It is often referred to as one of the body’s most important and powerful antioxidants. It is found in almost every cell in the body. And maintaining a healthy level of it supports liver function, pulmonary function, immune function, bowel health, carbohydrate metabolism, cardiovascular health, cognitive health, and eye health.*

It’s glutathione. Never heard of it? Don’t worry – we’ll tell you what glutathione is, describe its role in the body, and let you know how to make sure you’re getting enough of it. Let’s start with the basics.  

What is glutathione?

You’ve probably heard of antioxidants before, but here’s a quick refresher. Antioxidants are substances that slow down oxidation – a natural reaction in the body that produces free radicals.

The oxidation process in our bodies is like oxidation processes you see in everyday life – like when a cut-up apple starts to turn brown or a piece of exposed metal begins to rust. Free radicals can cause a sort of “rusting” in our bodies.

Although the production of free radicals is part of our normal metabolism, in higher amounts they can begin to harm our health. When there are too many free radicals – and not enough antioxidants to fight them – it causes what is known as oxidative stress. A chronic state of oxidative stress can lead to numerous negative health conditions.1

So what makes glutathione special? We get most antioxidants through diet and supplements. Glutathione, on the other hand, is produced in the liver and supports the liver’s detoxification phases, which helps rid your body of toxins and waste.*

In addition to supporting liver health, glutathione is also involved in body processes that support the immune system, build and repair tissues, and protect against oxidative damage.*

It is also believed that glutathione is an important factor in healthy aging.* The normal process of aging is associated with a decrease in glutathione activity, which can result in increased oxidative activity and states of oxidative stress. In addition, a less than optimal level of glutathione has been observed in individuals experiencing a decline in cognitive function.* Contrary to this is the observation that individuals who live to 100 tend to have higher glutathione activity.2

Unfortunately, negative lifestyle habits and adverse environmental conditions that affect liver health can result in a decreased amount of glutathione in the liver and throughout our bodies.

Things that hinder glutathione production

Various factors contribute to a less than optimal level of glutathione in our bodies. One natural factor, as mentioned, is the aging process, which typically results in lower glutathione levels as we get older. Other factors that contribute to lower glutathione levels, as well as lower antioxidant levels overall, include:

  • Environmental pollution and toxins
  • Stress
  • Smoking
  • Intense and prolonged exercise
  • Poor diet

Things that support glutathione production

Here are four simple ways to optimize glutathione levels – and help support your health:

  1. Add more sulfur-rich foods to your diet. Sulfur contains the amino acid cysteine, one of the three amino acids that make up glutathione (the other two are glycine and glutamine), so these foods help your body make glutathione. Sulfur-rich foods include beef, poultry, garlic, and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, and cauliflower.
  2. Get more sleep. If you aren’t getting a good amount of sleep each night, then your body’s level of glutathione can decrease, which can create a chronic state of oxidative stress. One study found that patients with insomnia had lower levels of glutathione activity than their healthy counterparts.3
  3. Regular exercise is important for maintaining glutathione levels. However, if you are an athlete who participates in high-intensity exercise, then your need for glutathione can be higher. That’s because training and competition create more oxidative stress and damage, so athletes have a higher need for antioxidants. Exercising longer than 60-90 minutes daily significantly decreases glutathione levels in the blood, so supplementing is beneficial for endurance and ultra-endurance events.*
  4. Add a glutathione supplement. Thorne’s Glutathione-SR is a breakthrough in glutathione supplementation because its sustained-release formula protects it from stomach acid and digestive enzymes, allowing for a slower release and steadier level in the bloodstream of this essential nutrient.* And it’s NSF Certified for Sport®! Supplementing with any of the three amino acids that make up glutathione – glycine,  glutamine, or cysteine – can also boost its level.*

References

  1. Lobo V, Patil A, Phatak A, Chandra N. Free radicals, antioxidants and functional foods: Impact on human health. Pharmacogn Rev 2010;4(8):118-126. 
  2. Andersen H, Jeune B, Nybo H, et al. Low activity of superoxide dismutase and high activity of glutathione reductase in erythrocytes from centenarians. Age Ageing 1998;27(5):643-648.
  3. Gulec M, Ozkol H, Selvi Y, et al. Oxidative stress in patients with primary insomnia. Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry 2012;37(2):247-251.