Is This Undercover Antioxidant The Secret To All-Day Energy?
Vitamins C and E get most antioxidant lip service, but not everyone knows about this master antioxidant1 that helps prevent numerous conditions including aging, cancer, heart disease, and dementia.
Yes, you can get it as a supplement, but there are more effective ways to build this rock-star antioxidant. It’s called glutathione (pronounced "gloota-thigh-own"): the mother of all antioxidants, the master detoxifier, and maestro of your immune system.
Meet glutathione, your new favorite antioxidant.
Glutathione is a very simple molecule produced naturally from three amino acids: cysteine, glycine, and glutamine. Its sulfur chemical groups provide glutathione’s benefits. Sulfur is a sticky, smelly molecule that acts like flypaper. All the bad things in your body stick onto it, including free radicals and toxins like mercury and other heavy metals.
Your body can make its own glutathione. Unfortunately, numerous things—including a poor diet, pollution, toxins, medications, stress, trauma, aging, infections, and radiation—can quickly deplete this crucial antioxidant2.
Normally your body can also recycle glutathione, except when your toxic load becomes too great3. That really becomes a problem because glutathione recycles other antioxidants. Free radicals get passed around from vitamin C to vitamin E to lipoic acid, and then finally to glutathione, which cools off those free radicals. After this happens, the body can "reduce" or regenerate another protective glutathione molecule and we are back in business.
Lower glutathione levels4, on the other hand, ramp up oxidative stress, free radicals, infections, and cancer. Low levels also overload and damage your liver, making it unable to detoxify.
As a functional medicine doctor, I’ve found glutathione deficiencies in nearly all very ill patients, including those with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), heart disease, cancer, chronic infections, autoimmune disease, diabetes, autism, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, arthritis, asthma, kidney problems, and liver disease.
Your body’s ability to produce and maintain high glutathione levels becomes critical to recovery from nearly every chronic illness, preventing disease, and maintaining optimal health and performance.
What are the main health benefits of glutathione?
1. Immune health.
Glutathione helps fight infections and prevent cancer. That’s why studies show5 that it can help in the treatment of AIDS.
Glutathione6 is the most critical and integral part of your detoxification system. All the toxins stick onto glutathione, which then carries them into bile and the stool to discard.
3. Peak mental and physical function.
Research shows increased glutathione levels decrease muscle damage7, reduce recovery time, increase strength and endurance, and shift metabolism from fat production to muscle development.
To get these and other benefits, you want to optimize this master antioxidant. While glutathione supplements can help, I’ve found these three strategies help your body naturally build glutathione.
Here are three ways to increase your glutathione supply, naturally.
1. Eat glutathione-boosting foods.
Consume sulfur-rich foods including garlic, onions, and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale, collards, cabbage, cauliflower, and watercress.
2. Work out regularly.
Exercise boosts your glutathione levels8 and thereby helps boost your immune system, improve detoxification, and enhance your body’s own antioxidant defenses. Start slowly and build up to 30 minutes a day of vigorous aerobic exercise, like walking or jogging, or play various sports. Strength training for 20 minutes three times a week is also helpful.
3. Take the right supplements.
Beyond bestowing other benefits, certain nutrients9 help build glutathione. They include:
- N-acetyl-cysteine. This has been used for years to help treat asthma, lung disease, and people with life-threatening liver failure from Tylenol overdose. In fact, I first learned about it in medical school while working in the emergency room. We even used it to prevent kidney damage from dyes used during X-ray studies.
- Alpha-lipoic acid. This is a close second to glutathione in importance in our cells and is involved in energy production, blood sugar control, brain health, and detoxification. The body usually makes alpha-lipoic acid, but considering the constant stress many of us experience, supplies often become depleted.
- Selenium. This important mineral helps your body recycle and produce more glutathione. A good multivitamin mineral should contain optimal amounts of selenium. Selenium-rich foods include Brazil nuts and wild-caught fish.
Of course, talk to your doctor before making any changes to your diet, exercise routine, or supplement regimens, especially if you have existing medical issues.
Dr. Mark Hyman is a practicing family physician and an internationally recognized leader, speaker, educator, and advocate in the field of Functional Medicine. He is the founder and director of The UltraWellness Center, the Head of Strategy and Innovation of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine, a 13-time New York Times best-selling author, and Board President for Clinical Affairs for The Institute for Functional Medicine. He is the host of one of the leading health podcasts, The Doctor’s Farmacy. Dr. Hyman is a regular medical contributor on several television shows and networks, including CBS This Morning, Today, Good Morning America, The View, and CNN. He is also an advisor and guest co-host on The Dr. Oz Show.