Glutamine: Glutamine is the most abundant free amino acids found in the body. It is useful in raising glutathione. One of the few amino acids that crosses the blood-brain barrier, it is normally plentiful in the diet today.
There are many functions of glutamine, including it’s role in metabolizing and maintaining lean muscle. It can also build up your immune system, play a role in anti-cancer therapy, boost brain function, and detoxify the body.
Glutamine supplies the body with glutamate, one of the three amino acids that raise glutathione, and it is the second most important component after cysteine. Glutamate is found in many plant and animal sources, but is easily destroyed by cooking.
It is also found in raw spinach, parsley, and raw meat, but with the health risks associated with the latter, is not recommended. Completely healthy individuals don’t need supplemental glutamine. Any serious use of this supplement for help in how to raise glutathione should be monitored by a health care professional.
Lipoic Acid: This is also commonly referred to as Alpha-Lipoic Acid. The roles of this substance are as an antioxidant, neutralizer of toxins and heavy metals, and recycler of other antioxidants like Vitamin C and Vitamin E. It occurs naturally in the body, and is also available on the shelves of health food stores. it can also be found in small amounts in foods like spinach and broccoli.
Lipoic Acid works by keeping glutathione in its reduced state. This is good, because in its reduced stated, glutathione can do its job as an antioxidant. So they have a partnership of sorts. One reason glutathione is called the Master Antioxidant is because it also helps to keep lipoic acid in it’s reduced state as well.
There is some research demonstrating that a lipoic acid supplement is best taken along with L-Carnitine for the best results in raising glutathione.
There are promising results with lipoic acid being demonstrated with medical studies. For some, there are short term side effects, and so more research is being done on this substance to see what other benefits it may have in addition to raising glutathione.
Silymarin: Silymarin is the substance extracted from the milk thistle plant. As such, at times, these terms are used interchangeably.
This has been used by herbalists for centuries to treat a variety of liver disorders, like cirrhosis or hepatitis. It seems to stimulate the growth and regeneration of injured liver cells. It can also act as a free radical scavenger, enhancing detoxification in the liver.
There are ongoing studies demonstrating silymarin’s effectiveness in raising glutathione levels. Recommended doses vary greatly, from 50- 500 mg a day. Toxic reactions can include gas, cramps, and diarrhea.
Since it may lower blood sugar, it should be used with caution by diabetics. Liver diseases, including auto immune liver disease, should always be treated with the assistance of a health care professional.
Raising levels of glutathione
Vitamin B1, B2: These are water soluble vitamins that help to maintain glutathione and its related enzymes in their active forms.
B1 or Thiamine is found in cereal grains, yeast, pork, brown rice, certain vegetables, and eggs. B2 or Riboflavin is also essential for glutathione production and energy metabolism. vitamins and minerals
B2 can be found in dairy products, leafy green vegetables, liver, legumes, and yeast. The current recommended daily dose of these vitamins is 10-50 mg/day for most people.
However, many health professionals feel this may be too low , and so the optimum may be up to 300 mg/day. Since they are water soluble, any excess is excreted from the body and so toxicity is not normally an issue.
Vitamin B6, B12: These too are water soluble vitamins. They play an important role in glutathione synthesis. B6 is crucial for the function of many amino acids and essential fatty acids. It also helps with glucose and lipid metabolism.
B12 helps to produce red blood cells, myelin, DNA, and other neurological tissues. For this reason, it plays a key role in the normal functioning of the brain and nervous system. B12 also helps to regenerate folate in the body.
Folic Acid: Also known as folate, helps with making DNA and transmission of nervous signals. It has also been shown to help with cardiovascular disease. Children and adults alike need folic acid to prevent anemia or iron deficiency.
For learning how to raise glutathione , folate helps to make sure available cysteine is converted into glutathione rather than homocysteine. Under normal circumstances the recommended dosage of B6 is 10-50 mg/day, B12 is 10-50 mcg, Folic acid of 400 mcg per day.
Vitamin C: Also known as ascorbic acid, this is probably the best known water soluble vitamin. Most living organisms can make their own Vitamin C, but humans cannot, so it must be supplemented.
Vitamin C has been the subject of medical studies regarding it’s role as an antioxidant for many years now. Vitamin C has a key role in glutathione metabolism. It is involved in the glutathione enzyme system which keeps Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and other antioxidants in their reduced state.
This preserves their ability to keep on working as antioxidants in the body, effectively recycling them and making them work over and over again before being disposed of by the body.
There have been many studies showing that Vitamin C supports and raises glutathione levels and activity. By the same token, when there is not enough glutathione, Vitamin C is far less effective and rapidly depleted.
So we can see why they go hand in hand with one another. There is much controversy over the adequate dose of Vitamin C needed . If glutathione levels are adequate, than 200-1,000 mg/day should be sufficient.
Vitamin E: This is a fat-soluble vitamin that comes in a close second as the most popular supplement in America today. Besides its role as an antioxidant, Vitamin E has been shown to be helpful in many areas of disease prevention today. It also plays a role in detoxification.
It also plays an important role in the glutathione enzyme system which, like Vitamin C , keeps the other antioxidants in their reduced state so they can keep doing their job mopping up free radicals.
There are two forms of Vitamin E, natural and synthetic. The natural form is denoted by d, as in d-alpha tocopherol, and the synthetic form as dl, as in dl-alpha tocopherol. The natural forms are better for you. Vitamin E can be found in avocado, nuts, seeds, spinach, vegetable oils, wheat germ, milk, asparagus, and eggs.
The recommended daily dosage for Vitamin E ranges from 25-50 IU/day, although most of us would probably experience more benefit of higher doses of 100-1200IU/day. So Vitamin E can be very helpful in finding out how to raise glutathione in your cells.
If a person has adequate levels of glutathione, 400 IU/day should be sufficient. If excessively consumed, it can provoke gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and neurological side-effects, so caution should be exercised.
How To Raise Glutathione With Other Micronutrients: Magnesium, Vanadium, and Zinc:
Magnesium deficiency can lead to the impairment of an important glutathione enzyme needed for glutathione production.
Vanadium is a trace element that depends on glutathione to remain in a reduced state to increase it’s bioavailabiity. In high doses, Vanadium is toxic and may have an adverse effect on glutathione production.
Zinc deficiency also reduces glutathione concentration, especially in red blood cells. Zinc also is toxic in higher levels, and may also reduce glutathione if it is over-consumed.
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