Pop quiz time! If I asked you what is the one molecule that is arguably the most important for preventing disease, would you say a) Vitamin C, b) zinc or c) glutathione? If you answered option c, then you are correct. Glutathione is the master of your immune system and Functional MD Mark Hyman even calls it, “The Mother of All Antioxidants.” Over 135,000 scientific articles have examined the effects of glutathione and medical professionals are now starting to realize that many of their patients are becoming increasingly deficient in the critical molecule. But, before we dive into causes of and issues related to glutathione deficiencies, let us talk about what, exactly, glutathione is.
Glutathione (or GSH) is a peptide molecule that is made up of three essential amino acids – cysteine, glycine and glutamine – and it is found in every single cell in the human body. And what more and more health care professionals are finding is that with many patients who are diagnosed with the most common diseases, they typically also have a deficiency in glutathione. The list of illnesses that a glutathione deficiency is regularly linked to includes Alzheimer’s, various autoimmune diseases, Parkinson’s, autism, asthma, liver disease, chronic fatigue, kidney disease, cancer, heart disease and more. Glutathione is absolutely crucial to recovery for so many of these illnesses. This is also significant because professionals who study longevity are starting to understand that the level of GSH in our cells is becoming a predictor of how long we will live. Fascinating, huh?
Glutathione is responsible for numerous important functions. Some of the most critical ones include:
- Removal of toxins from the body
- Controls inflammation
- Reduction of peroxides
- Aids in various enzyme functions
- Helps make drugs more digestible and prevents drug resistance
- Destruction of cancerous cells
- Aids the liver in detoxifying fat
- Helps the liver remove foreign chemicals
- Plays a significant role in protein biogenesis
- Can help in the treatment of aids
While it is not considered an “essential nutrient” since our bodies can make it on their own, it is at serious risk of depletion. So, if our bodies make this crucial molecule, how are so many people starting to see detrimental decreases in their glutathione levels? The answer is simple: our bodies are not built to withstand the amount of toxins that we come into contact with every day of our lives. GSH can only be inundated with so many toxins before it starts to lose its capability of removing them. Once the glutathione molecules stop working as efficiently, a dangerous cycle is set off: the liver becomes flooded with toxins, which leads to damage and the liver’s inability to detoxify as effectively, which, in turn, leads to various diseases as more toxins overburden the body. The toxin overload that we face today is not the only culprit of the glutathione decrease that we are now seeing. A poor diet, stress, trauma, aging, overuse of antibiotics, GMOs, injuries, infections, radiation and medication are also to blame for the decline.
Luckily, there are nutrients that we can consume regularly to ensure that we are optimizing our glutathione levels. Some of them include:
1. Methylation nutrients like vitamins B6, B9, B12, biotin and folate
These nutrients are imperative in the production process of glutathione. Some common foods that are high in methylation nutrients include garbanzo beans, pinto beans, lentils, spinach, asparagus, avocado and beets.
This mineral helps the body to recycle glutathione, so each molecule can be more effective. It also helps the body generate new glutathione. Some high selenium foods include brazil nuts, spinach, and organic, grass-fed beef.
3. Milk thistle
This plant has been used for centuries to help with liver issues and many scientists say that is because of its ability to boost glutathione levels.
4. Sulfur-rich foods
These include cruciferous veggies like kale, collard greens, broccoli, radish, arugula, bok choy, mustard greens, watercress, cabbage, and more.
5. A-Lipoid Acid
This molecule is almost as important as glutathione for our cells and detoxification. This wonder acid has been shown to restore total blood GSH levels in aids patients. You can supplement with 300 to 1,200mg of alpha lipoic acid daily.
6. N-Acetylcysteine (NAC)
NAC is a precursor to GSH and works to boost the molecule. I recommend taking a 200-500mmg supplement of NAC daily for optimal results.
7. Vitamins C & E
Both of these vitamins play key roles in GSH function and/or production. Vitamin C works to raise red blood cell glutathione levels and vitamin E helps to protect enzymes that are dependent on glutathione. Foods that are high in vitamin C include oranges, red pepper, kale, broccoli, strawberries and more. High vitamin E foods include almonds, spinach, sweet potatoes, sunflower seeds and avocado – just to name a few.
You can reduce your stress levels as a way of preventing glutathione deficiency (and I highly recommend that you do this regardless of whether or not you are worried about a GSH decline!). One way that I like to limit my stress is by regularly practicing both yoga and meditation. You should also be sure that you are getting enough sleep each night and that you are doing your best to avoid toxins in your daily life. Eat organic whenever possible, swap out household cleaners that are loaded with toxic chemicals as well as beauty supplies that contain toxins for more natural options. Exercise regularly, as it is another wonderful way to increase glutathione levels (among countless other benefits).
As always, please check with a doctor before adding a new supplement to your regimen.