Glutathione does so much to keep your cells functioning at peak performance, it is known as the body’s master antioxidant. If you’ve had the virus, COVID and glutathione deficiency may be likely. Research is showing that COVID and glutathione deficiencies are very real. Ask your doctor to test you for glutathione deficiencies because a recent study shows the virus significantly depletes the body of this master antioxidant.
Glutathione is produced naturally in the body with the support of three amino acids, glutamine, glycine, and cysteine. You can also get glutathione from foods (see below), oral over the counter dietary supplements, compounded glutathione with a doctor’s oversight.
Optimal glutathione levels may be lowered by stress, not enough sleep, drinking too much alcohol, exposure to environmental toxins, poor nutrition, aging, and as was most recently discovered, COVID-19 infection. According to a recent Baylor College study, those infected with COVID-19 had significantly lower levels of glutathione, along with increased levels of oxidative stress and damage.
“Increased oxidative stress and reduced glutathione levels are associated with a number of conditions including aging, diabetes, HIV infection, neurodegenerative disorders, cardiovascular disorders, neurometabolic diseases, obesity and others,” said corresponding author Dr. Rajagopal Sekhar, associate professor of medicine in the section of endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism at Baylor. “We suspected that COVID-19 also might be affecting oxidative stress and glutathione, and in this study we confirmed this in adults hospitalized with COVID-19. We found that these defects occur in all adult age groups including young people, and worsen with increasing age.”
The researchers divided study subjects, who had been hospitalized from COVID-19, into three different groups by age: the 21- to 40-year-old group, the 41 to 60 and the 61 and above. In earlier work, Sekhar’s group had shown that in healthy adults, the levels of oxidative stress, oxidative damage and glutathione remain stable until people enter their 60s, when oxidative stress and oxidative damage begin to increase and glutathione to decline.
COVID-19 infection changed this pattern.
COVID and Glutathione Deficiency
Until this finding, most doctors would not pay attention to glutathione levels in younger adults. But, as with much in life since 2020, COVID-19 changes everything.
“We were surprised to see that the COVID-19 patients in the 21 to 40 and the 41 to 60 groups had much less glutathione and more oxidative stress than the corresponding age groups without COVID-19,” Sekhar said. “This is an important new discovery,” Sekhar said. “The finding that younger people with COVID-19 also are glutathione deficient and have elevated oxidative stress and oxidant damage is really surprising, because we do not normally see these defects in younger age groups. These defects appear to get progressively worse with increasing age, and the oldest patients with COVID-19 had higher level of defects in these outcomes. We propose that these changes might be involved in the disease.”
How to Improve Levels of the Master Antioxidant
Oxidative stress happens with free radical cells accumulate and damage cells, membranes, lipids, proteins and DNA. Cells make glutathione to protect themselves from oxidative stress. However, when cells cannot fend off free radicals, harmful cellular damage can occur and potentially can eventually lead to illness.
Sekhar’s previous work revealed that giving a glycine and n-acetylcysteine (NAC) dietary supplement (GlyNAC) to older people and HIV-patients reversed the free radical damage and abnormalities including inflammation, artery disease (endothelial dysfunction), insulin resistance, and improved muscle strength, exercise capacity, cognitive decline, gene-damage, and body composition.
Some of these same defects also have been reported in patients with COVID-19, which is why Sekhar recommends that patients who have had COVID-19 discuss taking GlyNAC supplements with their doctor. This supplement combo are the building blocks of glutathione, which may improve glutathione levels and reduce oxidative stress.
Other supplements that support glutathione production include omega-3 fatty acids, milk thistle, cysteine, turmeric. For some individuals, over-the-counter glutathione precursor supplements may not be enough to improve levels for optimal health. A doctor may advise you to take a compounded personalized dose made just for your needs.
Editor’s note on compounded glutathione: On Wednesday, June 8th, 2022, an FDA advisory committee meet to discuss whether glutathione can continue to be made at compounding pharmacies across the United States. Various organizations that support the use of compounded glutathione, including our partner group at the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP), worked to educate the public and the medical community about the potential FDA ban. In an unexpected move, the pharmacy governing board went against FDA suggestions and said compounded glutathione should be allowed. The review board found FDA arguments against compounded glutathione “superficial and narrow.”
“Glutathione is not absorbed well when taken in oral supplement form; that’s why many integrative doctors opt for compounded forms which can be delivered through intravenous, intranasal, or sublingual administration. There are no commercial versions of glutathione in these forms, so an FDA ban would mean loss of access to all of these forms,” said the Alliance for Natural Health in a press statement about the potential ban.
Food Sources of Glutathione
Diet is another way to make certain your body is producing adequate glutathione. Here are some suggestions for dietary support for glutathione production:
- Foods that contain the most glutathione include almonds, Brazilian Baru almonds, asparagus, avocados, okra and spinach.
- Whey protein contains cysteine, which is an important amino acid that helps produce glutathione.
- Sulphur containing foods help raise glutathione levels and reduce oxidative stress. Beef, poultry and fish are good sources, as are green beans and cucumbers. Brassica vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, mustard greens and watercress are also sources of sulphur for glutathione production.
- Vitamin C is another important part of glutathione production. Foods like oranges, lemons, grapefruit, papayas, kiwis and red, yellow and orange bell peppers are good sources of vitamin C.
- Selenium is needed to make glutathione. Sources include Brazil nuts, beef, chicken, fish, organ meats, cottage cheese and brown rice.
- Lastly, alcohol-free beer helps raise glutathione.
Once you understand the why glutathione is the body’s master antioxidant, you understand why getting enough of this nutrient is critical to optimal health throughout one’s life.
This article is provided by the Institute for Natural Medicine, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, partnered with the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. INM’s mission is to transform healthcare in America by increasing both public awareness of naturopathic medicine and access to naturopathic doctors for patients. INM believes that naturopathic medicine, with its unique principles and practices, has the potential to reverse the tide of chronic illness that overwhelms existing health care systems and to empower people to achieve and maintain their optimal lifelong health. INM strives to achieve this mission through the following initiatives:
- Education – Reveal the unique benefits and outcomes of naturopathic medicine
- Access – Connect patients to licensed naturopathic doctors
- Research – Expand quality research of this complex and comprehensive system of medicine
This article is by Kimberly Lord Stewart, content and marketing director for the Institute for Natural Medicine. Stewart is an award-winning editor, food and health journalist and best-selling author of Eating Between the Lines, the supermarket shopper’s guide to the truth behind food labels (St. Martin’s Press).
Source: Premranjan Kumar, Ob Osahon, David B. Vides, Nicola Hanania, Charles G. Minard, Rajagopal V. Sekhar. Severe Glutathione Deficiency, Oxidative Stress and Oxidant Damage in Adults Hospitalized with COVID-19: Implications for GlyNAC (Glycine and N-Acetylcysteine) Supplementation. Antioxidants, 2021; 11 (1): 50 DOI: 10.3390/antiox11010050
Stewart is an award-winning editor, food and health journalist and best-selling author of Eating Between the Lines, the supermarket shopper's guide to the truth behind food labels (St. Martin's Press).