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As we know, a healthy gut is key to a healthy body. More specifically, our gut health is closely related to the function of our immune system. As an integrative & functional medicine dietitian nutritionist, I believe there is a key player in gut and autoimmune health that is above the rest. The ‘mother of all antioxidants’ as it is commonly referred as. This M.V.P. is glutathione! It’s so important to boost your glutathione levels when healing the gut and reversing autoimmunity.
Glutathione is an antioxidant and molecule composed of three amino acids: l-cysteine, l-glutamic acid, and glycine. As with most antioxidants, glutathione is essential to a healthy gut, and therefore, an optimal immune system. It also regulates and supports detoxification and toxin elimination, energy levels, and healthy aging.
Glutathione is found naturally in every cell and made within the body, specifically in the liver. However, we cannot assume that we have optimal levels of glutathione at all times. In today’s highly stressed and overly processed world, many factors can deplete glutathione levels, leading to elevated oxidative stress and leaving us feeling unwell.
Luckily, there are a handful of ways you can naturally boost glutathione levels in the body!
First thing’s first: why is glutathione so important? On a physiological level, glutathione is essential for various functions within the body, which includes:
Without a doubt, glutathione is an antioxidant you don’t want to go without. So, how can you determine if your glutathione levels are healthy?
Despite our body’s natural ability to create glutathione, many of us are deficient. According to one study, “[Glutathione] depletion has been strongly associated with the diseases and loss of function with aging.”
Additionally, in relation to autoimmunity, glutathione is a main player if the demand for glutathione is significant and can’t keep up. It’s been shown that “altered glutathione concentrations may play an important role in many autoimmune pathological conditions prevalently elicited, determined and maintained by inflammatory/immune response mediated by oxidative stress reactions.” Additionally, low levels of glutathione have been correlated with increased risk of leaky gut and imbalanced gut microbiomes.
Glutathione is necessary to manage autoimmunity and a healthy overall immune response. Whether you are getting glutathione naturally in the body or through supplementation, sufficient levels of glutathione will support the gut in the following ways:
Detoxification is critical for a healthy gut and also for those with autoimmune conditions. Since detoxification pathways can be blocked in individuals with gut and autoimmune issues due to certain genetics and SNP’s, it is important to boost glutathione to support these pathways, our DNA, and cells so the body is eliminating the toxins that can accumulate and contribute to leaky gut (or make it worse).
Chronic inflammation can result in long-term health imbalances. Having abundant glutathione levels blocks inflammatory cytokines from forming which as a result, plays a role in healing the gut and reversing autoimmunity.
The lining of our gut is an important barrier to protect the body from harmful toxins, bacteria, and particles that can leak into the bloodstream. Since leaky gut occurs once this lining and barrier is compromised, this can cause a myriad of autoimmune symptoms and gut disorders such as dysbiosis. Luckily, having adequate glutathione in the body helps to heal and regenerate the cells along the gut lining.
It would only make sense that if glutathione helps heal the gut, it must also improve immunity since our immune system is located in our gut. Glutathione not only helps improve functions of the immune system, but it also helps fight infections that cause inflammation and requires the use of glutathione. Having adequate glutathione will calm the physical stress during an infection reducing the duration of the infection and helping with recovery.
Our bodies might naturally produce glutathione, but luckily we can also get some help by utilizing glutathione we take in through food. Diet plays an important role in healthy glutathione levels and has the ability to deplete or replenish glutathione in the body. All that said, healthy glutathione levels are non-negotiable for optimal health, especially in the case of autoimmunity and gut health. So, what are the best ways to naturally boost glutathione levels in the body through food?
Ideally, we should consume most of our nutrients to increase glutathione levels by consuming an anti-inflammatory diet that contains antioxidants. Unfortunately, most individuals aren’t eating enough unprocessed, whole, and real foods that are plentiful in antioxidants though. This is why I pay special attention to the foods that are naturally high in glutathione and support healthy glutathione levels.
The following foods all have high levels of glutathione and glutathione precursors. Focusing on a balanced diet that includes high quality protein, fats, and fruit and vegetable carbohydrates can ensure you are getting adequate amounts of glutathione.
Foods containing high amounts of sulfur naturally boost glutathione levels. For example, this includes arugula and leafy greens, asparagus, onions, garlic, and eggs.
Similarly to sulfur-rich foods, cruciferous vegetables support glutathione and improve detoxification. For instance, cruciferous vegetables are one of the best sources of sulforaphane, which acts as a powerful precursor to glutathione and as a powerful antioxidant to reduce oxidative stress. These vegetables include broccoli (especially the flowers), kale, turnip greens, rutabagas, cabbage, Brussels sprouts (highest in glutathione), bok choy, and cauliflower. It is best to eat these vegetables lightly cooked, such as steamed rather than raw to support antioxidant effects, gut health, and autoimmunity.
Liver is arguably the #1 superfood, as it contains unmatching amounts of vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin A, D, choline, and even antioxidants including glutathione. Choose either chicken or beef liver and enjoy once or twice per month to improve glutathione levels. Due to many people being weary of the taste of liver, I recommend making liver meatballs and mixing ground beef liver with regular grass-fed ground beef. Most people can’t even tell there’s liver, as long as you have a good sauce! As always, aim for quality pasture-raised beef liver. I trust US Wellness Meats and Bell and Evans organic chicken livers.
Selenium is an important antioxidant that helps the body produce and recycle glutathione. The best sources of selenium are Brazil nuts, pasture-raised turkey, grass-fed beef, eggs, and brown rice.
Foods that are naturally rich in Vitamin C, like orange juice, citrus fruits, green vegetables, strawberries, and tomatoes, all increase levels of glutathione in the body.
The methylation cycle is an important part of glutathione production. To improve methylation, increasing foods high in folate, B12, and B6 are important nutrients to get daily. The best food sources to consume that improve these B vitamins include bananas, cantaloupe, papaya, sunflower seeds, avocados, dark deep leafy greens, organ meats, fish, poultry, and eggs,
Since these amino acids support glutathione levels, eating more foods that naturally contain these amino acids are beneficial. A few of my favorites include:
Spices such as turmeric, cinnamon, and cardamom are all helpful for producing and restoring glutathione. It’s really important to choose spices that are heavy metal safe and don’t contain additives or preservatives. Choose organic whenever possible and opt for fresh spices whenever you can.
Milk thistle is a traditional herb from all over the world. It aids in supporting healthy glutathione levels, as well as detoxification and liver function.
If you are someone who can tolerate dairy, raw non-denatured whey protein provides some of the essential amino acids to make glutathione within the body itself, such as cysteine. I recommend full-fat raw dairy from grass-fed milk that naturally contains whey protein to boost glutathione levels since heat and cooking can destroy the cysteine.
In some cases, supplementation might be needed based on your unique genetics, chemistry, deficiencies, and other factors that might deplete glutathione levels. In addition, not everyone is getting enough through diet alone. If possible, it’s always best to test to see where your levels are first if you aren’t sure.
As with any supplement, all glutathione supplements are not created equal. For instance, glutathione requires other cofactors and processes along the methylation pathway and must pass through the liver to be activated for use.
Below are the highest quality and most bioavailable forms of glutathione:
S-Acetyl is the active form of glutathione, making it naturally readily available for the body to use. These also come in slow-release capsules to ensure it’s passing through the liver.
N-Acetyl Cysteine (or NACE) is the precursor to glutathione. Therefore, it’s necessary to adequate production of glutathione.
Liposomal glutathione quickly and easily penetrates the tissues in our body, allowing for easy and immediate absorption in the bloodstream. Most liposomal glutathione supplements contain a fat base such as sunflower oil for optimal absorption into our cells.
Glutathione can also be administered through intramuscular injection or intravenous vitamin infusion therapy (IV therapy). As a result, this is a great way to bypass the digestive system and allow high concentrations of glutathione to transport into your cells easily. This method is great for a rapid boost and quick glutathione replenishment to help support many health conditions.
Besides diet, lifestyle can play an important role in your glutathione levels and preventing depletion. The best way to preserve your body’s natural glutathione levels is to make sure you are:
Sleep is imperative for healing and restoring cells throughout the body. We actually produce glutathione while sleeping, so it would make sense to get as much sleep as we can. The key is to get enough quality sleep and avoid waking in the middle of the night. As a result, this ensures we are releasing adequate melatonin throughout the night to increase glutathione levels in the brain, liver, and blood.
Minimizing stress is one of the most important areas to prevent depletion of glutathione. You can practice a variety of stress-reducing activities such as deep breathing, meditation, calming baths, light walks in nature, yoga, and stretching just to name a few. The key is to find a stress management routine that fits your lifestyle and works for you! It should be something you can incorporate daily to help you relax.
Not only does moving your body support glutathione production, but it also ensures detoxification. The best movement to support glutathione levels would be something that is not too vigorous on the body. Activities such as biking, walking, hiking, swimming, sports, resistance training, pilates, and yoga are all excellent ways to achieve this. Too much vigorous exercise however, such as cardio and crossfit, can often deplete glutathione levels in the body.
As you can see, glutathione is such a necessary part of a healthy body! In short, we need glutathione to detox and sustain energy, among many other processes. Healthy glutathione levels are even more essential, most importantly for those struggling with fatigue and chronic illness! With a little intention, we can prevent the depletion of glutathione and naturally support healthy levels of this master antioxidant in our bodies.
If you struggle with autoimmunity or gut health issues, it’s important to work with a practitioner to help guide your healing journey. Read more about my programs, here, to see if we’re a good fit!
"When it comes to balancing our body, healing the gut, reversing autoimmunity, and achieving optimal health—we are a lot like a car that won’t run right. In order to fix the problem once and for all instead of relying on jumper cables, we must get underneath the hood, run the diagnostics, and replace the battery so that it runs good as new."
-Nikki Yelton, RD
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