How to get more glutathione through diet and supplements?

The powerful antioxidant is thought to neutralise free radicals, relieving the symptoms of oxidative stress. So how can you boost your levels?

In our bodies, a battle between free radicals and their natural enemy, antioxidants, is waging. Antioxidants neutralise free radicals, protecting us from the damage of oxidative stress, aging and age-related disease. The problem is, our levels decline with age, leaving our cells open to attack. The powerful antioxidant glutathione, which is produced in our body and available in food, combines the power of three antioxidants in one. However, one hurdle that needs to be overcome is bioavailability, which impairs the body’s ability to absorb antioxidants from food. To get round this, you can obtain glutathione effectively from supplements. So, what is glutathione and how can you increase your levels from diet and supplements?

What is glutathione?

Antioxidants are found in the body and in certain foods. In the right amounts, they can prevent and slow the damage to cells caused by pesky free radicals. Free radicals are unstable oxygen molecules that are produced by normal processes in the body. They can also be triggered by external factors like smoking, pollution, unhealthy foods, alcohol and UV rays.

What is glutathione?

Free radicals run rampant through the body, damaging cells and causing oxidative stress. This is a particular type of stress that can break down healthy cells. Short term symptoms associated with oxidative stress include:

  • Inflammation
  • Reduced energy levels
  • Brain fog
  • Disturbed sleep patterns
  • Poor physical recovery

Long term, oxidative stress can accelerate aging and lead to diseases such as cancer, asthma, diabetes and dementia.

Luckily, the body also builds a defence against oxidative stress in the form of antioxidants. Glutathione is a particularly powerful antioxidant that is actually three antioxidants in one – glutamine, glycine and cysteine. Glutathione is found in plants, animals, fungi, bacteria and archaea. In humans, it is produced naturally in the liver and is also available in sulphur-rich foods.

Glutathione is a popular ingredient in longevity supplements, which along with exercise, a balanced diet and enough sleep, can boost health. Glutathione supplements have been shown to reduce free radicals, mercury and POPs in the body – all sources of oxidative stress.

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Benefits to health and longevity

Glutathione levels vary in different people depending on how much their body is capable of producing. Low levels of glutathione is thought to impact health and longevity and has been linked to certain diseases:

  • Cardiovascular diseases, including hypertension and myocardial infarction
  • Neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s
  • Autoimmune diseases and immune disorders like HIV
  • Eye diseases like glaucoma, cataracts and macular degeneration

Conversely, older people with higher levels of glutathione had better physical health, self-rated health and less diseases. Glutathione has also been used to manage diseases like Parkinson’s, cystic fibrosis and COPD. While more research is needed to directly link glutathione with longevity, it appears essential to reducing toxins from the body and maintaining health, especially in old age.

Benefits to health and longevity Living longer is more than just reaching a specific number. Nowadays, factors like aging healthy and reaching your fullest potential are also factored in.

Glutathione found in food

Unfortunately, our bodies’ ability to produce enough antioxidants, including glutathione, declines with age. This means that our cells are more exposed to free radicals and oxidative stress. Antioxidants available from food therefore become especially important as we age. Common sources of antioxidants include:

  • Whole cereals
  • Pulses
  • Vegetables
  • Raw vegetable oil
  • Tea and coffee

Red wine unfortunately does not make it onto the list, as while it contains antioxidants, it also contains alcohol, a major producer of free radicals. Glutathione specifically is found in sulphur-rich foods like mushrooms, onions, broccoli and cabbage, oily fish with omega 3 and whey protein.

Did you know that your body produces antioxidants to combat excess free radicals, protect your cells and tissues from damage, and slow down ageing? 
Photograph: Danijela Maksimovic/Shutterstock

Considering the cornucopia of pro-antioxidant foods, it would be difficult to get bored of eating them. However, one problem with absorbing antioxidants from food is their low bioavailability. Our bodies have difficulty absorbing vitamins, minerals and drugs. This means that eating foods containing antioxidants may not benefit health. Supplements that contain antioxidants like glutathione also have this bioavailability problem, but certain supplements have overcome this.

Boosting glutathione with supplements

To boost glutathione levels, many people turn to supplements. There is a wide range of supplements on the market that can help increase glutathione levels in the body [1].

Some of the most popular include N-acetylcysteine (NAC), alpha-lipoic acid and milk thistle. NAC is a precursor to cysteine, one of the three amino acids that make up glutathione. 

Alpha-lipoic acid is a powerful antioxidant that helps to increase the levels of glutathione in the body [2]. Milk thistle is one herb that has been around for centuries to promote liver health and it can also help to boost glutathione levels. Supplements like vitamin C, selenium and glutathione can also help.

It is advisable to consult a healthcare professional before starting any supplement regimen. Some may interact with the medication you are taking or may not be appropriate for specific health conditions.

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[1] https://www.livestrong.com/article/325606-workout-supplements-for-men-ages-45-older/
[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK564301/

Photograph: Adisak Riwkratok/Shutterstock
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