When you feel a cold coming on, there’s one immunity-boosting vitamin you always reach for: vitamin C. (And yes, vitamin C plays a major role in keeping your body healthy, so keep pouring OJ when you get the sniffles.) But it’s certainly not the only nutrient that protects you from unwanted sickness.
Benefits of Glutathione
Glutathione is an immunity supporter gaining buzz in recent years for its ability to keep you healthy in the short term while fighting against chronic diseases. According to Imashi Fernando, MS, RD, glutathione is your body’s master antioxidant and the first line of defense against oxidative stress.
Other benefits of glutathione include:
- Reduces oxidative stress/inflammation
- Supports the brain
- Improves skin
- Supports immune system
- Improves liver health
- Boosts strength and physical performance
- May extend lifespan
One study found glutathione to be an important biomarker in various chronic, age-related diseases (1). The power this antioxidant wields might be life-changing; the question becomes how to get more of it?
Glutathione at a Glance
- Glutathione is your body’s master antioxidant and has been touted as an immune system booster, anti-aging powerhouse, and cancer preventer.
- Glutathione is naturally synthesized in your body from major amino acids.
- As we age, we lack key amino acids needed to build glutathione, and can suffer from glutathione deficiency.
How is Glutathione Made?
Glutathione is naturally synthesized in your body from major amino acids cysteine, glycine, and glutamic acid. However, as we age, studies show we lack cysteine and glycine—two key building blocks of glutathione (2). “This could help explain why older adults are more likely to experience glutathione deficiencies,” says Fernando.
Although, finding out if you have a glutathione deficiency presents a challenge. It is possible to test for glutathione by getting a simple blood test. Yet, there’s one inherent problem with testing glutathione: it “fluctuates throughout the day and varies according to what demands are being made on the system at a given time,” says Nayan Patel, PharmD, and author of The Glutathione Revolution.
A variety of factors could influence test results like whether you had a glass of water versus wine with dinner, recently took a pain reliever, are fighting a virus, or just spent an hour exercising, Patel notes. It might take several tests to detect your average level of glutathione, which you can then use as a baseline for future tests, he says.
Can You Increase Your Glutathione?
The good news: a growing body of research (1) indicates we can enhance glutathione status by eating more glutathione and glutathione-supporting foods. However, raw glutathione is often poorly absorbed by the human body because it can be broken down by the digestive system before absorption. Current research suggests glutathione precursors (like cysteine, glycine, and glutamic acid), cofactors (like selenium and vitamin C), and other healthy, whole foods may be more impactful (1).
“Eating a well-balanced diet with a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean protein can help you maintain healthy glutathione levels,” says Fernando. To her point, you won’t find glutathione on nutrition labels—so instead of obsessing over reaching a certain amount of milligrams per day, it’s best to focus on a well-rounded diet that includes amino acid-rich foods.
Eating a well-balanced diet with a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean protein can help you maintain healthy glutathione levels.
She also notes that if you have a glutathione deficiency or are concerned about your levels, getting more granular with food choices may give you the targeted boost you’re looking for.
Here are the research-backed, glutathione and glutathione-supporting foods to scribble on your shopping list. Plus, a few other ways to give your glutathione levels a lift.
Foods That Increase Glutathione
High in vitamins C and K, fiber, and beta-carotene, crunchy brassica vegetables (also known as cruciferous vegetables) are spiked with sulforaphane, a sulfur-rich compound, that studies have shown can increase glutathione and glutathione-related enzymes (3).
Brassica vegetables include brussels sprouts, kale, cauliflower, bok choy, and cabbage. Other sulfur-rich plants include allium vegetables like garlic, onions, and shallots, as well as fiber-packed beans and legumes.
Stir-fries, salads, soups, taco toppings, crispy snacks, and roasted side dishes are just a few of the many ways Fernando recommends sneaking these veggies into your weekly routine.
However you choose to serve them up, consider eating them raw or mildly steamed, as one study suggests this can preserve the integrity of sulfur compounds (4).
Vitamin C Foods
Immunity superhero, vitamin C, works as an antioxidant to protect cells from oxidative damage while maintaining the body’s supply of other antioxidants, including glutathione. One study (5) found that Vitamin C plays an important role in glutathione oxidation, “and some test-tube studies (5) have shown glutathione may play a part in the destruction of certain cancer cells,” Fernando adds.
Seek out vitamin C-loaded strawberries, citrus fruits, papayas, kiwis, or bell peppers next time you’re on the hunt for a boost of glutathione. Even better, whip up a vitamin C smoothie packed with strawberries, oranges, kiwis, and a banana for your daily dose of potassium.
Foods containing glutathione may seem like the most logical way to increase blood glutathione levels, but dietary glutathione is poorly absorbed by the human body. While they may not bolster glutathione levels, current research (1) shows glutathione foods may help decrease oxidative stress, which has been linked to heart disease (6) and cancer (7).
Get your fill of dietary glutathione by snacking on cucumber, avocado, spinach, green beans, asparagus, and okra. “Besides being good sources of dietary glutathione, these foods are packed with tons of other nutrients and plant compounds that also have anti-inflammatory effects,” says Fernando.
Polyphenol-Rich Fruit Juices
Polyphenols are a category of compounds naturally found in plant foods—such as fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, tea, dark chocolate, wine, and anti-aging coffee—that act as antioxidants, and have been linked to a decreased risk for cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack and coronary artery disease (8).
A little sweet, a little tart, polyphenol-rich grape, and pomegranate juices are also associated with an increase in glutathione levels.
One small study uncovered that drinking both conventional and organic grape juice led to significantly increased glutathione, overall antioxidant activity, and glutathione peroxidase when compared with water (9).
On the hunt for faster workout recovery? Another study found that weight lifters who consumed pomegranate juice before two Olympic weightlifting sessions experienced a 6.8 percent increase in blood glutathione peroxidase (10).
Fernando advises choosing whole fruit over fruit juice to take advantage of the high fiber content in fruit. If juice is your only option, she recommends limiting added sugars, and drinking no more than two cups a day.
Your favorite post-workout recovery drink may have benefits beyond helping you build muscle. Since precursors of glutathione are amino acids, whey protein may influence the amino acid pool your body can draw from to synthesize glutathione.
For instance, a study published in The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry found that overweight individuals affected with diabetes mellitus or impaired fasting glucose who consumed 40g of whey protein a day saw an increase in glutathione peroxidase (11). Big bonus: they also saw reductions in weight, waist circumference measurements, and overall fat mass.
Another small study found after completing an intense resistance training workout, young men who supplemented with whey protein saw significant increases in glutathione peroxidase in comparison to a placebo group (12). Plus, whey protein is a quick and easy way to help your muscles recover and repair faster. Win-win.
Selenium Rich Foods
Add selenium to the ever-growing list of antioxidants that aren’t just immunity champions, but give glutathione a helping hand, too. Selenium is a glutathione cofactor ( it assists in glutathione activity). Plus, according to the latest research, low selenium levels are associated with an increased incidence of cancer and heart disease—all the more reason to make sure you’re getting enough of it (13).
Selenium adequacy is directly related to glutathione adequacy; eating a balanced diet including selenium-rich foods will ensure healthy levels of both. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for men is just 55 micrograms a day.
It’s also worth noting that excess selenium can lead to increased oxidative stress rather than relieve it, so consume no more than 400 micrograms of selenium per day.
To get more, load your plate with beef, lean chicken, fish, organ meats, brown rice, brazil nuts, and cottage cheese.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Chronic inflammation can contribute to oxidative stress and deplete glutathione supply. Thanks to their anti-inflammatory properties, mighty omega-3s may help glutathione play defense.
In particular, one study found that Parkinson’s patients who took 1000mg of omega-3 fatty acids from flaxseed oil along with 400IU of vitamin E for 12 weeks saw an increase in blood glutathione concentrations and an overall decrease in inflammatory markers (14).
Fatty fish, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts are just a few of the ways to get inflammation-fighting omega-3’s in your diet. Fernando champions at least two servings of fatty fish a week, adding flax and chia seeds to your smoothies or oatmeal, and snacking on walnuts in the afternoon.
“If you have a seafood or nut allergy, you may consider a vegan omega-3 supplement,” says Fernando, most of which derive their omega-3 content from algae. She notes a supplement isn’t necessary unless your diet stops you from getting omega-3 naturally.
Other Ways to Increase Glutathione
Get Enough Sleep
Add glutathione to your list of reasons to catch some z’s. One study measuring glutathione levels in 30 healthy people and 30 people with insomnia found that glutathione peroxidase was significantly lower in people with insomnia (15). Seek to improve your sleep hygiene to protect your glutathione levels.
If you’re looking for a swell of motivation to get you off the couch, physical activity isn’t only good for your physical and mental well-being. According to one study, moderate exercise may increase glutathione levels (16). Another study suggests a combination of strength and cardio increases glutathione the most in comparison to cardio and strength training alone (17). So, hit the gym and get a good variety of activities throughout the week.
Smoke and Drink in Moderation
Interestingly, the small airways of your lungs require glutathione to function properly. According to current research, healthy lungs have up to 1,000 times more glutathione than other parts of the body (18). One study linked chronic alcohol consumption to linked to an 80-90 percent decrease in lung glutathione levels (18). Another study suggests that a combination of smoking and alcohol can decrease glutathione activity (19). If you do smoke or enjoy indulging in a sip of whiskey, keep it in moderation to bolster your glutathione.
Fernando notes that smokers, older adults, people with chronic health conditions like diabetes, or people with weakened immune systems may benefit from glutathione supplementation.
Supplementation comes in many forms, but “intravenous, sublingual, and liposomal forms of glutathione are more effective because they are more protected from the digestive system,” notes Fernando.
Glutathione injections bypass the digestive system and are safe, and widely available. Before getting a jab, you’ll need to get a prescription from your doctor. The typical dose varies from person to person, so work with your doctor to find the right amount for you.
Glutathione is the first line of defense against oxidative stress, processing toxins out of our body, neutralizing free radicals, increasing cellular function, and promoting cellular turnover. Now available through Hone.
The Bottom Line
- Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant that is your body’s first line of defense against oxidative stress.
- You can increase glutathione through glutathione and glutathione-supporting foods.
- You can also boost glutathione by getting good sleep, exercising regularly, minimizing smoking and drinking, or getting injections.