The thyroid is a complex system that is impacted by numerous factors. To properly influence areas of the body such as the metabolism, brain, and heart, certain processes must be maintained. A major area of importance is the conversion of thyroid hormones. Glutathione is an antioxidant that plays an important role in this process but is often disregarded or overlooked when assessing thyroid function.
Understanding the importance of glutathione regarding thyroid function, identifying agents of glutathione depletion, and utilizing methods to preserve and improve glutathione levels can help support healthy thyroid activity and therefore overall health.
Autoimmunity and Glutathione
Glutathione is one of the most effective antioxidants found in the body. It is noted for its ability to detoxify metals, chemicals, xenobiotics, carcinogens, and free radicals. Furthermore, glutathione helps prevent cellular damage caused by oxidation and inflammation which may result from autoimmune dysfunction and chronic immune activity. These aspects allow glutathione to help regulate immune response while reducing the damage caused by immune dysfunction. Because of its many benefits glutathione is a powerful agent of immunity.
Glutathione’s interaction with the immune system suggests that it may play an important role in the development of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. This condition involves misidentification of the thyroid as a threat and subsequently producing antibodies to attack it. Studies suggest that glutathione depletion may increase the risk of developing Hashimoto’s. As glutathione levels decrease, oxidation and inflammation increase. This promotes continuous triggering of the immune system and immune exhaustion which are primary factors in the development of autoimmune disease.
A Question of Conversion
A common component of slowed thyroid function, whether it be caused by autoimmune dysfunction or not, is poor thyroid hormone conversion. Proper hormone conversion is an essential part of maintaining healthy metabolic activity.
T4 also known as thyroxine is the storage form of thyroid hormone and does little to support bodily function on its own. However, when it is converted into the active form of thyroid hormone, T3 or triiodothyronine, there is significant impact on numerous systems that help regulate cellular activity throughout the body.
Poor conversion is often a central issue of thyroid dysfunction. There are many reasons why thyroid conversion may be inhibited including stress, poor hormone signaling, and physiological factors. However, one factor that is often overlooked is a lack of glutathione.
Studies have found that glutathione plays an important role in the conversion of T4 to T3. Maintaining high levels of glutathione helps prevent and relive oxidative stress, which allows for conversion of thyroid hormones to continue uninhibited. Increased levels of oxidative stress can block T4 to T3 conversion, resulting in dysfunction throughout the body. Therefore, depletion of antioxidants such as glutathione should be avoided whenever possible.
Causes of Glutathione Depletion
As an antioxidant, glutathione is responsible for supporting the immune system and preventing the oxidation of various substances in the body. Glutathione is also a “redox” molecule meaning it cycles between states of oxidation and reduction. Once glutathione is utilized or oxidized, it releases electrons and becomes unusable until it is restored by an electron donor.
When there is a high level of oxidative stress and cellular toxicity, the number of exhausted or oxidized glutathione molecules increases. This means there are fewer glutathione molecules available to combat further stressors.
Elevated levels oxidized glutathione is also indicative of increased cellular toxicity, oxidative stress, and glutathione depletion. An effective method of assessing glutathione depletion is by measuring the levels of oxidized glutathione. If restoration or production of glutathione is not able to keep up with the level of oxidation, thyroid conversion could be affected resulting in widespread dysfunction.
Some of the most common contributors of glutathione depletion include:
- Chronic stress
- Lack of sleep and poor sleep habits
- Physical trauma such as surgery
- Poor diet
Preserving and Improving Glutathione Levels
Poor diet and high stress levels are two leading contributors of oxidative stress. Improving glutathione levels should start by optimizing diet through including more fish, vegetables and selenium-rich foods like brazil nuts.
Additionally, reducing stress, regardless if it is physical or emotional, can also limit glutathione depletion (check out these stress-reducing tips). Other preventative measures that can help limit glutathione depletion include:
- Avoiding allergens such as dairy and gluten
- Cessation of smoking
- Exercising regularly
- Limiting exposure to toxins
- Removing processed foods from your diet
- Sleeping 7-9 hours every night
The actions above are beneficial for preventing glutathione depletion but those already suffering from deficiency typically require supplementation in addition to lifestyle optimizations. Some may recommend taking oral supplements of glutathione but unlike other antioxidants, glutathione is not absorbed effectively by the digestive tract. Therefore, it is more beneficial to supplement with nutrients that support the construction and restoration of glutathione while also limiting the impact of oxidative and physiological stressors.
Using the following nutrients can help improve glutathione synthesis and rejuvenation:
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B12
- Amino acids (specifically cysteine, glutamine, and glycine)
- Alpha lipoic acid
- Milk thistle
- Methyl forms of B vitamins (methyl folate, methyl B6, methyl B12)
- Vitamin C
Gaining the Benefits of Glutathione
Proper thyroid function is reliant on conversion processes that take place elsewhere in the body. Glutathione is an essential component for proper T4 to T3 conversion. Therefore, it is important to safeguard the body from depletion or exhaustion of this important antioxidant. Lifestyle changes such as optimizing diet, sleep, and reducing stress all help maintain appropriate levels of glutathione. However, for those already suffering from glutathione depletion, supplementing with antioxidant-supporting nutrients is perhaps the best method for restoring glutathione activity and subsequently thyroid hormone conversion.
Keeping the various aspects of thyroid function working as intended is a large task but if accomplished the reward is greater wellness and an improved quality of life.
1. Glutathione: Major Factor Influencing The T4 To T3 Conversion. Thyroid Nation. https://thyroidnation.com/glutathione-influencing-t4-t3-conversion/
2. How Glutathione Can Help With Autoimmune Thyroid Conditions. Natural Endocrine Solutions. http://www.naturalendocrinesolutions.com/archives/how-glutathione-can-help-with-autoimmune-thyroid-conditions/
3. How to Boost Thyroid Function Naturally. Wellness Mama. https://wellnessmama.com/14892/boost-thyroid-function/