Originally Posted April 2013
Updated May 2019
Our bodies work very hard to maintain “immune tolerance.” Even as our immune cells are developing, they are learning how to differentiate between things that are part of our own body, like proteins, cells and tissues, and things that come from the outside, like viruses, bacteria and parasites. In patients with autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, this critical function of our immune system becomes confused, and begins to react to things that are part of our body, like the thyroid gland.
The Connection Between Glutathione and Autoimmune Thyroid Disease
Now, results of a recent study indicate that a decrease in glutathione levels in patients with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis plays a critical role in the launch of the autoimmune response. This is the first study to demonstrate a substantial reduction in glutathione in patients with Hashimoto’s.
What is Glutathione?
Glutathione is one of the most important antioxidants made by the body. It helps the body detoxify, and also protects cells from damage caused by oxidation and inflammation. When glutathione levels drop, our bodies are more vulnerable to autoimmune disease, inflammatory disorders, chemical sensitivities, leaky gut, and more.
Higher levels of glutathione have been proven in clinical studies to increase average lifespan and improve overall quality of life. Most serious chronic diseases are associated with a lower level of glutathione.
What Lowers Glutathione Levels?
The body naturally makes and recycles glutathione, but the stresses of daily life can drain us of this vital antioxidant. Glutathione levels can be decreased by everyday stresses such as poor diet, smoking, lack of sleep, and chronic stress, as well as more serious physiologic stresses such as surgery, heavy meals, environmental toxins, infections, allergic reactions, and more. Glutathione levels also decrease as we age.
How to Improve Glutathione Levels
Unlike other antioxidants, glutathione as an oral supplement is not well absorbed by the digestive tract. However, many nutritional compounds can be used by the body to improve glutathione levels. These include:
- N-acetyl-cysteine – a bioavailable building block to glutathione
- Alpha lipoic acid – helps recycle glutathione already in the cells
- Milk thistle – boosts glutathione
- Methylation nutrients – methyl forms of B vitamins can help boost glutathione production and recycling. These include methyl folate (5-MTHF), methyl B6 (P5P) and methyl B12 (methylcobalamin)
- Selenium – helps the body produce and recycle glutathione
- Vitamin C – helps increase glutathione levels
Additionally, glutathione can be obtained through a liposomal cream, nebulizer, suppository or IV infusion.
How to Preserve Glutathione Levels
In addition to enhancing glutathione levels through nutritional building blocks or other delivery methods, it is also important to prevent the depletion of glutathione as much as possible. Some of the most effective strategies are also fairly simple:
- Make simple lifestyle changes – reduce daily stress levels, stop smoking, get regular aerobic exercise, and aim for seven hours of sleep each night.
- Eliminate processed foods – aim for an all-natural, whole foods diet as much as possible
- Avoid food allergens – an elimination diet or lab test can help you determine which foods are causing allergic reactions. Common food allergens include dairy and gluten.
- Reduce exposure to toxins and pollutants – aim to reduce toxic chemicals and minimize exposure to polluted air and water in the environment
- Manage your autoimmune disease – if you have an autoimmune disease, managing it well can reduce depletion of glutathione.
As the body’s master antioxidant, glutathione plays a critical role in our health and our immune system function. Boosting glutathione levels and supporting glutathione recycling can have a strong positive effect on the management of Hashimoto’s disease, inflammatory disorders, and other immune system dysfunction.
1. Michael McEvoy, FDN. “Glutathione: Major Factor Influencing The T4 To T3 Conversion.” Thyroid Nation.
2. Dr. Eric Osansky. How Glutathione Can Help With Autoimmune Thyroid Conditions.” Natural Endocrine Solutions.
3. Izabella Wentz, Pharm D. “NAC for Thyroid Antibody Reduction, Detoxification and Gut Health.” Thyroid Pharmacist.
4. R. Rostami et al. “Enhanced oxidative stress in Hashimoto’s thyroiditis: Inter-relationships to biomarkers of thyroid function.” Clinical Biochemistry, Volume 46, Issues 4–5, March 2013, Pages 308-312