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Glutathione – The Mothership of Antioxidants

Glutathione is made from 3 amino acids; cysteine, glutamine, and glycine. These are commonly found in any protein source, but the body uptakes them at different rates. Glutamine and glycine are available in large amounts in the body, but cysteine is not. There are so many different antioxidants in the body and available from food, but glutathione is the Holy Grail. It’s the toad in the hole, it’s Kurt Cobains’ teen spirit, KFC’s secret herbs and spices, it’s Santa Claus at Christmas, it’s the rabbit in the magician’s hat. It’s the ultimate antioxidant goal.

Glutathione and your Thyroid

The thyroid works by the initial release of TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), which is made by the pituitary gland. TSH then tells the thyroid to make T4, which then converts to T3. T3 is the little fella that does the majority of the work for the thyroid. T4 is made from tyrosine (available from protein sources), and also 4 molecules of iodine (hence the tag name T4). Iodine is converted from iodide, using the TPO (thyroid peroxidase) enzyme, and H2O2 (hydrogen peroxide). H2O2 is actually a free radical, which requires selenium and glutathione to reduce it to oxygen and water. This happens through the glutathione peroxidase (GPX) enzyme.

Glutathione and your Immune System

Poor immune function can cause an unbalance in the Th1/Th2 system, which can cause the immune system to attack things that it shouldn’t. In the case of the thyroid, the immune system can develop antibodies that attack the TPO enzyme.[1] This causes Hashimotos thyroiditis. Low glutathione can cause an issue with the Th1 and Th2 balance of the immune system,[2] and can therefore lead to Hashimotos. Low vitamin D can also cause this issue.[3] Low glutathione will cause very high levels of free radicals in the body, called reactive oxygen species (ROS), which can cause a variety of issues.

Optimizing glutathione is crucial for reducing thyroid antibodies and free radicals.

Key nutrients for the Glutathione Pathway

  • Glutathione or precursor – Glutathione is not absorbed well orally, so it should be used in the liposomal form, or N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) can be used. Cysteine is the rate limiting amino acid needed to make glutathione, so can be used to boost levels. It is also quite a bit cheaper. But vitamin D needs to be optimal to convert NAC through to glutathione, and there are 7 key enzymes needed for this proccess as well.
  • Selenium – This is needed to convert T4 to T3, but also for the function of glutathione through the glutathione peroxidase (GPX) enzyme (see picture below). Using this nutrient alone has been seen to reduce TPO antibodies.[4] This may be due to its antioxidant benefits and supporting glutathione, but I think it may also be because it lowers H2O2, which works with the TPO enzyme, to convert iodide to iodine (as seen in the picture above). Low H2O2 may inhibit this process, reducing available TPO for the immune system to act against (just a theory!). Selenium can be tested in blood, and assessed by calculating the ratio between T4 and T3 (it should be 3:1, if it’s higher it can indicate low Selenium).
  • Riboflavin (Vitamin B2/ FAD) –  After glutathione has been used by the GPX enzyme, it then gets regenerated so it can be used again. This happens through the glutathione reductase (GSR) enzyme, and requires Riboflavin to do so. The interesting thing about riboflavin, is that T4 is needed to activate this nutrient,[5] so correcting the thyroid function in general is really important. Riboflavin is also needed to activate vitamins B3 (NAD), B6 and folate, which are all needed for methylation. More info on B2
  • Vitamin D – Low vitamin D levels will cause an increase in free radicals (ROS), and will also cause an inhibitory effect on the GR and GCL enzymes, which are needed to produce glutathione.[3]
  • Other factors – A well functioning methylation cycle is required, anti inflammatory strategies are necessary, which often includes the removal of gluten,[6] and assessing diet, lifestyle, alcohol intake, sleep characteristics, and other genes.

Where to get Glutathione

  • Liposomal glutathione – Hydrochloric acid in the stomach breaks glutathione down into its 3 separate amino acids, so the body doesn’t actually absorb it well. Liposomal glutathione is mainly absorbed through the mouth cavity so bypasses the digestive system to provide better absorption.  Liposomes increase gut absorption as well.
  • N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) – Cysteine is considered the rate-limiting amino acids for glutathione production.[7] This means, if there is not enough cysteine, the body can’t produce glutathione. NAC is a more affordable option to liposomal glutathione.
  • Cysteine rich foods – Just like NAC, these foods provide the rate limiting nutrient needed for glutathione production – Soybeans, beef, lamb, sunflowers seeds, chicken, oats, pork, fish, eggs, legumes, garlic, onions.[8]
  • Non-denatured whey protein[9][10] – When these proteins are exposed to heat, the proteins become denatured. This causes cysteine to convert to cystine, which does not have the same benefit. Non-denatured whey still has intact cysteine.
  • Turmeric[11][12] – This powerful antioxidant will increase glutathione, and also optimize other enzymes (CAT, GPX, GST, SOD) needed for a good functioning glutathione system. Turmeric milk recipe
  • Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) – Large doses (300mg 3 times a day) have been seen to increase reduced glutathione levels, and help balance the immune system.[13]
  • Phenolic compounds – These are widely available in brightly colored fruits and vegetables, but the highest source foods are; cloves, star anise, cocoa powder, oregano, celery seed, flax meal, berries, and chestnuts.[14] A study done on extra virgin olive oil illustrates how phenolic compounds optimize genes associated with glutathione production.[15]

Assessing Glutathione and Thyroid function


  • GGT levels are included in general liver function blood tests. Look for levels <20U/L for a female, and <30U/L for a male. Elevations may be due to other factors though, so needs to be pieced together accordingly.
  • Reduced GSH – This can assess the actual level of useable glutathione in the blood, but at a cost of $100 (AUS)
  • Functional Testing – Tests such as DUTCH and Orgasnic Acids test both include gltuathione markers in their panel.
  • Easily assessable symptoms – Early aged greying can occur due to elevated hydrogen peroxide. Foul smelling flatulence can indicate poor sulphur metabolism, which can overwhelm the glutathione system. This will also cause considerable brain fog due to high circulating ammonia.


  • TPO and Tg-Ab are the antibodies that can be measured by blood through your doctor.
  • TSH, T3, T4 are the foundation for thyroid evaluation. Selenium, reverse T3, and iodine loading urine test are others which provide a great deal of insight.
  • Some labs will not assess all of these thyroid tests under the Medicare scheme unless other values are outside of the reference range. Functional ranges are quite a bit narrower and more specific though; so further testing is often needed at a cost to the patient. Paying for these tests can sling shot healing time dramatically, so it’s worth considering. The amount of times I’ve picked up low iodine levels by looking at T4 results is staggering. In some cases, fixing this can eliminate the need for thyroid medications completely.


  • Thyroid antibodies (TPO) are a marker of a disrupted immune system, which can be corrected by addressing the glutathione pathway.
  • To assess the thyroid properly, you really need to see more information than is generally found through regular doctors testing.
  • Absorption of glutathione is not great, but there are plenty of dietary options to help boost levels. Supplements such as NAC provide a good place to start for supplementation.
  • Glutathione needs its team of helpers to keep things flowing properly – Vitamin B2, selenium, vitamin D, lots of antioxidants, and a supportive lifestyle to keep inflammation at bay.
  • Don’t let doctors or specialist tell you that thyroid antibodies cannot be eliminated. It’s incorrect!