Update 4/1/20. Glutathione is one of the most important antioxidant defenses you have. Even better, you normally you make all you need. But, what if you need more? This happens when we get sick or get a serious illness (like cancer) or get older. How do you raise glutathione levels? In this glutathione review, I'll show you the research on the most popular ways to naturally raise levels in your body. I'll also give you my thoughts on what's best and which supplements you should avoid. What's the best way to naturally raise glutathione? Let's find out…
What is Glutathione?
Your body is under constant attack from free radicals. To keep you healthy, your body uses many natural defenses to shield you and keep you healthy. One of those things is called glutathione (glue-ta-thigh-own).
Glutathione is mostly made in the liver. Here are some of its benefits:
- Reducing free radical damage (oxidative damage)
- Making DNA
- Repairing DNA
- Making proteins
- Helping enzymes work better
- Helping the immune system work better
- Transporting amino acids
- Plays a role in healthy nitric oxide synthesis
- Plays a role in skin aging and wrinkle prevention
- Breaking down toxic compounds (like acetaminophen/chemotherapy, etc.)
and many other things…
As far back as the 1990s, researchers realized both broccoli and cabbage were able to raise glutathione levels in lab animals. In fact, the more broccoli and cabbage they consumed the higher the glutathione levels were.
There, I just showed you one way to raise your levels!
Glutathione Is Composed Of
Glutathione is made up of 3 amino acids:
- Glutamic acid
So, supplementing with these amino acids -or eating foods containing them – would be expected to raise glutathione levels. As you'll see below, there is evidence for this too.
In the body, glutathione exists in 2 forms:
- Reduced glutathione
- Oxidized glutathione
It's the reduced form that protects us from free radicals. In healthy people, more than 90% of the glutathione in the blood is the reduced form. So, when we talk about ramping up our glutathione production, we are really talking about the reduced form and not the oxidized form.
Glutathione In Foods
Foods that contain glutathione include fruits, veggies, and meats. As a rule, bread, dairy, and cereal tend to be low in glutathione. Likewise, processed foods tend to have lower levels too. But frozen foods have similar levels as fresh foods. Overall though we don't get much of this stuff in foods. Most of what we have, we make.
Don't Confuse Glutathione With…
What Decreases Glutathione?
Generally, anything that overwhelms the body with too much free radical stress has the potential to deplete glutathione levels. Some of these things include:
- Alcohol consumption
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Parkinson's disease
Acetaminophen / Tylenol is well known to decrease glutathione levels too.
Glutathione Blood Test
If you want, your doctor can order a glutathione blood test. According to Quest Diagnostics, it's test code 90397X (CPT code 82978). Doctors can measure it in both red blood cells as well as blood plasma although it's a little murky which way is best. And then there is the question if the test covered by your insurance? This is not a routine test.
If you are going to test your glutathione levels, it might be best to do it before you do any of the things discussed below raise your production – and then get your levels tested after a couple of months to see if what you are doing is working.
There is no RDA for glutathione. That's because it's not a vitamin or mineral. Rather, it's something you make in your body. You're making it right now (I hope!). We get the building blocks to make glutathione from various foods and supplements I'll discuss below. So, there is no best answer to “how much glutathione should I have?”
Natural Ways To Boost Glutathione Levels
OK, so how do you raise glutathione levels in your body? I read the research so you don't have to. This review is science-based. No hype. Just facts -and I hope it's easy to understand too. Notice not all of these natural methods involves taking supplements. Some of these ways don't require taking any supplements at all.
Regular exercise raises glutathione levels. This should come as no surprise as exercise is well known to augment our body's natural antioxidant defenses. In one investigation, researchers in New York randomly assigned 80 healthy, unfit people to various exercise programs. (aerobic, strength training or both). Some did not exercise as a control group. The people worked out 40 minutes a day 3 days a week for 6 weeks.
Regardless of the type of exercise they performed, everybody had higher glutathione levels than when they began. It's important to realize it didn't take a lot of exercises to see these benefits. This is good news for those who think they need to do intense exercise like HIIT programs. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is popular and while yes it will raise levels too, it's not needed.
Several studies have documented yoga can increase glutathione production and reduce free radical damage. In one study of Indian Navy recruits, 6 months of yoga training was associated with improved levels. In another investigation, 12 weeks of yoga improved glutathione as well as nitric oxide levels.
The benefits of yoga appear to be true for healthy and not so healthy people too. Researchers in India noted improved glutathione and SOD (another antioxidant enzyme) in 57 older adults with high blood pressure who did yoga, 1 hour a day for 6 days a week for 3 months. Similar improvements in glutathione from yoga have also been seen in diabetics too.
Who knew sleeping can raise glutathione! Research suggests depriving animals of sleep reduces glutathione levels in the hypothalamus, a region of the brain that's critical for many biological functions. Depriving animals of REM sleep also lowers glutathione too.
So what about people? Well, we know glutathione is lower in people with sleep apnea. But, when those people use a CPAP machine -or take supplements – their levels go back up. Evidence like this reinforces how important getting enough sleep is.
4 Weight Loss
I'm including weight loss in this review because I feel it might help or hinder glutathione levels, depending on how you achieve it. Researchers in Saudi Arabia have noted improvements in levels in type II diabetics following a 12-week weight loss intervention. There is also evidence of glutathione genes being activated after weight loss surgery. That's good.
5 Eat Sulfur Rich Foods
Cysteine, one of the 3 amino acids that make up glutathione, contains sulfur. So, by eating the right foods you can raise your glutathione levels. As you eat foods containing sulfur, you help form cysteine – and glutathione. Sulfur-rich foods include:
I wish “big salad” would start marketing these foods for their glutathione-raising properties. Aged garlic extract, one supplement I take myself has also been shown to raise levels.
6 Minimize Toxic Exposure
While I wrote this review to show you how to naturally raise glutathione levels, one of the easiest ways to help you do this is to reduce your exposure to glutathione- reducing toxins. If you do this, you keep your levels high. For example, a group of compounds known to do this are called POPs –persistent organic pollutants.
Some of the most well-known POPs include dioxins, DDT and PCBs. These are chemicals used in insecticides and pesticides. One problem though is everybody reading this has some POPs in their body. POPs are persistent – they last a long time in your body.
Opting for organic foods is one way to reduce exposure but since organic can be expensive, I know it's not always in the budget. Since POPs last so long in the body, the best we can do is try to minimize further exposure – and do some of the things outlined in the rest of this review.
7 Drink Coffee
Several research studies have noted coffee's ability to raise glutathione. For example, researchers in Italy noted 5 cups of “Italian style coffee” plasma increased glutathione by 16% after only 1 week. After the people stopped drinking coffee, their levels returned to where they were before the study.
So why would coffee raise glutathione? While coffee contains thousands of compounds, researchers in Italy wondered if the caffeine in coffee played a role. For 1 week, they gave diabetics just caffeine (5 mg per kilogram of body weight). Results showed caffeine significantly improved glutathione.
How much is 5 mg per kilogram? Remember a kilogram is 2.2 pounds. So if you weighed 180 pounds (82 kilograms) this would be equal to 409 milligrams (5 X 82=409). That's about 4 cups of coffee.
8 Drink Green Tea
Both green tea and green tea extracts have been shown to improve glutathione levels. In one such study, volunteers with metabolic syndrome (pre-diabetes) were given either 4 cups of green tea or 2 capsules of green tea extract or 4 cups of water (control group) for 8 weeks. Both green tea and green tea supplements significantly raised glutathione levels.
Personally, I prefer to tear open green tea bags (Instagram picture) and toss the contents into my breakfast smoothies. While the above study did find favorable results with green tea supplements, I prefer green tea to green tea supplements. Click here to find out why.
9 NAC Supplements
NAC stands for N-acetyl cysteine. It's an anti-oxidant supplement. Since glutathione contains cysteine, NAC is very effective at elevating your levels. In fact, NAC supplements are probably the most well-known way to improve levels – and for good reason.
Multiple studies show taking NAC works.
As an aside, some people take NAC to improve exercise. If it helps, I think its benefits would be best in those with low glutathione levels. In other words, if your levels are already adequate, NAC supplements might not help exercise.
10 Glutathione Supplements
If you are wondering how to get more glutathione, one way is to take a glutathione supplement. If you had asked me a few years ago, I would have said to save your money. That's because research tended to show supplements did not work. But, newer research is casting doubt on this.
That said, I think results will vary. While I'll concede, some research has shown these supplements can augment your levels, if you are at the vitamin store and trying to decide whether to purchase NAC supplements or glutathione supplements, I'd vote for NAC.
11 Vitamin D
Vitamin D raises glutathione. When researchers in Atlanta looked at 963 healthy people, they noted vitamin D was highly associated with the level of glutathione in people's blood. In a separate study, cells treated with vitamin D, cells increased the production of enzymes needed for glutathione production.
To reinforce the need for this supplement in diabetes, researchers in China gave vitamin D supplements to women with gestational diabetes. The supplements not only raised glutathione levels, but they also reduced insulin resistance-one of the hallmarks of diabetes. In other words, their diabetes started to get better.
See the vitamin D review for MUCH more information.
The B vitamin, folate, gets its name from foliage – green leafy vegetables. Folate is the natural form of the vitamin while folic acid is the synthetic form. Folate does many things such as reduce homocysteine, a possible marker for heart disease.
Researchers in Iran gave folate supplements (1 mg/day) to 69 women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) for 8 weeks and found it significantly elevated glutathione levels. This effect was also seen in men with type II diabetes too.
13 Other B Vitamins
While vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), B12 (cobalamin) and folic acid (and folate) are well known to reduce homocysteine, these and other B vitamins also seem to raise glutathione levels too. Research in older adults has noted many older folks are deficient in vitamins B6 B12 and folate. This likely contributes to their reduced glutathione production.
Researchers in Sweden noticed higher levels in dialysis patients who were given vitamin B6 and folic acid supplements. Another investigation from Ireland noted B6 and riboflavin improved levels in healthy older adults.
While we normally think of supplements when it comes to B vitamins, we should not overlook these nutrients are found in many foods such as:
14 Alpha-lipoic Acid
Alpha-lipoic acid is a popular antioxidant supplement but what most don't know is it's been shown to raise glutathione levels in both people with HIV/AIDs and in healthy people during exercise. While this is encouraging, I don't think I'd rate it as higher than NAC supplements. While it's a fine nutrient, I'd like to see more human studies on alpha-lipoic acid for this purpose.
15 Milk Thistle
Milk thistle is more technically known as silymarin and/or silibinin. No matter what name you call it, it's a plant that is often synonymous with liver protection.
Milk thistle has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Lab research using animals and isolated cells have noted milk thistle can reduce the breakdown of glutathione.
While preventing the breakdown isn't the same thing as raising levels, preventing its depletion can help maintain your levels. Human evidence needs to confirm this, however. This is important to keep in mind. Various websites discuss the power milk thistle when it comes to boosting glutathione in the body. They make it seem like human proof supports its use.
This is incorrect.
Since we are not rats, mice or isolated cells, I cannot say for sure if milk thistle would be the supplement of choice for boosting levels of this compound. I hope it works. Regardless, I think there are better things to consider. Based on the evidence so far, milk thistle may have its place in supporting your efforts to maintain adequate levels.
Let's wait and see if future studies show it actually can raise those levels.
Both human and lab animal studies have documented the ability of turmeric to raise glutathione levels. One of the compounds in turmeric is curcumin. Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, researchers in Iran and Australia gave curcuminoids (compounds in curcumin) or a placebo to 40 people with knee arthritis. They used 1500 mg per day and noted elevated levels after 6 weeks of use. SOD, another antioxidant enzyme was also increased.
Another human trial also noted curcumin's ability to raise the compound in people with pancreatitis. In this investigation, 500 mg of curcumin per day was used for 6 weeks. The curcumin was combined with 5 mg of black pepper to increase its absorption. Turmeric has more medicinal properties than you can shake a stick at. I often add it to smoothies.
Selenium is a trace mineral. This means we don't need a lot of it. The RDA for selenium is only 55 micrograms per day. Even though we don't need much, it helps defend against free radicals by helping us make an enzyme called glutathione peroxidase. This enzyme breaks down hydrogen peroxide, a powerful free radical compound.
Beef is a source of selenium. This is likely why some experts advocate eating beef and beef liver to improve glutathione levels. While a steak every once in a while won't hurt, don't do it to raise your glutathione levels. The evidence mostly stems from research on lab animals.
While selenium has been shown to raise glutathione peroxidase activity in people with kidney disease, I do not suggest selenium supplements. Selenium can become toxic when taken as a supplement and may also interact with various medications such as cholesterol medicine.
Instead of selenium supplements, I feel it's best to get this mineral from food.
Selenium Containing Foods
|Brazil nuts||Eggs||Sunflower seeds|
|Turkey||Whole wheat bread||Cheese|
Remember, because the selenium RDA is so low (just 55 micrograms) it doesn't take a lot to get all you need.
18 Whey Protein
Who knew whey protein could raise glutathione levels? Gold star if you did! In a 6-month long study, researchers randomly gave 20 g whey protein or 20 soy protein to 32 people with Parkinson's disease. These researchers noted 20 grams of whey protein significantly increased the reduced form of glutathione (remember, the reduced form of glutathione is what we want). This study specifically used Immunocal HMS 90 whey protein.
In another investigation, Iranian researchers found 30g of whey protein plus resistance exercise was better at raising glutathione than exercise alone in overweight men.
While some people like to load up on protein, these studies tell us it does not take a lot of protein to significantly raise levels. As little as 20-30 grams per day can do the trick.
19 Casein Protein
Casein is the primary protein in milk. While whey is way more popular, it would be wrong to not mention that casein can also improve glutathione. Research finds as little as 2 cups (500 ml) of cows milk (which only contained casein) per day can significantly raise levels.
From the experiments on whey and casein, this tells us regular cows milk – which contains both of these proteins – would be expected to raise glutathione levels too.
20 Vitamin C Supplements
Studies involving isolated cells have demonstrated exposing the cells to high doses of vitamin C show an “immediate increase” in glutathione production. This may be due to vitamin C causing the cells to increase their uptake of cysteine, one of the amino acids that glutathione is made of.
Researchers have also shown improved levels in women with breast cancer following vitamin C supplementation. A weakness of this study, however, was the amount of vitamin C used was not given.
Regardless, if you have cancer, I believe the best way to bolster vitamin C levels is by eating vitamin C-rich foods. Food is more than just vitamin C. People battling cancer need much more than just a single nutrient.
Foods With Vitamin C
21 Vitamin E Supplements
There was a time when vitamin E supplements were promoted to help everything! While that's not so true anymore, that doesn't mean they are worthless. At least one study has shown vitamin E can improve levels in kids with type I diabetes.
The amount of vitamin E used in this study was 600 mg which comes to about 400 IU. There is not much vitamin E research in this area. I feel there are better things out there to raise levels.
22 Glycine and Cysteine
We use both glycine and cysteine (along with glutamic acid) to make glutathione. So it makes sense increasing the intake of these amino acids would improve levels too. At least one study has found yes, supplementation with both glycine and cysteine improved levels in men with HIV. This same restoration of glutathione synthesis was also seen in older adults who were given glycine and cysteine supplements.
One popular food that contains glycine is bone broth. Unless you've been living under a rock, you know bone broth is promoted to help everything – including raising glutathione levels. My guess is this is because bone broth contains glycine. While that's nice, I cannot suggest bone broth because no clinical studies have been published to show bone broth actually raises glutathione levels.
Melatonin is the antioxidant supplement/hormone some people use to go to sleep. Evidence suggests taking melatonin supplements may also raise glutathione levels too. To be fair, there isn't a bunch of human research on this topic. If you use this supplement, great, just know there are other supplements with more proof.
SAMe refers to S-Adenosyl-L-methionine, a compound that helps chemical reactions to occur. While SAMe is mostly studied for its benefits on depression and arthritis, a few human trials have noted it can raise glutathione levels. In one investigation of people with liver disease, 1.2 g of SAMe per day for 6 months was shown to improve levels compared to a placebo.
While this is encouraging, there are not many studies of this. I feel there are better supplements than SAMe for this purpose.
Best Glutathione Raising Supplements
If we were having lunch and you asked me what I thought was the best way to boost glutathione with supplements, I'd put my money on the following:
Of these, I think NAC supplements has the most evidence. The good news is NAC supplements are inexpensive too. The same goes for vitamin D and turmeric also.
In addition, I'd also encourage you to do these other things too:
- Get regular exercise
- Get enough sleep
- Stop smoking if you do
- Eat plenty of sulfur-containing foods, fruits, and vegetables
- Drink coffee or green tea (not green tea supplements)
- Lose a little weight if you need to
Don't Bother With These
The following are supplements have limited /no human evidence for raising levels or they may have side effects in high doses:
Glutathione Side Effects
Generally, glutathione is pretty safe when used by healthy people. If you decide to try any of the supplements mentioned in this review, it's a good idea to talk to your doctor/pharmacist/ dietitian first if you have any health issues or take any medications. Here is a short list of things to consider when taking this supplement. This list is not complete:
- If you have high blood pressure or have low blood pressure speak to your doctor and pharmacist first before taking NAC supplements. NAC may have a blood pressure-lowering effect.
- Several of the supplements mentioned in this review may have blood-thinning effects. That can be a problem if you are taking blood thinner medicine or about to have surgery.
- Speak to your doctor if you are pregnant or breastfeeding
- While cancer tends to lower glutathione levels, if you have cancer, speak to your oncologist first. There is speculation supplementing with glutathione boosting supplements may protect cancer cells from chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Obviously, that would not be good. Again, your oncologist can give you the best advice on this.
As you can see, this is pretty complicated stuff. Seek medical advice first if you feel you need it.
Do You Need To Raise Glutathione?
In this review, my goal was to give you real answers about how to raise glutathione levels naturally in the body using both supplements and not supplements. I also told you my thoughts on which supplements were not ready for prime time.
While I think there is more evidence for NAC than most other supplements, remember, if boosting glutathione is something you're trying to do, it doesn't require expensive supplements. If you want a supplement, here's what I suggest
Remember, staying healthy is more than any single supplement. If you also pay attention to the other non-supplement ways mentioned above, you should be OK.