Glutathione Benefits: How to Get the Most Out of the Body’s Number One Antioxidant

Glutathione benefits the body by playing an essential role in detoxification and protecting against oxidative stress.

Supplementing with whey protein increases glutathione levels and helps prevent oxidative stress.

© Marek Uliasz |

When most of us think of antioxidants, we think of things like blueberries, green tea, pomegranates, and other healthy food choices. But one of the most powerful and important antioxidants we need is produced by the body itself: glutathione.

What is glutathione?

As the body’s most powerful antioxidant, glutathione benefits the body by playing an essential role in detoxification and protecting against oxidative stress. In doing so, this important antioxidant helps protect against a variety of diseases and health problems.

Glutathione is non-essential, meaning that you don’t have to get it through diet. Instead, your body can make it itself from three amino acid building blocks (cysteine, glycine, and glutamine). It is most concentrated in the liver, but it is also found in high levels in the brain, heart, lungs, and other organs.[1]

Glutathione depletion is associated with many diseases

When glutathione levels drop, one of the major protective mechanisms in the body is compromised. It is not surprising, then, that low levels of glutathione can cause a variety of health problems. Low glutathione is linked to neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, infections like HIV, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, lung conditions, depression and more.[1-6]

How to boost your glutathione levels

Because glutathione is so important in the body, you might think that popping a glutathione pill would be a good idea for everyone. But studies show that taking glutathione itself doesn’t help boost glutathione levels; oral doses of glutathione are degraded rapidly in the gut and are broken down easily, making direct oral administration of glutathione ineffective.[1,7]

Instead of taking glutathione directly, there are many other strategies you can use to boost your levels and take advantage of the many glutathione benefits. Many of these are precursors to glutathione that are made up of the building blocks for this essential antioxidant. They allow you to feed your body with the materials it needs to make enough.

  1. NAC. N-acetylcysteine, known as NAC, is one of the most effective glutathione boosters because cysteine is one of the major building blocks for glutathione. NAC is often used to treat acetaminophen toxicity in the liver, as it is so effective at boosting glutathione and aiding in detoxification. NAC supplementation has been shown to be effective at treating glutathione-deficient conditions including HIV infection, cystic fibrosis, and diabetes.[5,8] Learn more about NAC and how to take it here.
  2. Whey protein is also rich in the sulfur-containing amino acid cysteine. Supplementing with whey protein increases glutathione levels and helps prevent oxidative stress. Try taking 10 to 40 grams per day for a few months.[6]
  3. Milk thistle. Silymarin, an extract from milk thistle seeds, is important to liver health. It helps to increase glutathione content in the liver, according to animal studies.[9,10] Learn more about the benefits of milk thistle here.
  4. Glutathione-boosting foods. Foods rich in some of the essential building blocks of glutathione include onions, garlic, spinach, broccoli, avocado, and dairy products.[9,11]
  5. Talk with your doctor about other glutathione delivery methods. There is an abundance of research aimed at developing ways to get glutathione into the body. For example, liposomal glutathione (glutathione encapsulated in liposomes) may be effective at delivering glutathione into the brain. Transdermal and intravenous delivery are also sometimes used. Your doctor can help you better understand the various options and how to use them.

To get started, make sure you’re eating plenty of the foods that boost glutathione and try adding either NAC or whey protein to your diet. To find a physician who is familiar with glutathione therapy, visit our Integrative Practitioner Directory here.

Share your experience

Do you know of any other glutathione-boosting tips? Share your experience with the many glutathione benefits for your body in the comments section below.

[1] Int J Mol Sci. 2013 Oct 18;14(10):21021-44.

[2] Neurochem Int. 2015 Mar;82:10-18.

[3] >Biochim Biophys Acta. 2013 May;1830(5):3329-49.

[4] PLoS One. 2015 Mar 19;10(3):e0118436.

[5] Pharmacol Ther. 2014 Feb;141(2):150-9.

[6] Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2015 Jan;18(1):89-95.

[7] Biochim Biophys Acta. 2013 May;1830(5):3350-3.

[8] Curr Opin Pharmacol. 2007 Aug;7(4):355-9.

[9] Planta Med. 1989 Oct;55(5):420-2.

[10] Planta Med. 1989 Oct;55(5):420-2.

[11] Am J Clin Nutr. 2015 Feb;101(2):287-93.

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UHN Staff

University Health News is produced by the award-winning editors and authors of Belvoir Media Group’s Health & Wellness Division. Headquartered in Norwalk, Conn., with editorial offices in Florida, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, … Read More

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