Glutathione (GSH) is deservedly known as one of the most powerful antioxidants in existence. A naturally-occurring compound, glutathione helps to neutralise free radicals in the body and tackle the scourge of oxidative stress. Sadly for us, natural production declines as we hit our thirties – which is why many resort to supplementation.
Oftentimes, nutrients need co-factors to maximise their effectiveness. Think about the elaborate interplay between vitamin D and vitamin K, for example; research indicates that both nutrients work synergistically to optimise one’s health, particularly bone and heart health.
To best absorb plant-based iron, meanwhile, you need to pair it with vitamin C. There are many other such examples.
In this article, we aim to explore nutrient pairings involving glutathione, to help you get the most out of your glutathione intake. We will do so with particular reference to a comprehensive 2019 paper published in the journal Nutrients, a joint-effort by the Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine Graduate Program at the University of Western States and the BCNH College of Nutrition and Health.
As noted in the paper, “Nutritional interventions, including amino acids, vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and foods can have important effects on circulating glutathione which may translate to clinical benefit.”
If you’ve ever wondered what to combine glutathione with, you’ve come to the right place.
Glutathione and Protein, Amino Acids
Because amino acids are the precursors of glutathione, and glutathione itself is comprised of three of them (cysteine, glutamic acid and glycine), the amount of protein one consumes logically influences our natural glutathione production.
Now, while this does not mean you should run out and stock up on protein or amino acid supplements, it does stress the importance of maintaining a healthy intake if boosting glutathione is your end goal.
In the Nutrients paper, reference is made to a number of studies of healthy individuals, wherein glutathione stores improved following whey protein supplementation, since whey has a higher cysteine content.
Glutathione and Omega-3s
Persistent inflammation can give rise to oxidative stress and negatively impact one’s glutathione status. This means keeping inflammation to a minimum is the best course of action. Step forward, anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids.
A number of clinical studies have shown that omega-3 intake has a favourable effect on glutathione stores. In one, pregnant women who consumed salmon twice per week from week 20 of gestation benefited from increased glutathione stores.
Moreover, a separate study showed that taking 4g of omega-3 daily for three months led to an improved GSH-creative radio, compared to a control group. This is probably a much higher dose than most people need, particularly if they already eat some oily fish, but it does indicate a meaningful correlation.
Finally, a study of Parkinson’s patients found that combining 1g of daily omega-3 with 400 IU of vitamin E for three months led to an increase in glutathione concentrations, total antioxidant capacity and a reduction in inflammatory C-reactive protein.
Glutathione and B Vitamins
The relationship between glutathione and a few B vitamins was mentioned by the research team behind the 2019 paper. Firstly, they discussed riboflavin (vitamin B2), a water-soluble vitamin commonly found in eggs, green veggies, dairy products, meat and mushrooms.
Pointing out that riboflavin is a necessary coenzyme for glutathione reductase (one of a chain of enzymes which itself serves to maintain glutathione in the reduced form), they explained that – though more research is needed – “it is likely that a riboflavin deficiency would impact glutathione function and may even impact the levels in the body.”
The researchers also suggested that vitamin B5 may support glutathione synthesis in the body due to its role in ATP production, while mentioning that vitamin B12 deficiency is linked with low glutathione levels.
The take-home? Make sure you’re getting enough B vitamins! It’s something we’ve stressed ourselves, in our article What is Vitamin B? A Comprehensive Guide.
Incidentally, there are many specific benefits of combining vitamin B with omega-3. So tripling up by throwing glutathione in the mix is no bad idea.
Glutathione and Vitamin C
So, why take glutathione with fellow antioxidant, vitamin C? Needless to say, this is a topic the researchers tackled. And they’re not the first.
A paper published 26 years before, in 1993, showed that vitamin C elevates red blood cell glutathione in healthy adults. The ideal dosage appeared to be 500mg of vitamin C per day, which caused an increase of 47% in red blood cells.
Another study from 2015, meanwhile, showed that low vitamin C intake induced glutathione depletion and oxidative stress. And this was in healthy young adults – so you can imagine how much worse it might be in adults whose natural glutathione production is already falling!
Returning to the most recent paper, reference was made to the benefits of taking 500mg-1,000mg daily vitamin C, to increase lymphocyte GSH levels.
Why might vitamin C help glutathione stores? Well, it might be the case that vitamin C’s antioxidant capacity ‘spares’ the intervention of glutathione. In other words, your GSH stores are not being depleted so much in the presence of vitamin C. What’s more, vitamin C appears to reprocess glutathione by converting oxidised glutathione back to its active form.
If there’s one nutrient to combine with glutathione, then, it’s vitamin C. But in all honesty, you should look to ensure an adequate intake of all of the aforementioned cofactors.
Glutathione and ALA, Vitamin E
Alpha lipoic acid has been suggested as a cofactor for glutathione, probably due to its ability to scavenge free radicals and help regenerate various naturally-occurring antioxidants. Indeed, some people take ALA instead of GSH.
In any case, the 2019 paper alluded to the effect of 300mg ALA supplementation, taken thrice daily, on HIV-infected adults. Namely, an increase in blood total glutathione after six months of treatment.
Vitamin E, too, has been found to increase glutathione by as much as 9% in type 1 diabetic children. A separate study, also on children with type 1 diabetes, found that 600mg of daily vitamin E for three months improved both oxidative stress markers and glutathione status.
What to Eat to Boost Glutathione Levels
At this point, you are probably opening new tabs to identify food sources of the aforementioned nutrients. But eating a wholesome diet with plenty of colour and variety is the best course of action.
A generous intake of fruit and vegetables – around 10 a day, if you can manage it – is recommended. Doing so will help to tamp down oxidative stress in and of itself.
Cruciferous vegetables are particularly healthful and beneficial for glutathione production. Choose organic if possible, as they have a higher nutrient content.
Glutathione-supporting foods include mushrooms, broccoli, asparagus, cucumber, whey protein, grapefruit, green beans, papaya, spinach and tomato.
Researchers in the recent trial indicated that certain herbs and roots such as turmeric, milk thistle, rosemary and Gingko biloba may also positively influence glutathione levels, while touting the traditional Mediterranean type diet for the same reason.
Exercise also appears to up-regulate glutathione.
Glutathione is a hugely beneficial compound, one that helps not only by neutralising free radicals but also clearing mercury from the brain, regulating cell growth, activating important enzymes and regenerating other nutrients (especially vitamins C and E).
There is an argument that most, if not all, of us should supplement with glutathione when we get into our thirties or forties. Research appears to show particular benefits for those battling Parkinson’s, coping with autism spectrum disorders and also type 2 diabetes.
Naturally, it’s wise to speak with your doctor before starting glutathione or indeed any other supplement, to ensure there are no contraindications.
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Cruciferous vegetables are particularly healthful and beneficial for glutathione production. Choose organic if possible.