It seems like everywhere you turn there’s someone touting a secret cure-all that will relieve all your health woes. Whether it’s to turn back the hands of time, shed unwanted pounds, boost your energy levels, or heal from a chronic illness – everyone’s got some “magic concoction” to improve your health.
As great as it would be to have some magical “cure-all” – that’s just wishful thinking right?
While there certainly isn’t some “secret” to health, science may have discovered a compound that truly can improve just about every facet of your health. The compound I’m referring to is glutathione. And today we’re going to dive into exactly why glutathione is so important, what depletes it, and how you can naturally boost your levels of this mighty molecule.
What Exactly Is Glutathione?
Glutathione, also referred to as GSH, is a tripeptide composed of three amino acids – glycine, cysteine, and glutamic acid.1 Glutathione is a naturally occurring intracellular antioxidant found abundantly in nearly every cell in your body. This potent molecule plays such a crucial role in our bodies, it’s even been dubbed “the mother of all antioxidants.”
Just a handful of the critical roles glutathione plays in your body include:2,3
- Scavenging and neutralizing harmful free radicals
- Acting as a signaling molecule and modulating your immune response
- Regenerating other important antioxidants like Vitamins C and E
- Supporting mitochondrial function (the powerhouse of your cells)
- Transporting toxic heavy metals, like mercury, out of your cells
- Regulating cellular proliferation and apoptosis (programmed cell death)
Considering glutathione is such a key player in many basic cellular functions, it’s no surprise that a deficiency in this important substance can have far-reaching implications.
Glutathione Deficiency Symptoms
Potential early warning signs of a glutathione deficiency might include:
- Regularly feeling tired or fatigued
- Difficulty getting quality sleep
- Persistent brain fog
- Low immunity and frequent illnesses
But unfortunately, most of the time, the effects of reduced glutathione levels are often much more insidious – and much more serious. You see, without adequate glutathione to keep free radical levels in check, these harmful molecules begin causing unprecedented levels of oxidative damage. And oxidative damage is the root cause of nearly every chronic health concern known to man including:4
- Endocrine diseases like diabetes
- Cardiovascular disease, heart attack, and stroke
- Neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
- Increased susceptibility to infectious diseases
- Accelerated aging
Glutathione is crucial to the health of every single cell in your body. So it makes sense that without enough glutathione, over time, your overall health can go into a tailspin. And after seeing that list of serious implications linked to inadequate glutathione levels, you’re probably wondering what exactly causes reduced glutathione levels in the first place.
Glutathione Depletion – Why You Might Have Reduced Glutathione Levels
Glutathione depletion can often be caused by a combination of a few factors which are:
- An increased demand for glutathione
- Suppression of cellular glutathione formation
- Inadequate intake of glutathione
Let’s take a deeper look at these.
Increased Demand for Glutathione
The more free radicals you have in your body, the higher the demand and utilization of available glutathione will be. Some things that increase the demand for glutathione – and therefore deplete glutathione levels – include:5
- Alcohol consumption: Your body uses glutathione to metabolize alcohol – so the more alcohol you consume the more glutathione your body uses up.
- A high toxic burden: Our bodies are designed to process and eliminate any toxins we come into contact with through our natural detoxification pathways. But when your body becomes overwhelmed with the number of toxins you’re exposed to, it can burn out your ability to properly detox and exhaust your glutathione supply.
- Anything that increases inflammation: There are more obvious things that increase inflammation like lack of sleep, a diet high in inflammatory foods, smoking, or underlying infections. But there are also some less obvious things that can contribute to your overall inflammation like exposure to EMFs, an unhealthy gut, polluted indoor air, or hidden mold.
If your demand for glutathione is significant, eventually your body won’t be able to keep up, and your glutathione levels will slowly become depleted.
Suppression of Cellular Glutathione Formation
Your cells are genetically programmed to produce glutathione on an as needed basis – meaning as glutathione is “used up” your cells will be triggered to produce more of this crucial antioxidant. But studies are finding that exposure to naturally occurring toxic compounds known as mycotoxins can actually alter your cells ability to adequately form glutathione. These mycotoxins can make their way into your cells and directly suppress the gene function needed to synthesize the enzymes necessary for glutathione formation.6
This is particularly troublesome because encountering mycotoxins isn’t a rare occurrence. Chances are you come into contact with some level of mycotoxins on a daily basis – whether it’s through the food you eat or the air you breath. And if these tiny toxins begin to accumulate in your cells, they can significantly hinder your ability to produce sufficient levels of glutathione.
To learn more about the dangers of mycotoxins and how you can protect yourself, head over to my article Mycotoxins: The Hidden Danger Lurking In Your Kitchen.
Inadequate Intake of Glutathione
Our bodies naturally produce glutathione, but we can also utilize glutathione we take in. Your diet plays a role on both sides of the glutathione benefits equation – the foods you eat can either deplete or replenish your glutathione supply. And the truth is, the modern American diet is the perfect prescription for glutathione depletion.
Consuming foods that are anti-inflammatory and chock-full of antioxidants is crucial to maintaining healthy glutathione levels. And unfortunately, many of us simply don’t eat nearly enough unprocessed, real, and antioxidant-rich foods. So let’s take a look at what foods best support adequate intake of glutathione.
What Foods Are High in Glutathione?
Foods that are particularly high in glutathione and compounds that support the production of glutathione include:7
- Yellow squash
While these foods all have higher levels of glutathione and glutathione precursors, the truth is, following a diet that supports healthy glutathione levels is actually quite simple. Focusing on consuming a well-rounded diet that incorporates lots of fresh fruits and veggies, high-quality protein, and healthy fats are your best bet for supporting healthy glutathione levels.
But sometimes – particularly if you’re battling an acute or chronic illness, recovering from toxic mold exposure, or are concerned about glutathione depletion – you may benefit from a concentrated dose of this master antioxidant. And fortunately, there are some simple and effective ways to supplement glutathione.
Glutathione Injections vs Supplement Pills vs Inhalation
There are several ways you can supplement glutathione including:
- An oral glutathione supplement: Taking a daily dose of liposomal glutathione like that found in my Glutathione Essentials Capsules is a simple and effective way to ensure you’re consistently replenishing your levels of this crucial antioxidant. I recommend incorporating glutathione into your daily supplement routine simply as a maintenance dose to support your overall health (click here to get 10% off your first order through my online store).
- A glutathione injection or IV treatment: Glutathione can also be administered through intramuscular injection or via intravenous vitamin infusion therapy. Administering it this way bypasses the digestive system and allows higher concentrations of glutathione to be delivered directly to your cells. This can be an extremely effective way to give your body a significant boost in antioxidants and can be particularly useful as a complementary therapy in the treatment of many conditions.
- Inhaled glutathione: Aerosolized or nebulized glutathione is another powerful way to supplement glutathione. Inhaled glutathione is particularly useful in the treatment of respiratory disorders – as it can be directly absorbed by the lungs and used to repair damage to your respiratory tract.
Glutathione dosage will vary greatly depending on what route it’s administered and exactly what glutathione supplementation is being used for. If you’re interested in trying glutathione via injection, IV, or inhalation, I strongly recommend seeking the guidance of an experienced functional medicine practitioner. They will help you figure out the best type of glutathione to use, as well as the best course of action to treat the root cause of your symptoms.
If you’re new to the functional medicine approach, head over and check out my article How to Choose a Good Integrative and Functional Medicine Doctor.
When It Comes to Your Health, You’re in the Driver’s Seat
Glutathione truly is the “mother of all antioxidants” – we rely on adequate levels of this mighty molecule to survive and thrive. Supporting healthy glutathione levels can help you age gracefully, combat illness and chronic diseases, and skyrocket your energy levels.
And while understanding and harnessing the power of glutathione is a powerful tool to add to your toolbelt – the truth is there’s no single secret to health.
The day-to-day choices you make about how you eat, move, sleep, and think are what really count when it comes to your overall health. Everything else is just an “extra” to give you an edge in optimizing your health. If you’re ready to make your health and the health of your loved ones a priority, I’ve got you covered with the most up-to-date research to help you make informed choices that fit your lifestyle.
To get started, you can check out my blog – it’s chock-full of resources and articles. And when you’re ready to take it even deeper, you can sign up for my newsletter. You’ll get exclusive access to all my best advice – all you have to do is enter your name and email address in the form below.
Now it’s time to hear from you. Were you surprised to learn exactly how important glutathione is to your health? What steps are you taking to keep your glutathione levels healthy? Leave your questions and thoughts in the comments below!
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The product mentioned in this article are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information in this article is not intended to replace any recommendations or relationship with your physician. Please review references sited at end of article for scientific support of any claims made.
Curious about using NAC to increase glutathione levels….thoughts?
Yes, NAC is an excellent precursor for glutathione in most people.
I have just been diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer that spread to lungs. Who is a good functional doctor to help me?
Hi Jean – you can search for functional medicine trained physicians at ifm.org
Curious the dosage? When is IV recommended over oral intake?
Where do you get nebulize Glutathione?
Best to consult with your doctor about oral dosages as they can vary greatly between patients. IV can be a powerful way to boost levels and typically doses 1-2grams IV push. Nebulized glutathione can be prescribed by your physician.
Hi. I have a very good integrative doctor who put me on glutathione patches everyday. I feel like it has helped but you don’t mention them above. I get stomach aches from some supplements so the patch is awesome. Would IV be better?
Yes, glutathione is broken down in the stomach so best methods are those which bypass the gastric juices. So transdermal, IV, subcutaneous, liposomal, inhaled and other methods are all valid ways of getting glutathione into the body
Some practitioners like Dr Nathan suggest that S-acetyl glutathione may be more effective than liposomal. What does the research conclude, assuming there is any? He also expresses concern about the amino acids accumulating in the body over time. Again, do we know anything about long term effects of gluathione? I have both mold and tick borne illnesses and am currently taking liposomal. Thanks for your commitent and generosity, Dr. Carnahan.
Generally I don’t see any major issues with glutathione over time but not everyone can tolerate it.
Your answer did not include a response to the query re s-acetyl glutathione. I’ve seen other mentions of this one. Any comment?
Both liposomal and s-acetyl-glutathione forms are more stable than reduced glutathione and protected from degradation in the stomach
I am on Methotrexate injections for past six years; am i in risk for Glutathione depletion or low methylation?
I’ve tried liposomal glutathione but even tiny amounts leave me lightheaded with major brain fog. What does it mean and what to do? I know my body is weak and needs support beyond my clean diet.
Not everyone should take glutathione or can tolerate it. If you have a reaction better to try precursors instead
I have the following questions for Dr. Jill:
1) What are the other glutathione precursors besides NAC?
2) Do the people who have low methylation due to MTHFR enzyme deficiency produce less glutathione in their bodies?
3) Is the vegan diet the best to follow to decrease glutathione demand by our bodies?
Precursors of glutathione include N-acetylcysteine (NAC), Vitamin C, Glutamine and Glycine. Selenium is also required to make glutathione.
How do you test your glutathione levels? Thank you for this easy to understand article!
You can test serum glutathione but best to get reduced levels.
I’d love to see you address how to increase glutathione for those of us with CBS mutation – sulfur processing problems. We cannot take glutathione, NAC, turmeric, alpha lipoic acid, milk thistle and a whole host of other supplements recommended for detox and boosting glutathione.
I look forward to seeing your research on this topic.
I have a number of challenging SNPS including GST, MTHFR, HLAs for Mold and found a rectal glutathione that is easier on my system as I recover. Love your emails. Cindy
I have known for many years that I have a genetic SNP that hinders my natural glutathione production. (Genova Detox Genomics Profile). I have taken liposomal glutathione just to be on the safe side. Mostly, I have done coffee enemas for decades because I know they increase glutathione. I’m guessing you didn’t want to put that in this blog. I know that I have high level of Ochratoxin A, and do what I can to reduce that, including the coffee enemas. I am 72 and my health journey has covered decades. I’m always interested in your blogs.
Thank you for bringing awareness to Coffee enemas. I couldn’t agree more they are an excellent way to support liver production of glutathione. You can read my latest blog article here
Dr Jill, years ago I was RX’s compounded nasal glutathione. It came from CO and in the packaging there was a notice stating something along the lines that it can increase cancer cell replication not to use without checking with your doctor. Can you comment on this? I’ve also been told by the same practitioner that glutathione is not easily absorbed through supplementation however as you state through IV, injection, nasal etc it is more readily absorbed.
Anytime you are supporting Mtor and not autophagy you may increase proneness for the cells to over-replicate. This is why things like intermittent fasting, resveratrol, curcumin and other nutrients are important. It is best to work with a physician who understands how to test for deficiencies and supplement appropriately.
can I take glutathione supplement while taking methylprednisolone
Best to talk to your doctor before starting glutathione. I do not foresee any interaction with steroids.
I have mold toxicity and mast cellactivation and hoshimotoes and cirs and chemical sensitivity please tell me what to do Dr jill
I read that that consuming sulfites depletes glutathiones levels. If you consume alcohol with depleted glutathiones, this causes the release of acetaldehyde directly into the body which is toxic and a cause of severe hangovers. If this is the case, what is your interpretation of the impact of eating sulfite-laden foods (commercial french fries, canned soups, jams, dried fruits…)on a regular basis and then drinking alcohol? Are you aware of any studies that test this hypothesis or approach the idea?
Great detailed article! Thanks.
What is the best test to see what our glutathione level is? Thank you!
You can test total glutathione level via LabCorp or Quest but that will not show oxidized vs. reduced forms.