What is Glutathione and how do I get more of it?

There is a particular anti-aging molecule found in every one of your cells, called glutathione. It is the body’s most powerful anti-oxidant, manufactured in all of our cells but particularly important in the liver. People who are most physically active have the highest levels, and this is directly linked to having fewer illnesses1.

You may have heard that the production of “free radicals” and “oxidative stress” are important concepts in aging and disease. Allow me to explain.

Oxidation is what happens when an electron is removed from an atom or molecule. The result of this change can be destructive: a familiar example is the rusting of iron. In our bodies, we obtain energy by burning fuel from food with oxygen that we breathe. This metabolic process generates some dangerous byproducts called “free radicals” – atoms or molecules that have lost an electron by oxidation. Free radicals are capable of stripping electrons from any other molecules they meet in an effort to achieve stability. They create even more unstable molecules which then attack their neighbors in a chain reaction, which is called “oxidative stress”. Oxidative stress is the total burden placed on our bodies by the constant production of free radicals in the normal course of metabolism, plus various other environmental insults (exposure to radiation; toxins in our food, water, and air; tobacco smoke).

Fortunately, our bodies have defenses against oxidative stress in the form of specific molecules that can neutralize free radicals by donating electrons to them. This cuts off the chain reaction early in its course. Glutathione is one such molecule. We also have elaborate repair mechanisms to take care of oxidative damage to DNA, proteins and cell membranes.

Basically, your health depends on the balance between oxidative stress and your antioxidant defenses. Aging and age-related diseases reflect the inability of our antioxidant defenses to cope with oxidative stress over time. The damage leads to chronic illnesses such as arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, cancer2, chronic fatigue3, and Alzheimer’s4.

Glutathione is of critical importance in maintaining this balance. It is synthesized in the body from three amino acids: cysteine, glutamic acid, and glycine. (Cysteine happens to be relatively rare in foods.) Here’s how it works. Glutathione exists in both a reduced state (GSH) and an oxidized state, called glutathione disulfide (GSSG). In the reduced state, the sulfa group of cysteine (SH) is able to donate a proton to other unstable molecules, such as “free radicals”. In making this donation, glutathione itself becomes reactive but it readily connects with another reactive glutathione to form glutathione disulfide (GSSG). Generally, our cells maintain a ratio of greater than 90% GSH to less than 10% GSSG. Variations to this ratio are an excellent measurement of overall oxidative stress5.

heart health

Here are some tips to boost your glutathione levels:

1. Sulfur-containing foods. Eat some garlic, onions and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, kale, collards, cabbage, watercress, etc).

2. Bioactive whey protein. This is a great source of cysteine. It must be made from non-denatured proteins (“denaturing” refers to the breakdown of the normal protein structure). One choice is non-pasteurized organic milk that contains no pesticides, hormones, or antibiotics. Another is called “Immunocal”6: a prescription bioactive non-denatured whey protein that is listed in the CPS. A third is a supplement recently introduced to me by a friend, called “Cellgevity”7. It has a special formulation of cysteine called D-Ribose-L-Cysteine which is highly bioavailable.

3. Exercise boosts your glutathione levels and thereby improves detoxification and enhances your body’s antioxidant defenses. Start slow and build up to 30 minutes a day of vigorous aerobic exercise like cycling or jogging, or play various sports, especially if they include bursts of higher intensity exertion. Strength training for 20 minutes 3 times a week is also helpful.

4. Other supplements which can be helpful include L-Glutamine, N-Acetyl-Cysteine, Selenium, and Alpha-Lipoic Acid. Unfortunately, you cannot take glutathione in a capsule as the body digests it.

In addition to neutralizing free radicals, glutathione is critical in maintaining other antioxidants such as Vitamins C and E in their reduced (active) forms8. It is also used in metabolic and biochemical reactions such as protein synthesis, DNA repair, prostaglandin synthesis, amino acid transport, and enzyme activation. Thus, every system in the body is affected by the state of the glutathione system. Bottom line, it is a good thing to have plenty of glutathione!

Your partner in Living Longer Better,

Dr. Grant Pagdin, MD


1. Hang Cui, Yahui Kong, Hong Zhang “Oxidative Stress, Mitochondrial Dysfunction, and Aging” Journal of Signal Transduction, 2011.
2. Handa O, Naito Y, Yoshikawa T. (2011). “Redox biology and gastric carcinogenesis: the role of Helicobacter pylori”. Redox Rep. 16 (1): 1–7. doi:10.1179/174329211X12968219310756. PMID 21605492.
3. Nijs J, Meeus M, De Meirleir K (2006). “Chronic musculoskeletal pain in chronic fatigue syndrome: recent developments and therapeutic implications.”. Man Ther 11 (3): 187–91. doi:10.1016/j.math.2006.03.008. PMID 16781183.
4. Ramalingam M, Kim SJ. (2012). “Reactive oxygen/nitrogen species and their functional correlations in neurodegenerative diseases”. Journal of Neural Transmission 119. doi:10.1007/s00702-011-0758-7. PMID 22212484.
5. Wu, Guoyao; Fang, Yun-Zhong; Yang, Sheng; Lupton, Joanne R.; Turner, Nancy D. (2004). “Glutathione metabolism and its implications for health”. The Journal of nutrition 134 (3): 489–92. PMID 14988435
6. http://www.immunotec.com/IRL/Public/en/USA/ShowItemDetails.wcp?&Item=00010100
7. http://www.glutathionedoctor.ca
8. Scholz, RW. Graham KS. Gumpricht E. Reddy CC. (1989). “Mechanism of interaction of vitamin E and glutathione in the protection against membrane lipid peroxidation”. Ann NY Acad Sci 570: 514–7. doi:10.1111/j.1749-6632.1989.tb14973.x.

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Dr. Grant Pagdin

Dr. Pagdin is a leading expert in regenerative medicine in Western Canada. Dr. Pagdin is board-certified with the American Academy of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine (ABAARM) and a Fellow of the Interventional Orthobiologics Foundation. His primary interest is preventative and anti-aging medicine using stem cell and platelet-rich plasma (PRP) treatments.

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