Glutathione: Our Secret Weapon in the Free Radical War

GLUTATHIONE is the most important molecule you need to stay healthy! Let's explore all the reasons why.

On a cellular level, free radicals cause damage to cells and tissues that result in physical signs of aging, weakened immunity, and chronic disease. Free radicals come from many things, such as exercise, environmental toxins, heavy metals, pesticides, and other chemicals in the air we breathe and water we drink.

An “army” of defenders, called antioxidants, line up to protect us from this attack. Antioxidants can stop free radical damage by donating electrons to unstable molecules and prevent future damage from occurring. Many antioxidants, such as vitamin C, can be obtained by eating organic fruits and vegetables or by taking supplements. Of all the different antioxidants, the one that leads the others in the free radical battle is GLUTATHIONE.

Glutathione: Antioxidant Superhero

Glutathione has been called the “Master Antioxidant”, the “Mother of all Antioxidants,” and the “Superhero of Antioxidants.” Glutathione fights off cellular invaders, repairs cellular damage, boosts the power and life of other antioxidants, and plays a very important role in cellular detoxification.  

The good news is glutathione is naturally produced in our body and does not need to be obtained through other sources. 

The bad news is our natural reserves are depleted by factors like smoking, drinking alcohol, pollution, poor diet, taking medications, stress, trauma, aging, infections, radiation, and exposure to xenoestrogens and heavy metals. The greater our exposure to these factors, the faster the body uses up its stores of glutathione.

One of the biggest strains on our glutathione supply is stress. Ever see a person who was under tremendous stress whose hair turned gray or white in a matter of days? That’s a real thing, and glutathione plays a role. 

Glutathione and Detoxification

Glutathione is the most critical and integral part of your detoxification system. All the toxins stick onto glutathione, which then carries them into the bile and the stool — and out of your body. Glutathione is involved in the detoxification of both xenoestrogens and endogenous compounds because it facilitates excretion from cells (mercury), facilitates excretion from the body (Persistent organic pollutants (POPs), mercury) and directly neutralizes POPs and many oxidative chemicals. 

Low levels of glutathione are associated with chronic exposure to chemical toxins and alcohol, cadmium exposure, AIDS/HIV, macular degeneration, Parkinson’s disease, and other neurodegenerative disorders.

When looking for a glutathione supplement, look for one without fillers or additives. Liposomal is a highly bioavailable form of glutathione because it delivers the glutathione to specific organs or tissues where the body most needs it.

Here are some of the best ways to increase your glutathione levels.

Eat Your Veggies

One of the best ways to get more glutathione-producing compounds into your system is to load up on cruciferous vegetables and allium vegetables. They’re high in sulfur, which is important for producing glutathione.

Popular cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, broccoli sprouts, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, turnips, bok choy, arugula, wasabi, and watercress

Allium vegetables: garlic, shallots and onions  

Choose Organic

Since harmful chemicals and toxins cause an increase in free radical activity and deplete our natural reserves of glutathione, it’s important to avoid these whenever possible. One way to do so is to choose foods that are certified USDA organic, keeping you away from GMOs, insecticides and other toxic chemicals that cause damage on a cellular level. I highly recommend shopping off the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen Guide to Pesticides in Produce. If you can’t buy organic from the dirty dozen list, it’s not worth buying it.

Supplement with Whey Protein

Your body’s production of glutathione depends on certain amino acids, especially cysteine. Whey protein is a great source of cysteine and the amino acid building blocks for glutathione synthesis. Choose organic protein that contains no pesticides, hormones or antibiotics. Another reason to include cysteine-rich protein is metallothionein, a cysteine-rich protein with the ability to bind toxic metals such as mercury, cadmium, lead, and arsenic. It's gaining recognition as an important component in heavy metal detoxification.

If you don’t eat dairy products, other foods high in cysteine include pork, beef, chicken, fish, lentils, oatmeal, eggs and sunflower seeds.

Take Supplement to Support Glutathione Production

In addition to eating a diet full of organic, cruciferous vegetables and plenty of high protein foods, certain herbs and nutrients are also known to boost glutathione production.  

1. Methylation B-vitamins (folate and vitamins B6 and B12). These are perhaps the most critical to keep the body producing glutathione. Methylation and the production and recycling of glutathione are the two most important biochemical functions in your body. Take folate (especially in the active form of 5 methyltetrahydrofolate), B6 (in active form of P5P) and B12 (in the active form of methylcobalamin).

2. Selenium. An essential mineral and a glutathione cofactor, meaning it’s a substance needed for glutathione activity.

3. Vitamin C. As an antioxidant itself, it may support healthy glutathione levels by attacking free radicals first, thereby sparing glutathione. Liposomal is a highly bioavailable form of vitamin C.

4. Milk Thistle. The active ingredient in milk thistle extract is silymarin, and it’s found in high concentrations, which supports healthy glutathione levels.

5. 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 it, but given all the stresses we are under, we often become depleted.

6. N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC). NAC stimulates glutathione biosynthesis, promotes detoxification, and acts directly as a scavenger of free radicals. It is a powerful antioxidant and a potential treatment option for diseases characterized by the generation of free oxygen radicals

7. Detox-Supporting Blends. Along with taking individual supplements to support glutathione, detox-supporting blends are a great way to consume a number of these nutritional compounds together. My favorite is Healthy Goods's DIM-X, which contains 8 detox-supporting nutrients, including glutathione, milk thistle, broccoli sprout extract and DIM.

By staying away from toxins, chemicals, and carcinogens, eating a diet full of organic cruciferous vegetables, supplementing with high quality B-vitamins, minerals like selenium, and herbs such as milk thistle, and learning how to manage stress, we can ensure we've armed our bodies with the components needed to produce enough glutathione and support the body's fight against aging and disease.

Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods


1. Hodges RE and Minich DM. Modulation of Metabolic Detoxification Pathways Using Foods and Food-Derived Components: A Scientific Review with Clinical ApplicationJ Nutr Metab. 2015; 2015: 760689.

2. Pizzorno, Joseph, ND. Glutathione! Integr Med (Encinitas). 2014 Feb; 13(1): 8–12.

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