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Often called “the master antioxidant”, glutathione is a simple molecule that your body requires to stave off disease and stay healthy overall. Your immune system also requires this super antioxidant to run on all cylinders. Scientific evidence tells us that maintaining healthy glutathione levels may prevent inflammation, premature aging, and chronic disease.
However, it is the very important role of glutathione for detox processes that we will focus on in this blog. Glutathione can be depleted by several factors including age, chronic infections, stress, and toxins. To help you boost and maintain glutathione levels, we also discuss how you can maintain healthy levels of glutathione.
What is Glutathione?
Glutathione is a polypeptide that is made up of three amino acids – cysteine, glycine, and glutamine. Glutathione is an endogenous antioxidant (versus exogenous antioxidants that you can only source from food or supplements), meaning every cell of your body produces it.
Glutathione: The Master Antioxidant
Glutathione contains thiol group (SH), a sulphur-containing chemical group that 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 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, making 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. 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 nearby cellular structures such as mitochondria, lipids, and DNA. This thievery of electrons alters the chemical structure of these critical molecules. For example, it triggers unwanted inflammatory responses from your immune system and compromises the function of tissues and organs. This is called oxidative damage (or oxidative stress). As an antioxidant, glutathione protects cells and their components form this troublesome oxidative stress.
Glutathione is an important antioxidant for many reasons. For one, it is produced by the body on its own and reactivates itself after being utilized. What’s more, it 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 but also helps recycle or stabilize other antioxidants after they are done with donating their electrons and become free radicals themselves. Most importantly, glutathione is present within the cells, ready and waiting to provide them much-needed defense against any kind of oxidative stress.
Glutathione in detoxification
Your body has an in-built detoxification system that works 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 that 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 (called the conjugation pathway) makes it easier 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 far higher in the liver cells. The liver is your body’s primary detox tool 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. Once water-soluble, these toxins can be easily removed by the body (through intestines, kidneys, and skin) without causing any damage to cells, tissues, and organs. Glutathione serves many important functions in these natural detoxification pathways carried out in the liver by:
- 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.
It is important to make sure that your body has access to all the nutritional and antioxidant support it needs to carry out detoxification pathways in the liver.
In a perfect world, this process of removing toxins would run smoothly. But in an environment where there is constant exposure to harmful chemicals, the detoxification system eventually 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 under-eye circles 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
- Helps with cell growth and replication processes
- Protects against radiation 
- Improves energy levels
- Improves skin health
Glutathione plays an extremely important role in keeping you healthy 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. An 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 in particular 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: for an excellent source of cystine and other raw materials essential for making glutathione, incorporate bioactive and non-denatured whey protein in your diet. 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 consistent, restful sleep at night. Take measures to reduce your exposure to toxins commonly found in cosmetics, personal grooming products, and cleaning products.
What about glutathione supplements?
As these supplements are broken down by digestive juices and enzymes, leading to reduced bioavailability, regular glutathione supplements are simply not effective in raising your glutathione levels. Taking a high-quality liposomal glutathione supplement 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