Glutathione is well known for its antioxidant super powers. Often called the master anti-oxidant, it is a simple molecule that your body requires to stay free of disease and healthy overall. It is also required for a well-functioning immune system. There is scientific evidence that maintaining healthy levels of glutathione may very well be a key to preventing inflammation, premature ageing and chronic diseases.
Glutathione is also a major part of how your body gets rid of toxins. In this blog, we are going to discuss how glutathione is a cornerstone of your body’s detoxification system and what can you do to make sure you maintain healthy levels of glutathione, which can be depleted by a number of factors including age, chronic infections, stress and toxins.
What is Glutathione?
Glutathione is a polypeptide that is made up of three amino acids – cysteine, glycine and glutamine. Every cell of your body produces its own glutathione, making it an endogenous antioxidant (versus exogenous antioxidants that you need to get from food or supplements).
Glutathione: The Master Anti-oxidant
Glutathione contains thiol group (SH) and this sulphur containing chemical group is the secret behind its antioxidant and detoxification capabilities.
“It is a coenzyme in various enzymatic reactions. The most important of these are redox reactions, in which the thiol grouping on the cysteine portion of cell membranes protects against peroxidation; and conjugation reactions, in which glutathione (especially in the liver) binds with toxic chemicals in order to detoxify them. Glutathione is also important in red and white blood cell formation and throughout the immune system.” 
Antioxidants work by donating their extra electrons to free radicals, reactive oxygen molecules that have unpaired or missing electrons that make them highly unstable. These rogue molecules come from various internal and external sources. For example, they are naturally produced when mitochondria burn fuel and oxygen to create energy for the cells or when the body removes toxins and during many other cellular processes. Free radicals are also produced when you are continuously exposed to stress, infections, drugs, antibiotics and environmental toxins (like chemicals in food, water and cosmetics).
In their effort to stabilize themselves, these unstable molecules steal electrons from the nearby cellular structures, such as mitochondria, lipids and DNA. This thievery of electrons alters the chemical structure of these critical molecules, triggering unwanted inflammatory responses from your immune system and compromising the function of tissues and organs. This is called oxidative damage. As an antioxidant, glutathione protects cells and their components from this oxidative stress.
Glutathione is an important antioxidant for so many reasons. It is produced by the body on its own, it reactivates itself after being utilized and it also helps in reactivating other critical antioxidants in the body such as vitamin C, vitamin E, coenzyme Q10 and alpha-lipoic acid. This means glutathione not only defuses free radicals by itself but also helps recycle or stabilize other antioxidants after they are done with donating their electrons and become free radicals themselves. Most importantly, it is present within the cells, giving them much needed defense against any kind of oxidative stress.
Glutathione in detoxification
Your body has an in-built detoxification system that works through various pathways with the help of all kinds of enzymes, proteins, antioxidants and nutrients. This process involves Phase I, Phase II and Phase III detoxification pathways.
In Phase 1, a group of enzymes called cytochrome P450 enzymes, along with many nutrients such as glutathione, vitamin B12, vitamin B3, vitamin B6, vitamin C and bioflavonoids, convert harmful fat-soluble toxins into less damaging ones. This process also generates highly reactive free radicals, which are neutralized by antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E, CoQ10, zinc, selenium and glutathione.
In Phase II, these less harmful chemicals are further neutralized by phase II enzymes (glutathione transferases) along with the help of various molecules including glutathione, sulphate, and glycine. More specifically, these molecules bind with the intermediate toxins (metabolized in Phase II) to render them water soluble. This pathway is called the conjugation pathway and makes it easy for the body to remove the toxins.
In Phase III, water soluble or conjugated toxins are transported into the bile or urine to be eliminated through the intestines, kidneys, and skin.
While glutathione is present in every cell of the body, its concentration is way higher in the liver cells. The liver is your primary detox machinery and plays a very important role in breaking down or transforming toxins like metabolic waste, hormones, drugs, alcohol and other chemicals into water soluble forms that can be easily removed by the body (through intestines, kidneys and skin) without causing any damage to cells, tissues and organs. And glutathione serves many important functions in these natural detoxification pathways carried out in the liver:
- Protecting the liver from oxidative damage during Phase 1
- Binding with toxins to make them more water-soluble, so they are easily excreted out of the system. Glutathione tends to stick to toxins including free radicals, drugs, chemicals and heavy metals such as mercury, cadmium and lead.
In a perfect world, this process of removing toxins would run smoothly. But in an environment where there is a constant exposure to harmful chemicals, as time passes the detoxification system becomes overloaded and incapable of neutralizing and getting rid of metabolic waste and toxins. This leads to the build up of toxins in the cells and eventually translates into low energy levels, excessive stress on the body and increased production of free radicals, causing all kinds of symptoms and disease.
Digestion problems like bloating and constipation, weakened immune system, constant fatigue, muscle and joint pain, frequent headaches, sleep issues, brain fog, skin allergies, sinus problems, dark circles under the eyes and weight gain are some of the signs that your body is suffering from toxic overload.
Other important health benefits of glutathione include:
- Boosts immune functions  
- Controls inflammation
- Facilitates critical enzymatic reactions
- Plays an important role in DNA synthesis and repair
- Helps in the formation of red and white blood cells
- Involved in cell growth and replication processes
- Protects against radiation 
- Improves energy levels
- Improves skin health
Glutathione plays an extremely important role in keeping you healthy overall and free of ailments. The bad news is that your body doesn’t produce enough glutathione as you age, making it difficult for the body to deal with free radicals and toxins. Unhealthy diet, medications, high levels of stress, trauma, radiations, pollution, long-term infections and toxins also deplete glutathione levels in the body.
Studies show that people suffering from chronic diseases such as AIDS, arthritis, Parkinson’s, Type 2 diabetes, hepatitis, heart disease and chronic kidney disease are deficient in this important antioxidant and detoxifying agent.
How to boost your glutathione levels?
- Eat sulphur rich foods: Garlic, onions, leeks and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, collards, mustard greens, radish, turnip and Brussel sprouts have high concentrations of sulfur-containing amino acids that your body requires to naturally produce glutathione.
- Consume whey protein: As an excellent source of cystine and other raw materials essential for making glutathione, incorporating bioactive and non-denatured whey protein in your diet is another way of giving your levels a natural boost. Make sure your whey protein is unpasteurized, cold-processed and is free from hormones, pesticides and other chemicals.
- Eat foods rich in certain nutrients that help in the production and recycling of glutathione: These helpers include vitamin C, zinc, selenium, vitamin E, magnesium and vitamins B6, B9, B12 and biotin.
- Take supplements that act as precursors to making glutathione: These include N-acetyl-cysteine, alpha lipoic acid and milk thistle.
- Healthy lifestyle: Exercise regularly, minimize your stress levels and get healthy sleep at night. Also take measures to reduce your contacts with toxins commonly found in cosmetics, personal grooming products and cleaning products.
Studies show that regular glutathione supplements are not very effective in raising your glutathione levels. These supplements are broken down by digestive juices and enzymes, leading to reduced bioavailability.
Taking a high quality liposomal glutathione supplement, however, will solve bioavailability and absorption issues. Liposomes are small bubbles made of phospholipids that can be filled with a nutrient (or a drug). These spherical structures protect the encapsulated content from degradation that occurs during digestion, thus delivering nutrients (such as vitamin C , glutathione , CoQ10 ) directly into the cells and enhancing its availability for both absorption and utilization.
A 2018 study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition investigated the effectiveness of liposomal glutathione at enhancing GSH levels. The study concluded that, “Collectively, these preliminary findings support the effectiveness of daily liposomal GSH administration at elevating stores of GSH and impacting the immune function and levels of oxidative stress.” 
- Glutathione. PubChem.
- T W Mak et al. Glutathione Primes T Cell Metabolism for Inflammation. Immunity. April 2017.
- Allen et al. Mechanisms of Control of Mycobacterium tuberculosis by NK Cells: Role of Glutathione. Front Immunol. 2015
- Anupam Chatterjee. Reduced Glutathione: A Radioprotector or a Modulator of DNA-Repair Activity? Nutrients. 2013
- Sinha et al. Oral supplementation with liposomal glutathione elevates body stores of glutathione and markers of immune function. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2018