Glutathione Benefits + Natural Ways to Increase Your Glutathione Levels

by | Jul 9, 2024 | Blog, General Wellness, Nutrition

Glutathione is often called the “master antioxidant”, and rightfully so. It is a powerful compound that plays a role in immune function, cellular repair, enzymatic functions, detoxification, and many other areas of your health. Maintaining optimal glutathione levels is so important for improving your health and well-being.

In this article, I want to help you understand the benefits of glutathione and learn how to increase your glutathione levels naturally. Let’s get started.

What Is Glutathione

Glutathione is an antioxidant made from three amino acids: glycine, cysteine, and glutamic acid. Your body can make glutathione, but you can also improve your glutathione levels through certain foods and supplements. 

Glutathione helps to:

  • Repair and protect your cells from pollution, toxins including toxic metals, viruses, stress, and other harm 
  • Support apoptosis (cellular death)
  • Make DNA in your body
  • Break down free radicals and reduce free radical damage
  • Support immune function
  • Support liver and gallbladder health
  • Support enzymatic functions
  • Support detoxification

Benefits of Glutathione

Let’s look at some of the well-researched benefits of glutathione.

Reduces Oxidative Stress

Oxidative stress can lead to a variety of diseases, including cancer, diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis. One of the benefits of glutathione is the potential to reduce oxidative stress. According to research, including a 2013 study published in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity and a 2021 review published in Biomaterials, due to its antioxidant powers, glutathione helps to reduce oxidative stress and lower the risk or progression of cancer (1, 2).

Fights Autoimmunity

Autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, irritable bowel diseases, and celiac disease, are rampant. Chronic inflammation and oxidative stress are among the root causes of autoimmunity. According to a 2009 review published in Autoimmune Reviews, one of the benefits of glutathione is decreasing oxidative stress and lowering your body’s immunological response (3). This can lower the risk and symptoms of autoimmunity.

Improves Insulin Resistance and Diabetes

Glutathione may also be beneficial if you have insulin resistance or diabetes. It can also support weight management issues (4, 5). According to a 2022 study published in Antioxidants (Basel), glutathione helps to improve Hb1AC levels and reduce oxidative damage in those with diabetes (6). Besides supplementing with glutathione specifically, supplementing with cysteine and glycine can also be beneficial for improving glutathione levels and benefit those with uncontrolled diabetes (7).

Benefits Gut Health

Better gut health is another one of the benefits of glutathione. A 2003 animal research published in Digestive and Liver Disease has found that glutathione reduces oxidative damage and related issues in colitis (8). Though this specific study was done on rats, since then, we’ve seen some promising data on humans as well. A 2023 study published in FEMS Microbiology Letters has found that glutathione supplementation has helped to restore gut microbiome balance in the unbalanced gut flora of diabetic individuals (9).

Support Your Liver

Another potential benefit of glutathione is improved liver health. This is specifically important in those with alcoholic and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Some research shows that using it intravenously, in high doses, can be helpful for those with fatty liver disease (10). According to a 2017 pilot study published in BMC Gastroenterology, the oral administration of glutathione, at 300 milligrams per day for 4 months was effective for improving nonalcoholic fatty liver disease when used along with some lifestyle changes (11).

Benefits Cognitive Health and Neurodiverse Conditions

Glutathione may be beneficial for cognitive and mental health. It may be particularly helpful for neurodiverse conditions. Children with autism often experience lower levels of glutathione and higher levels of oxidative stress than children without autism (12). Improving glutathione could help. A 2011 study published in Medical Science Monitor has found that using oral and injectable glutathione helped to improve glutathione levels and symptoms in autism (13). A 2011 clinical trial published in Medical Science Monitor has found that using transdermal glutathione in children with autism, ages 3 to 13), helped to improve their glutathione, cysteine, and plasma sulfate levels (14). 

Reduces Respiratory Issues

Glutathione may also help to reduce respiratory and lung issues. A 2000 review published in The Proceedings of Nutritional Society has found that glutathione could play a role in immune health (15). Several studies have found that it can decrease lung inflammation and improve immune health (16, 17). It could be helpful if you are dealing with respiratory infections. For example, according to a 2022 study by the Baylor College of Medicine, COVID-19 can lead to a decrease in glutathione and an increase in oxidative stress (18).

Improves Skin

Glutathione can also benefit your skin health and help to improve skin issues. According to a 2017 study published in Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigational Dermatology, glutathione may help with anti-aging and anti-pigmentation (19). According to a 2022 study published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology, oral supplementation helped to improve atopic dermatitis (eczema) (20). According to The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, using whey protein enhances glutathione to improve psoriasis (21).

Helps with Parkinson’s Disease

Glutathione may also be beneficial for those with Parkinson’s disease in improving their quality of life. A 2002 study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings has found that intravenous glutathione could be considered to reduce tremors and rigidity of Parkinson’s disease (22). A 2022 study published in Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine has also found that it has the potential to offer mild improvements in motor skills (23).

Supports Mitochondrial Health

According to a 2023 paper published in Science, glutathione is a key antioxidant that helps to maintain mitochondrial health (24). It does this by protecting the mitochondria from oxidative stress by neutralizing reactive oxygen species (ROS). Glutathione also plays a role in detoxification which can help to prevent damage to the mitochondrial DNA, proteins, and lipids. Maintaining adequate levels of glutathione are vital for energy production, cellular health, and mitochondrial function. 

Reduces the Risk of Cancer

Finally, glutathione may be helpful in reducing the risk and progression of cancer. A 2013 review published in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity has found that glutathione acts to improve antioxidant capacity and resistance to oxidative stress, which might help slow the progression of cancer (25). However, glutathione may also increase chemoresistance. Thus it might not be always appropriate alongside chemotherapy drugs. The role of glutathione in cancer treatment needs more research to fully understand its benefits and appropriate use.

Forms of Glutathione

Since glutathione contains sulfur molecules, it can be found in high-sulfur foods, such as cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, and Brussels sprouts, allium vegetables, such as onions and garlic, legumes, nuts, eggs, whey protein, eggs, and lean animal protein, such as chicken and fish. 

Finally, you can find glutathione supplements and supplements with glutathione in them on the market to improve your glutathione levels. You can find different forms of glutathione, including liposomal, S-Acetyl glutathione, and regular capsules. Liposomal glutathione encapsulates the glutathione molecule in a liquid. This improves the absorption rate of the supplement. It is generally the most effective form. S-Acetyl glutathione is an acetylated form of glutathione that also absorbs very well compared to regular l-glutathione capsules. Regular glutathione capsules may be less effective than liposomal glutathione and S-Acetyl glutathione. You may also get glutathione in high doses in IV form at a health clinic. We offer this at our office!

Risks and Side Effects of Glutathione

Glutathione is generally safe. Glutathione-rich and glutathione-boosting foods tend not to pose any risks, unless you have a personal food sensitivity to any of them. 

As with all supplements, glutathione should always be taken by the recommendation and under the guidance of your healthcare provider. Potential side effects may include bloating, abdominal cramps, trouble breathing, and allergic reactions. If you are experiencing any side effects, stop taking glutathione and talk to your doctor.

Natural Ways to Increase Your Glutathione Levels

There are several ways to increase your glutathione levels naturally. Eating glutathione-boosting foods is only one of them. Here is what I recommend:

Eat Sulfur-Rich Foods

Sulfur is necessary for the synthesis of glutathione (26). Fortunately, some plant and protein foods are naturally rich in sulfur. Eating such foods may help to improve glutathione levels and lower oxidative stress (27, 28).

Plant-based sources of sulfur include:

  • Cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Mustard greens, watercress, bok choy, and Brussels sprouts
  • Allium vegetables, such as onions, garlic, and shallots
  • Avocado
  • Legumes
  • Nuts
  • Flaxseed
  • Guso seaweed
  • Milk thistle

Animal protein sources of sulfur:

  • Fish
  • Chicken and other poultry
  • Beef
  • Eggs
  • Whey protein

Try Other Supportive Foods

Additionally, to sulfur-rich foods, you may try adding foods high in alpha-lipoic acid to your diet. Alpha-lipoic acid helps regenerate glutathione (29). It is found in broccoli, tomatoes, spinach, and organ meats. I also recommend whey protein, which is rich in cysteine. Cysteine is one of the amino acids necessary for glutathione production. It can be found in dairy products or as a supplement.

Get Enough Sleep and Manage Stress

Research has shown that chronically poor sleep, insomnia, and chronic stress can lead to a reduction in glutathione levels (30, 31, 32, 33). Improving stress, managing stress better, getting enough sleep, and improving your sleep helps to increase your glutathione levels as well.

To improve your stress levels, I recommend practicing meditation, mindfulness, breathwork, journaling, and gratitude. Working with a therapist is recommended if you are dealing with trauma, anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues, or simply want to learn better coping skills. Engaging in hobbies and activities you like and spending time with supportive friends and family can help.

To improve your sleep, I recommend going to sleep and waking up around the same time each day to support your circadian rhythms. Choose a supportive bed, mattress, and bedding for restorative sleep. Avoid heavy foods, sugar, and alcohol in the evening. Reduce your stress throughout the day and choose relaxing activities at night. This means not using electronics, not scrolling the stressful news, not watching disturbing TV programs, but instead choosing reading, writing, listening to calm music, peaceful conversations, board games, coloring, and meditation.

Move Your Body

Moving your body and exercising is important for your overall health. Recent research suggests that may be essential for maintaining or improving your antioxidant levels too. This includes glutathione! According to a 2007 study published in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation, aerobic exercise training, circuit weight training, and the combination of both may all help to improve glutathione levels, however, combining the two seems to be the most effective (34).

To improve your glutathione levels, I recommend exercising 5 days a week. Use a combination of cardiovascular workouts, such as swimming, cycling, dancing, rebounding, jogging, or brisk walking, and strength training, such as body weight workouts, weight lifting, kettlebell training, or TRX. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) combines both strength and cardiovascular training. For lower-impact strength training, pilates, Barre workouts, or yoga are great options. Don’t forget about maintaining adequate nutrition. Not eating a balanced diet and overtraining can reduce glutathione production (35).

Increase Your Vitamin C Intake

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that helps to protect your body from oxidative damage. It also plays a role in maintaining other antioxidant levels, including glutathione (36). 

Vitamin C is found in citrus fruits, strawberries, pineapples, kiwi, papaya, bell pepper, and other foods. However, vitamin C supplementation seems to be even more effective in ensuring proper glutathione levels. Research has shown that as little as 500 mg of vitamin C per day can make a difference (37). A 2003 clinical trial published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has found that using 500 to 1,000 mg of vitamin C has helped to improve glutathione levels in white blood cells by 18% within 13 weeks (38). 

Increase Your Selenium Levels

Selenium is another micronutrient that may help to improve your glutathione levels. In fact, it’s a glutathione cofactor that’s necessary for glutathione activity. 

The best source of selenium are Brazil nuts. Only two Brazil nuts a day can help to maintain the proper levels. Other selenium-rich foods that may help include cashews, sunflower seeds, lentils, brown rice, cottage cheese, organ meats, chicken, beef, and fish. However, in some cases, glutathione supplementation is beneficial or necessary (39, 40).

Consider Turmeric

Turmeric is one of the most powerful spices with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties (41). Its benefits come from curcumin, as the active ingredient. Research has shown that curcumin helps to increase glutathione levels and improve glutathione enzyme activity (42, 43, 44, 45). You can use turmeric in your cooking, including in curries, soups, dips, dressings, green juices, smoothies, and salads. However, daily turmeric supplementation is the best way to ensure adequate doses and proper benefits.

Try Milk Thistle

Milk thistle is a flowery herb that is commonly used for indigestion, liver issues, diabetes, and other ailments. It may also help to improve your glutathione levels naturally. It contains silymarin, which supports liver health and glutathione production. One of the main active compounds of milk thistle is silymarin, which has potent antioxidant properties (46). Some test tube and animal studies have shown that silymarin may help to maintain and increase glutathione levels by reducing cellular damage (47, 48, 49).

Consider Using NAC

N-Acetylcysteine (NAC) is a precursor to glutathione. NAC supplies your body with cysteine which is necessary for glutathione synthesis. This helps to improve intracellular levels of glutathione; thus may help to reduce oxidative stress and damage, improve immune health, and reduce the overall risk of disease (50).

Try B Vitamins

There are vitamins and minerals that act as cofactors in the synthesis and function of glutathione. This includes B vitamins, such as B12 and B9.  This connects glutathione to the methylation process, and genetic variations related to methylation, as well as the transsulfuration pathway where B6 is a catalyst (51, 52, 53).

Vitamin B6 is involved in the transsulfuration pathway, where homocysteine is converted into cysteine, a precursor for glutathione synthesis. Folate, or vitamin B9, is involved in the methionine cycle, which contributes to the production of cysteine. Vitamin B12 works alongside folate in the methionine cycle to regenerate methionine from homocysteine, indirectly supporting the availability of cysteine for glutathione synthesis. Riboflavin, or vitamin B2, is a component of the enzyme glutathione reductase, which helps regenerate reduced glutathione from its oxidized form. 

You may benefit from consuming foods rich in B vitamins, such as leafy green, legumes, eggs, yogurt, nuts and seeds, grass-fed beef, pasture-raised chicken, wild-caught fish, liver, avocados, and bananas. I also recommend taking vitamin B12 and B complex as supplements in many cases.

Consider Other Glutathione Co-Factors

Besides B vitamins, other glutathione cofactors include selenium, vitamin C, and magnesium. We’ve already touched on selenium and vitamin C earlier. Let’s talk about the others for a moment.

Magnesium acts as a cofactor for various enzymes involved in the synthesis of glutathione, particularly those that require ATP. Sources of magnesium include nuts, seeds, whole grains, green leafy vegetables, and legumes, but you may benefit from supplementation as well (54). 

Zinc is critical for enzymatic functions involved in glutathione metabolism and immune health. Foods rich in zinc, include meat, shellfish, legumes, seeds, and nuts. I also recommend supplementing with zinc where appropriate(55).

Vitamin E helps glutathione to protect cell membranes from oxidative damage. Sources of vitamin E include nuts, seeds, spinach, and sunflower oil. You may also benefit from supplementation (56).

Try Glutathione Supplements

Glutathione supplements are available in various forms, such as liposomal glutathione or acetyl-glutathione. As I discussed earlier, liposomal and S-Acetyl glutathione are the preferred forms. If you need a boost or are dealing with chronic health issues, we offer IV glutathione at our office.

Reduce Your Alcohol Intake and Stop Smoking

Finally, being mindful of your alcohol intake is important. Besides potential liver cirrhosis, pancreatitis, and brain damage, excessive alcohol intake may also result in lung damage. This may be related to low glutathione levels. Your lungs require glutathione to function. 

However, oxidative stress from chronic alcohol use can decrease glutathione levels (48). According to a 2007 review published in the American Journal of Physiology, people who drink alcohol excessively may experience an 80 to 90% reduction in glutathione (49). Thus, I recommend limiting your alcohol intake or avoiding alcohol completely to help maintain normal glutathione levels. 

Tobacco can also deplete glutathione levels. If you are a smoker or tobacco-user, I recommend stopping. If you are not using tobacco, don’t start and avoid second-hand smoke as much as possible. 

Next Steps

If you are looking for antioxidant benefits, want to reduce inflammation, or dealing with chronic health issues, you may benefit from glutathione. 

If you are dealing with any chronic health issues and need advice on how to improve your nutrition and health, I welcome you to start a functional medicine consultation with me for further personalized guidance. You may book your consultation here

Check out my Histamine Intolerance Course here. Learn on your own time, from anywhere. Get an inside look at the most helpful functional medicine tests for pinpointing imbalances, ways to identify and manage the most common (and sometimes surprising) mast cell triggers, and learn what to eat, what to avoid, and why.


Learn more about working with Dr. Gannage