Your body performs incredible feats every day. It destroys free radicals that cause oxidative damage to your cells and tissues, eliminates waste and toxins, and gears up the immune system to ward off disease and infections.
You need a whole army of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and enzymes to perform these critical functions, such as Vitamin D, magnesium, CoQ10, iron, vitamin C, zinc, selenium, vitamins K1 and K2. The list can go on and on. These micro-nutrients function as antioxidants (free-radical scavengers), detoxification substances (removing heavy metals and toxic residues of chemicals, drugs and other pollutants) and immune regulators.
Glutathione is one such antioxidant substance that your cells make on their own. Made up of three amino acids, glutathione is one of the most important endogenous antioxidants that can slay reactive oxygen species like no other.
What happens when your body is short on glutathione? And what are some of the conditions that drain this master-antioxidant from the body? Lets take a closer look.
What depletes glutathione?
You need glutathione for many important functions. So, some of the glutathione is burned up during these processes:
1. Works as a master antioxidant
Glutathione is one of the most powerful antioxidants made within the body. It protects the cells from oxidative damage and helps to recycle other antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E and alpha lipoic acid. What makes glutathione especially useful is that it is made within the cells. As such, it becomes the first line of defense against oxidative damage. No wonder it has been coined the ‘master antioxidant’ and ‘mother of all antioxidants’.
2. Boosts immunity
Your immune cells, especially white blood cells, need glutathione to work properly. T cells are activated when they sense the presence of pathogens. It is precisely at this time that they need additional energy to grow and initiate attack.
This is where glutathione helps, as it supports the increasing energy requirements of activated T cells. Without glutathione, T cells will still be active but lack the energy to stimulate the required response against pathogens. In addition, immune responses create a trail of free radicals and metabolic waste as by-products that can cause cellular toxicity and damage. Glutathione helps to get rid of these toxic by-products, maintaining health of immune cells.
3. Required for detoxification
Your body is very good at removing toxins and other waste products. And your liver is the epicentre of this detoxification system (this also includes skin, lungs, intestines and kidneys).
It is not surprising that your liver is loaded with high levels of glutathione, as this master antioxidant plays a spectacular, indispensable role in how the liver gets rid of all the toxins, heavy metals, free radicals and chemicals. Once glutathione sticks to toxins and makes them water soluble, it is much easier for the body to remove these toxins.
Glutathione protects the liver from the oxidative damage caused by the free radicals that are naturally generated during initial detoxification phases. Of course, other antioxidants such as CoQ10, vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc and selenium are also involved in these phases.
4. Required for DNA repair
In its role as a powerful antioxidant, glutathione also protects the cellular DNA from the oxidative damage that is inflicted during cell division. Research suggests that glutathione can also protect against radiation exposure. It not only prevents DNA damage caused by UV rays and other forms of radiation but also plays an important role in DNA repair.
Other factors that deplete glutathione
Other factors drain glutathione. Most of these are external or environmental factors that cause overwhelming production of free radicals or make toxins or heavy metals to accumulate within cells and tissues, causing severe damage to various organ systems including the brain, heart, kidneys, nervous system and endocrine system.
This creates an additional demand for glutathione to destroy free radicals and for detoxification.
- Excessive intake of antibiotics and drugs
- Chronic exposure to harmful substances like pesticides, heavy metals, preservatives, additives, tobacco smoke, synthetic food dyes, household chemicals, ionizing radiation and other pollutants
- Heavy smoking and drinking, taking drugs
- Stress, anxiety and depression
- Chronic disease and infections
- Unhealthy diet lacking in raw materials that help the body make or process glutathione
- Excessive exposure to light especially at night. Light pollution interferes with the synthesis of melatonin. It is a hormone that helps recharge used up glutathione so that it can get back to doing its job.
- Magnesium deficiency
- Strenuous exercise
So, we now know that most of these factors stress your body by generating high amounts of free radicals. In this situation your body falls back on its antioxidant pool – comprising of glutathione, magnesium, vitamin C, CoQ10, many other vitamins and minerals and powerful enzymes – to neutralize free radicals and limit the oxidative damage.
In addition, your liver now needs to work extra hard to get rid of toxins, heavy metals and other harmful chemicals your body is being continuously exposed to.
Glutathione, being an extremely critical player in all the phases of detoxification, is being in greater quantities and demand can outstrip supply.
As for other factors like old age, magnesium deficiency and nutritional deficiencies and how these factors impact your glutathione status, let’s dig a little deeper.
Age is an important reason why you have poor glutathione levels
You have healthy glutathione levels when you are young. But your levels begin to go down with age, making you prone to getting sick. In your 70s and 80s, you are left with only about 50% ability to synthesise glutathione.
Unhealthy diet lowers your glutathione levels in more ways than one
You need a healthy wholesome diet to be healthy and vibrant. Your diet provides your body with the energy, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants it needs to function properly and to fight stress, infections and diseases.
Some foods provide your body with the raw ingredients to make glutathione – which is made up of three simple amino acids; namely cysteine, glycine and glutamine.
Most whole foods, such as fresh vegetable, fruits, herbs, nuts and spices, are a good source of glutathione. Some of these foods also provide precursors that your body needs to naturally produce glutathione. Let’s look at some of these foods.
- Whey protein that is non-denatured and obtained from grass fed cows. It is important to make sure that the whey protein that you buy is cold-processed and free of hormones and pesticides.
- Brazil nuts and walnuts
- Eggs, fish and meat
- Fresh vegetables and fruits
- Foods that are rich in sulphur such as onions, garlic, leeks and cruciferous vegetables like kale, collards, mustard greens, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and radish.
- Supplements such as N-acetyl-cysteine, alpha lipoic acid and milk thistle
- Some nutrients work as co-factors in the production and recycling of glutathione; for example, magnesium, vitamin B, Vitamin B12, vitamin B6, biotin, zinc, selenium, vitamin C and vitamin E
Presence of chronic disease or infections indicates low glutathione levels
People with chronic diseases have one thing in common. They all have glutathione deficiency. Studies show that people suffering from HIV/AIDS, diabetes, asthma, cancer, autism, fibromyalgia, autoimmune diseases, chronic kidney disease, heart disease, persistent infections, chronic fatigue, arthritis and Alzheimer’s have seriously depleted levels of this master antioxidant.
A 2018 study published in PLOS concluded that “Compared to non-diabetic controls, patients with T2DM have glutathione deficiency, especially if they have microvascular complications.” 
In this breakthrough 2018 study, researchers found that glutathione is severely depleted in people with Alzheimer’s.  ScienceDaily reported that “It was discovered that when GSH is depleted in the hippocampus regions of an elderly person the healthy brain suffers mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which is known to be present in the earlier stages of AD. It is now correlated that closed form of GSH is depleted in AD patients.” 
Patients sufferings from chronic depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and other psychiatric illness are also found to have low levels. And other non-chronic conditions such as surgery, injuries, burns or any other kind of trauma on the body also depletes your glutathione reserve.
Why would it happen? Glutathione is the major part of your body’s antioxidant defense system. And when you are suffering from a chronic disease or an infection, your body undergoes extreme stress. There is an increased production of free radicals. It is obvious that you need a strong antioxidant funding to protect your cells and tissues from oxidative damage and to detoxify. That’s why your body ends up using more of glutathione and, of course, other antioxidants.
Magnesium deficiency is a big factor in making you glutathione deficient
Magnesium is an important mineral that works as an essential co-factor in hundreds of enzyme reactions. You need magnesium to produce cellular energy, proteins and DNA. It is also required to convert the inactive, stored form of vitamin D into the active form to be used by the cells. Almost all the enzymes involved in vitamin D metabolism need magnesium as their co-factor. This means that without enough magnesium, the vitamin D that your body makes from sunlight exposure or gets from vitamin D supplements would remain unutilized. 
Its role in maintaining cellular calcium levels is also well-known. Magnesium regulates the movement of calcium into and out of the cellular space, thus preventing unwanted build up of calcium in cells, tissues and blood vessels – which can lead to abnormal muscle contractions, atherosclerosis, kidney stones and constipation. Magnesium is also needed for a healthy nervous system, and studies confirm its benefits in depression, anxiety, migraine, insomnia and high stress levels. Magnesium is also regarded as one of the best supplements for heart health (besides CoQ10).
A lesser known fact is that magnesium is also actively involved in detoxification. Your cells need high amounts of energy during detoxification, and this is where magnesium helps. It also helps to get rid of heavy metals such as mercury, aluminium, cadmium and lead. Accumulation of toxins and heavy metals can cause several health problems and is especially detrimental to the health of your nervous system.
Coming back to the link between low magnesium levels and glutathione deficiency, magnesium also functions as an important co-factor in glutathione synthesis. More precisely, magnesium helps an enzyme called gamma glutamyl transpeptidase (GGT) to function properly. GGT is closely involved in the production of glutathione.
So, when you are magnesium deficient, you may not only suffer from poor glutathione levels, but would also experience symptoms such as painful muscle cramps, back aches, joint pains, constipation, migraines, low energy levels, fatigue, anxiety, depression, poor sleep and – for woman - painful PMS.
You can include magnesium-rich foods (nuts, seeds and green leafy vegetables) and start taking a good magnesium supplement to maintain optimum levels of this extraordinary mineral with diverse roles.
Poor glutathione status and your health
With chronically low levels of glutathione, many important processes take a hit – leading to premature aging, increased inflammation and risk of many diseases. With glutathione deficiency, you have:
- A decreased ability to destroy free radicals where cells are subjected to substantially high amounts of oxidative damage – leading to inflammation and destruction.
- Inability to eliminate waste and toxins efficiently – leading to liver dysfunction and building up of toxins, heavy metals and harmful chemicals in your tissues. This can cause hormonal imbalance, migraines, low energy, infertility, neurodegenerative disorders, allergies, cancer and more.
- Impaired immunity that makes your body highly susceptible to opportunistic infections and other disease.
In a nutshell, you must maintain healthy levels of glutathione to detoxify, fight oxidative damage, age well and prevent the risk of many diseases.
How can you improve your glutathione levels?
We have already discussed the kind of foods and dietary supplements that can help your body equip itself with its own supply of glutathione.
In addition to eating healthy, lifestyle changes can also help. You should engage in moderate but regular physical activity, reduce your stress levels and maintain healthy sleep patterns.
What about taking glutathione supplements?
As we have mentioned in our other glutathione-related blogs, liposomal glutathione supplements can significantly boost levels. Traditional oral supplements that are not based on liposomal technology are usually dismissed by experts as they have failed to show the desired results. Non-liposomal supplements are disintegrated in the severe acidic environment during digestion. A large amount of a nutrient is thus wasted and fails to reach cells and tissues, resulting in poor bioavailability and poor absorption.
Liposomal glutathione supplements make use of liposomes, tiny spheres with unique bilayer structure which are filled with a nutrient (in this case glutathione). Liposomes safely transport the encapsulated nutrients to the cells, preventing the degradation of useful substances that remain intact till they reach their destination.
There are many factors in your daily life that are regularly leeching glutathione and other important antioxidants, limiting your body’s natural ability to destroy free radicals, detoxify and fight disease. While you can’t remove many of these factors, you can certainly help your body to cope with all the resulting stress and chaos.
Taking a liposomal glutathione supplement would be one effective way to replenish lost levels so that you can enjoy a healthy life and experience healthy ageing.
- Lutchmansing et al. Glutathione metabolism in type 2 diabetes and its relationship with microvascular complications and glycemia. PLOS. 2018.
- Shukla et al. A Multi-Center Study on Human Brain Glutathione Conformation using Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy. Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, 2018
- IOS Press. "A new study indicates the possibility to monitor the progression of Alzheimer's disease by monitoring major brain antioxidant levels using noninvasive techniques." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 October 2018
- Uwitonze et al. Role of Magnesium in Vitamin D Activation and Function. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association. 2018