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How To Increase Your Glutathione Levels

Glutathione is one of the strongest endogenous antioxidants and thus an important pillar of our immune system. Glutathione helps u. in fighting viruses and detoxify – and eliminates oxidative stress. You can increase your glutathione level with targeted measures.

Here’s how you can increase your glutathione levels

Glutathione is an endogenous antioxidant. It is preferentially formed in the liver but is found in all cells of the organism, in particularly high amounts (apart from the liver) in the red blood cells and the cells of the immune system.

As one of the strongest and most powerful antioxidants, glutathione takes care of eliminating free radicals. Free radicals mean oxidative stress. Oxidative stress, in turn, leads to cell and tissue damage and is therefore an important contributory cause of many chronic diseases and is largely responsible for the fact that we look and feel older over the course of life and usually (sooner or later) feel older.

Since glutathione can reduce this oxidative stress, the substance is considered a natural anti-aging agent. For this reason alone, it seems sensible to take measures to increase personal glutathione levels

The causes of oxidative stress

But where does oxidative stress come from? Oxidative stress can arise due to the following (internal and external) factors:

Internal factors that can trigger oxidative stress

  • Mental or physical overload (too much stress, too much sport, too much work (whether physical or mental)
  • surgeries and injuries
  • Diabetes and pre-diabetes
  • dyslipidemia
  • Functional disorders of the liver, kidneys, and intestines
  • Chronic inflammatory diseases

External factors that can trigger oxidative stress

  • Environmental toxins (pesticide residues, particulate matter, heavy metals, etc.)
  • Too much exposure to UV rays or other forms of harmful radiation
  • High ozone levels
  • nicotine and alcohol
  • medication
  • Unhealthy and low-antioxidant diet

Glutathione has an antioxidant effect, detoxifies, and supports the immune system
Apart from its antioxidant activities, glutathione has two other major tasks: It is important for the body’s own detoxification and improves the performance of the immune system.

In 2006, the specialist journal Virology even reported that glutathione was able to block the multiplication of influenza viruses (flu viruses), HI viruses (HIV), and herpes in cell experiments. Removing the glutathione from the cells resulted in increased virus replication (= virus multiplication).

In the case of infections, the glutathione level drops

Since glutathione is so active in viral infections, the glutathione level drops quickly in the case of corresponding infectious diseases (herpes simplex viruses). The glutathione level also decreases when exposed to environmental toxins, which is understandable, since an increased influx of toxins or diseases in the body generates even more oxidative stress than is already the case.

The more detoxification and antioxidant work is now required, the more glutathione is used up, the faster the level drops, and the more important measure to raise the glutathione level again.

Glutathione levels drop in many chronic diseases

Glutathione levels also drop in chronic diseases. The worse a person’s health is, the lower the glutathione level. For this reason, in a September 2019 article in Nutrients, researchers suggested using glutathione status as a biomarker (measurement) and targeting healthy glutathione levels as a therapeutic goal in various chronic and also age-related diseases.

The following diseases have already been linked to low glutathione levels, according to this article:

  • Alzheimer’s and other cognitive impairments
  • Cancer
  • Chronic liver disease (cirrhosis, hepatitis)
  • cystic fibrosis
  • Diabetes (especially poorly controlled diabetes)
  • HIV
  • high blood pressure
  • lupus
  • Infertility – in both men and women
  • multiple sclerosis
  • Parkinson’s
  • Mental disorders

Age is also considered a factor that causes glutathione levels to drop continuously
Whether the diseases improve when glutathione levels are increased again is not fully understood. However, such proof would be difficult to achieve, because glutathione is of course not the only substance that is required for a healthy life.

It is always the whole package that counts – which does not just mean certain means and substances (vitamins, antioxidants, etc.), but also measures such as sufficient sleep, regular exercise, good stress management, sunlight, a healthy intestine, etc.

Glutathione: what is it anyway?

When you think of antioxidants, you usually think of substances that you ingest with food, e.g. B. Lycopene in tomatoes, anthocyanins in red cabbage, EGCG in green tea, etc. Glutathione, on the other hand, is an endogenous antioxidant. It is therefore formed independently by the body. For this purpose, three amino acids are put together in the cells: glutamic acid, cysteine, and glycine. Glutathione is therefore a tripeptide, where “tri-” stands for three.

And what does peptide mean? Substances that consist of several amino acids are normally called proteins. However, there should be more than 100 amino acids (however, this definition is not fixed; there are sources that speak of proteins from 50 amino acids and sources that only speak of proteins from 190 amino acids; we assume a limit of 100 amino acids ).

Substances that consist of fewer amino acids – such. B. glutathione (3 amino acids) or insulin (51 amino acids) – are called peptides. Of course, peptides are not only found in humans, but also in plants and animals. Even the venom of the Brazilian wandering spider is a peptide. It’s called PhTx1 and consists of 77 amino acids – in case you’re interested.

Measuring glutathione levels – Diagnosing glutathione deficiency

If you want to have your glutathione level measured, this can be done by a doctor or alternative practitioner using a blood test (whole blood). Several values are recorded, since it is not just the glutathione level itself that matters, but also the ratio between reduced and oxidized glutathione.

The reduced glutathione is not a particularly cheap glutathione, but the active glutathione, i.e. the one with an antioxidant effect. When this reduced glutathione defuses a free radical, it becomes oxidized in the process, which means it gives the free radical an electron of its own.

Two glutathione molecules oxidized in this way now combine; this connection is called GSSG. In this form, glutathione can no longer act as an antioxidant. However, there is an enzyme, the so-called glutathione reductase, which can produce two active glutathione molecules from a GSSG again, which can immediately start chasing free radicals again.

You can see that the value of total glutathione is not necessarily meaningful, since it is also possible that the proportion of oxidized glutathione is suddenly very high, which cannot be seen from the total glutathione value. Reduced glutathione should make up 81 to 93 percent of total glutathione.

This ratio between reduced and oxidized glutathione is a good parameter for the cell’s detoxification capacities and for the current oxidative load. If the proportion of reduced glutathione falls, this is a sign of severe oxidative stress, a reduced ability to detoxify, and/or already a disease.

If it now turns out that you should increase your glutathione levels, at least those of reduced glutathione, you might first toy with the idea of simply taking reduced glutathione, but then come across the information that such a dietary supplement has no effect on the have glutathione levels. Should you take glutathione or not?

This is what happens when you take glutathione

For a long time, it was said that there was absolutely no point in taking glutathione, since the tripeptide – like any protein – was broken down into its individual amino acids in the digestive system thanks to the corresponding peptidases (enzymes that split peptides) so that the glutathione level could not rise either, which is also the case actually various older studies could show.

In 2015, however, a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study was published that proved the opposite, namely that taking glutathione can indeed increase glutathione levels (38). At that time, 54 adults (non-smokers) had taken 250 mg or 1000 mg glutathione daily for six months, with an increase in the glutathione level being observed after just one month, but even more clearly after 3 and 6 months.

After 6 months, glutathione levels (in the 1000 mg group) in red blood cells, lymphocytes (a specific group of white blood cells), and plasma had increased by an average of 30 to 35 percent. In the cells of the oral mucosa even by 260 percent.

The glutathione level also increased in the 250 mg group – and only imperceptibly less, namely by 29 percent in the red blood cells. At the same time, there was a reduction in oxidative stress (the ratio of oxidized to reduced glutathione improved) and a strengthening of the immune system, which was reflected in the fact that the natural killer cells worked twice as well as in the placebo group. Natural killer cells are among the most important cells in the immune system. Their main task is to eliminate abnormal cells (cancer cells) and cells infected with viruses.

However, glutathione levels returned to baseline levels within a month of stopping the supplement.

Study: Glutathione reduces arterial stiffness

It is now suspected that liposomal glutathione or sublingual glutathione could have a higher bioavailability than “normal” glutathione supplements. Because two more recent (but small) studies from 2017 and 2018 had been carried out with exactly these forms of glutathione and showed a significant increase in glutathione levels.

The 2017 study included 16 men who were considered a risk group for cardiovascular disease because they suffered from high blood pressure or lipid metabolism disorders and their blood vessels already showed a certain stiffness and functional impairment. The men took 100 mg of sublingual glutathione (OXITION) or a placebo twice a day for four weeks. Beforehand, the bioavailability of sublingual glutathione was compared with “normal” L-glutathione.

In a large number of men, arterial stiffness decreased significantly after taking glutathione.

The 2018 study was conducted with 12 men. They took either 500 or 1000 mg of liposomal glutathione daily for four weeks. After just two weeks, the glutathione level in the blood increased by 25 percent. Values that indicate the extent of oxidative stress and values that help assess the immune system (activity of natural killer cells and other defense cells (B-lymphocytes)) all improved, as did the ratio of oxidized to reduced glutathione.

This form of glutathione is useful as a dietary supplement

So you can take glutathione if you want. According to the studies presented, “normal” L-glutathione can also increase glutathione levels. If you want to use sublingual or liposomal glutathione, then a smaller dose is sufficient, since their bioavailability is said to be better and a larger proportion of it can therefore be absorbed.

Sublingual Glutathione

Sublingual means that the respective glutathione is already absorbed by the oral mucosa and thus quickly enters the bloodstream without first having to pass through the liver.

Liposomal Glutathione

Liposomal means that the glutathione is encased in tiny liposomes, allowing it to go directly into cells without being broken down by digestive enzymes. Liposomes are sacs whose shell consists of two layers of phospholipids – very similar to the cell membrane of our cells. The bioavailability of liposomal glutathione is said to be almost 100 percent.

Is Sublingual/Liposomal Glutathione Recommended?

The question here, however, is whether it makes sense to trick the body’s own protective systems just because you think a lot helps a lot. Maybe bypassing the liver isn’t so good after all? Maybe it’s not so good when a large amount of a single substance suddenly flows into the cells. Maybe it makes sense that some of the glutathione gets digested and only gets into the cells as much as the body sees fit.

With glutathione, the goal should not necessarily be the highest possible level, but rather a balanced level. Too much of a good thing could turn into the opposite since antioxidants can have an oxidative effect in too high a dose.

We, therefore, recommend that it is better not to use liposomal glutathione (unless a glutathione deficiency has been identified that needs to be remedied quickly), but rather to take “normal” reduced L-glutathione and to take additional measures to increase the body’s own glutathione production raise a healthy amount because that would be the most natural and possibly also the healthiest way.

This is how you can increase your glutathione levels naturally

We will introduce you to various foods, but also vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and plant substances, which – as always in holistic naturopathy – will not only increase your glutathione levels but also have many other health benefits.

Magnesium for your glutathione levels

Magnesium is essential for the body’s own production of glutathione. The formation of glutathione occurs in two steps:

  1. γ-glutamylcysteine is formed from the two amino acids glutamic acid and cysteine (γ = gamma). The corresponding enzyme that initiates this reaction is called γ-glutamylcysteine synthetase. Now the third building block is missing, glycine, which is “attached” in the second step.
  2. Glutathione is formed from γ-glutamylcysteine and glycine. The corresponding enzyme that initiates this second step is called glutathione synthetase.

Both enzymes require energy (ATP) and magnesium for each of these steps. On the other hand, if you suffer from a magnesium deficiency, it could be that glutathione production also suffers and your glutathione levels drop.

Selenium increases glutathione levels

Also is an important substance for a healthy glutathione level. On the one hand, selenium ensures that glutathione can detoxify properly, on the other hand, there is a connection between selenium levels and glutathione levels.

In phase, I of the body’s own detoxification, the enzyme group of glutathione peroxidases ensures that glutathione u. Hydrogen peroxide (which is produced by breathing in the body, for example), but also renders other peroxides harmless. The glutathione peroxidases, in turn, contain selenium, so this detoxification step only works with a healthy selenium level.

If phase I of detoxification cannot proceed properly due to a selenium deficiency, phase II, in which toxins are converted into a water-soluble form so that they can be excreted through the kidneys, also comes to a standstill. Selenium is therefore extremely important for a good detoxification function. (The individual detoxification phases are described in more detail in our selenium text.)

A 2011 study on 336 adults showed how selenium can directly increase the glutathione level. They consumed 247 mcg of selenium via selenium yeast daily for 9 months, which resulted in a 35 percent increase in glutathione levels (in the fair-skinned participants, but not in the dark-skinned ones).

However, be careful not to take too much selenium, since overdoses have an oxidative effect. It is therefore better to stick to a low dosage of e.g. B. 50 µg per day and wait to see how your selenium level changes. More than 200 µg selenium per day should not be taken.

N-acetylcysteine (NAC) and glutathione levels

Of course, you should also pay attention to an adequate protein supply, since proteins provide the three amino acids that make up glutathione: cysteine, glycine, and glutamic acid.

Proteins contain plenty of glutamic acid and glycine, but only a small amount of cysteine in proportion, which is why this amino acid is also the limiting amino acid in glutathione formation. Limiting means that only so much glutathione can be produced until the cysteine stores are used up. Therefore, when it comes to glutathione, there is always a push for a good supply of cysteine, for which N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is usually recommended as a dietary supplement at the same time.

NAC is a synthetic substance that is commercially available as a cough medicine but is also used as an antidote for paracetamol overdoses because it is so good at eliminating paracetamol-induced oxidative stress in the liver.

Whether NAC can actually increase the glutathione level has not yet been clarified and the study situation is not clear. In a study with Parkinson’s patients, taking NAC led to a worsening of the symptoms and had to be stopped.

Protein powder for your glutathione levels

It is sometimes assumed that taking cysteine alone in the form of NAC does not do much good. You should also take glycine at the same time. In a small study of 8 older people and a control group of 8 younger people, the older people initially had less glycine and less cysteine in their red blood cells and also lower glutathione levels than the younger ones.

After taking NAC (132 mg per kilogram of body weight) and glycine (100 mg per kilogram of body weight) for 14 days, there were no longer any differences in the glutathione levels of the two age groups. It might therefore make sense to think of both amino acids, not just cysteine, especially for older people.

Whey protein is often emphasized as a source of amino acids (whey protein). However, it only provides slightly more cysteine than purely plant-based rice protein (e.g. from effective nature), but even less glycine than rice protein.

In whey protein (Primal Whey by Primal State) are:

  • 1.8 g cysteine
  • 1.4 g glycine
  • 13 g glutamic acid
  • 4 g serine

Effective nature’s rice protein contains:

  • 1.6 g cysteine
  • 3.4 g glycine
  • 14.2 g glutamic acid
  • 4.2 g serine

Unfortunately, studies have so far only been carried out with whey protein. A 14-day intake of 15, 30, or 45 g protein powder daily showed a dose-dependent increase in the glutathione level (by 25 percent with 45 g protein powder).

In a small, randomized, controlled study of 23 cancer patients, taking 40 g/day of whey protein plus zinc and selenium increased glutathione levels by 11.7 percent. Furthermore, some values indicated a stronger immune system improvement.

In any case, it may make more sense to consume a high-quality protein than individual amino acids, since it is now believed that serine – another amino acid – can also increase glutathione levels. Either because it can be used to produce glycine in the body or because it can improve the bioavailability of cysteine. Rice powder also has an edge in terms of serine.

Omega-3 fatty acids relieve the glutathione system

Omega-3 fatty acids are known for their anti-inflammatory effects, which is why it was investigated whether they could also support the body’s antioxidant system around glutathione.

In a 2015 study, depressed participants were given 4000 mg of omega-3 fatty acids (4 x 1000 mg capsules) containing 1200 mg EPA and 800 mg DHA daily for 12 weeks. Their depression improved (compared to the placebo group). Although the omega-3 fatty acids could not increase the glutathione level, they relieved the glutathione system because they themselves have an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effect.

The short-chain omega-3 fatty acids from flaxseed oil, on the other hand, appear to specifically increase glutathione levels, at least in a 2017 study of Parkinson’s patients. The subjects took 1000 mg of flaxseed oil along with 400 IU of vitamin E for 12 weeks. Their glutathione levels, the antioxidant, increased capacity as well, while markers of inflammation decreased.

A review from 2019, in which 9 studies on this topic were evaluated, showed that the antioxidant capacity increased thanks to the combination of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E, but the burden of oxidative stress also decreased. However, the glutathione level did not change significantly.

Make sure you have a good supply of omega-3 fatty acids, if only because of the anti-inflammatory properties and positive effects on the brain. Refine raw food dishes occasionally with linseed oil and take in the long-chain fatty acids EPA and DHA in the form of algae oil.

B vitamins activate glutathione

Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) is required by the enzyme glutathione reductase, which can convert oxidized glutathione back into the active reduced form.

Vitamin B12 is directly related to low glutathione levels. In March 2017, 51 patients suffering from vitamin B12 deficiency were found to also have low levels of glutathione. Also, their antioxidant capacity scores were low, while oxidative stress readings were high.
Should a vitamin B12 deficiency become apparent, discuss with your doctor whether a conventional vitamin B supplement is still sufficient or whether you should take a high-dose B12 supplement or need B12 injections to remedy the deficiency quickly.

Vitamin C increases glutathione levels

Vitamin C itself is known to be a valuable antioxidant, but it can also increase glutathione levels, especially if the person in question has only consumed a small amount of vitamin C beforehand. In this case, taking 500 to 1000 mg of vitamin C per day (for 13 weeks) caused an 18 percent increase in glutathione levels in the lymphocytes (defense cells).

Another study showed that after taking 500 to 2000 mg of vitamin C per day, even 500 mg of vitamin C per day was enough to noticeably increase the glutathione level.

Turmeric, milk thistle, and rosemary for glutathione levels

There are still no clinical studies on the effect of the mentioned herbal remedies on the glutathione level. Animal studies indicate, however, that both rosemary and milk thistle, and curcumin in the form of extracts can increase glutathione levels in the liver in particular.

So if you’re already taking curcumin or maybe milk thistle extract for your liver anyway, you’re also supporting your glutathione levels in this way.

MSM increases glutathione levels

The same applies to MSM (methylsulfonylmethane), an organic sulfur compound that many people already use to reduce inflammation and pain from e.g. B. joint complaints or to support muscle and joint regeneration after sport.

At the same time, MSM can increase glutathione levels, or perhaps it is precise because of this property that it has such a good effect on joints and muscles. In a 2011 Iranian study, 18 untrained men were given 50 mg MSM per kilogram of body weight or a placebo daily for 10 days. Subsequently, the glutathione level in the MSM group was significantly higher than in the placebo group.

These foods contain glutathione

Since glutathione is an endogenous substance, it is not one of the essential nutrients and therefore does not necessarily have to be ingested with food.

Nevertheless, glutathione is also present in food, although it is unclear to what extent this glutathione content can actually contribute to increasing the body’s own glutathione levels. For completeness, below are the glutathione levels of some foods. The front-runners in plant-based foods are asparagus (also cooked) and avocados.

Plant foods with glutathione

Below is a sampling of some plant-based foods and their glutathione levels, which we extracted from an analysis from 1992, with some of these levels being confirmed in a 2019 analysis. The specified values always refer to 100 g of the respective food:

  • Cooked asparagus: 28 mg
  • Avocados raw: 27.7 mg
  • Walnuts: 15 mg
  • Potatoes cooked: 13.6 mg
  • Spinach raw: 12.2 mg
  • Tomatoes raw: 9 mg (this value drops drastically with canned tomatoes)
  • Papaya: 6.4 mg
  • Cucumbers: 4.3 mg
  • Oatmeal porridge: 2.4 mg
  • Wholemeal wheat bread: 1.2 mg
  • For comparison: glutathione capsules: 500 mg per capsule and daily dose.

Glutathione content in meat, fish, dairy products, tofu, and sweets

Meat is also considered to be rich in glutathione, e.g. B. Hamburger (17 mg/100 g), lean pork (23.6 mg), fried chicken breast (13.1 mg), cooked ham (23.3 mg) and sausage (Frankfurter 6.2 mg). With 1 to 6 mg, fish is rather low in glutathione.

It is interesting that potato chips contain 27 mg of glutathione and fries from the fast food outlet still contain 14.3 mg. Unsurprisingly, candy, dairy, coffee, tea, and soft drinks are completely glutathione-free. But also tofu.

What do these values tell us? It cannot be the glutathione content alone that makes food healthy. Otherwise, you should be able to achieve great health with a daily meal of pork chops and potato chips, which obviously isn’t the case.

Cooked food provides significantly less glutathione than raw food

As soon as the food is processed, especially heated or even canned, the glutathione level usually drops sharply, sometimes to zero – exceptions prove the rule.

Apples, for example, contain 3.3 mg of glutathione per 100 g in raw form, and apple juice is exactly 0.0 mg. (Of course, this does not apply to self-pressed raw juices, but to the usual pasteurized industrial juices).

Raw spinach contains 12 mg glutathione per 100 g, cooked with only 2 mg. Raw peaches contain 7.4 mg, and canned peaches are just under 2 mg. The glutathione content of meat also decreases when it is fried or otherwise heated. Grilling, for example, reduces the glutathione content in beef by 40 percent.

How best to increase glutathione levels

You can see that the measures that increase or optimize your glutathione levels are not particularly new. As is usual in holistic naturopathy, all measures always have a positive effect on every aspect of health. Therefore, if you eat healthily, take care of a comprehensive supply of vital substances, and select helpful food supplements, your glutathione level will soon recover (if it was too low).

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Written by Bella Adams

I'm a professionally-trained, executive chef with over ten years in Restaurant Culinary and hospitality management. Experienced in specialized diets, including Vegetarian, Vegan, Raw foods, whole food, plant-based, allergy-friendly, farm-to-table, and more. Outside of the kitchen, I write about lifestyle factors that impact well-being.

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