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 Managing autoimmune disease with glutathione

 Managing autoimmune disease with glutathione

 Managing autoimmune disease with glutathione

Glutathione and Autoimmune disease need to be discussed together.  In today’s world, even in Australia, our bodies have a lot to cope with – stress, lack of sleep, environmental toxins, poor nutrition, high sugar consumption, food intolerances and the list goes on… add an autoimmnue disorder in the mix and the stress and inflammation potential on the body increase dramatically.

Glutathione, a powerful antioxidant produced by the body, helps minimise this damage and has been demonstrated to have diverse effects on the immune system, stimulating or inhibiting the immunological response to control inflammation in the body and assisting with autoimmune disease. [1]

What are antioxidants?

Antioxidants are molecules that inhibit other molecules from going through oxidation, a chemical reaction that produces toxins called free radicals. These free radicals are unstable molecules that occur naturally but that also enter our bodies through toxins in food, air, water and even medications. Free radicals damage cells, destabilize the immune system and can contribute to the development of serious health problems.

Glutathione – the ‘master’ antioxidant

Glutathione is considered the body’s ‘master’ antioxidant and is found in every cell of your body. It is produced in cells and is made up of three amino acids: glutamine, glycine and cysteine. It is produced by your liver and recycled continuously,

Glutathione works by protecting energy-producing factories inside cells called mitochondria. It contains the sulfur (SH) chemical groups onto which “all the bad things in the body stick…” [2]

It has a number of important functions, including:

  • protecting cells from damage
  • supporting general detoxification
  • acting as a natural chelator for toxic heavy metals such as mercury, aluminium and cadmium
  • helping clear environmental toxins found in plastics, cosmetic products and mould
  • supporting healthy immune system function

How do you know if you are glutathione deficient?

There are a number of early warning signs that can be a good indicator of low levels of glutathione, including:

  • Lack of energy
  • Joint and muscle aches and pains
  • Foggy brain
  • Low immunity
  • Poor sleep [3]

How are glutathione levels affected?

Usually, our bodies should make enough glutathione to protect us, but the natural production of glutathione can be slowed as a result of the following:

  • autoimmune disease, medications, stress, trauma, aging and infections
  • Leaky gut – Low glutathione levels make a person more prone to developing leaky gut and related issues and studies show glutathione plays an important role in reducing intestinal inflammation and gut barrier integrity. [4]
  • If you consume alcohol regularly and/or in large quantities. The body uses glutathione to metabolize alcohol – so the more alcohol you consume the more glutathione your body uses up.
  • If you have a high toxic burden. When your body becomes overwhelmed with the number of toxins you’re exposed to, it can burn out your ability to properly detox and exhaust your glutathione supply.
  • Anything that increases inflammation such as a lack of sleep, a diet high in inflammatory foods such as processed foods and sugar, smoking, or underlying infections, exposure to EMFs, an unhealthy gut, polluted indoor air or hidden mould. [5]

Glutathione depletion has been linked to a number of disease states and groups, including:

  • Athletic overtraining
  • Major injuries and trauma
  • Patients with wasting diseases such as HIV and AIDS
  • Lung cancer
  • Gut-based diseases such as Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Alcoholism and fatty liver disease
  • Diabetes and low glucose tolerance
  • Cancer [6]

Glutathione and autoimmune disease

An autoimmune disorder occurs when a person’s immune system mistakenly attacks their own body. There are around 80 different autoimmune disorders ranging in severity from mild to disabling, depending on which system of the body is under attack and to what degree.

Autoimmune disorders can affect nearly every organ and system of the body. Some autoimmune disorders include:

  • Diabetes (Type I) – affects the pancreas. Symptoms include thirst, frequent urination, weight loss and an increased susceptibility to infection.
  • Graves’ disease – affects the thyroid gland. Symptoms include weight loss, elevated heart rate, anxiety and diarrhoea.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease – includes ulcerative colitis and possibly, Crohn’s disease. Symptoms include diarrhoea and abdominal pain.
  • Multiple sclerosis – affects the nervous system. Depending on which part of the nervous system is affected, symptoms can include numbness, paralysis and vision impairment.
  • Psoriasis – affects the skin. Features include the development of thick, reddened skin scales.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis – affects the joints. Symptoms include swollen and deformed joints. The eyes, lungs and heart may also be targeted.
  • Scleroderma – affects the skin and other structures, causing the formation of scar tissue. Features include thickening of the skin, skin ulcers and stiff joints.
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus – affects connective tissue and can strike any organ system of the body. Symptoms include joint inflammation, fever, weight loss and a characteristic facial rash. [7]

Much research has demonstrated a direct correlation between a breakdown in the glutathione system and autoimmune disease. Chronic inflammation caused by autoimmune diseases can increase oxidative stress.

According to one study [8] in particular, glutathione helps reduce oxidative stress by either stimulating or reducing the body’s immunological response. Autoimmune diseases attack the mitochondria in specific cells. Glutathione works to protect cell mitochondria by eliminating free radicals. [9]

Glutathione affects how we regulate the synthesis of pro-inflammatory cytokines and adhesion molecules.

Autoimmune diseases, such as Hashimoto’s and rheumatoid arthritis, tax the immune system and damage tissue. This depletes glutathione and lead to further inflammation and tissue destruction.

Glutathione recycling with autoimmune disease

One of the most effective approaches to reduce autoimmune-related inflammation is to support your body’s ability to recycle glutathione. It helps to increase glutathione activity inside of cells, balance immune function and protect thyroid tissue from inflammation and autoimmune attacks.

In the process of glutathione recycling, existing glutathione that the body has already used in self-defence is rebuilt it so it can work to protect the body again.

There are two different forms of glutathione:

  • reduced glutathione (GSH, or L-glutathione), which is the active form
  • oxidized glutathione (GSSG), the inactive form.

Glutathione must be reduced to be recycled.

“When there is sufficient reduced glutathione in the cells, they sacrifice themselves to free radicals to protect cellular mitochondria. An enzyme called glutathione peroxidase then sparks the conversion of reduced glutathione to oxidized glutathione, a free radical itself.

If there is sufficient glutathione in the cell, the newly unstable oxidized glutathione pairs with available glutathione with the help of an enzyme called glutathione reductase. This sends it back to reduced glutathione status and ready to return to service protecting cells.” [10]

What can you do about low levels of glutathione?


Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as taking glutathione in a pill form as the body digests protein so it would not make it past the digestive tract into the bloodstream. As the benefits would not be delivered taking glutathione in this way, we must choose other forms of glutathione your body can absorb.  Luckily we have access to liposomal technology for glutathione delivery.

There are a variety of nutritional and botanical compounds that are easily absorbable and have been shown to support glutathione recycling, including the following:

  • Liposomal Glutathione – nano sized particles that absorb through the mucosa of the mouth
  • N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) is probably the most accessible form of glutathione that quickly metabolizes into intracellular glutathione. It’s available in capsules that the intestinal tract can efficiently absorb. It can be helpful in managing Hashimoto’s.
  • L-glutamine helps generate glutathione.
  • Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) is involved in energy production, blood sugar control, brain health and detoxification. The body usually makes it, but with the toll stress takes on the body, we can often become depleted. recycles and extends the life spans of vitamin C, glutathione, and coenzyme Q10, all of which are needed for glutathione recycling.
  • Take bioactive whey protein which contains cysteine and the amino acid building blocks for glutathione synthesis.
  • Increase your Vitamin C intake
  • Selenium is a cofactor for the enzyme glutathione peroxidase, which converts reduced glutathione to oxidized glutathione, which protects cells.
  • Folate and vitamins B6 and B12 keep the body producing glutathione. Methylation and the production and recycling of glutathione are the two most important biochemical functions in your body. Milk thistle (silymarin) significantly increases glutathione and improves the ratios of reduced and oxidized glutathione.Gotu kola increases glutathione peroxidase and glutathione in general.Cordyceps supports glutathione synthesis by activating the glutathione enzyme cycle
  • Liposomal cream can be used in localized areas for inflammation [11]

Lifestyle factors

One of the most important things you can do to improve glutathione status is to remove or mitigate stressors that deplete glutathione. These stressors could be not getting sufficient sleep, smoking, food intolerances, diets high in sugars and processed foods, excess alcohol intake and hormone or immune imbalances.

  • Eat foods that support glutathione production such as sulfur-rich foods. These include garlic, onions and the cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, kale, collards, cabbage, cauliflower and watercress.
  • Increase intake of alpha lipoic acid rich foods such as organ meats, beef, Brewer’s yeast, broccoli, spinach, Brussels sprouts, peas and tomatoes


  • Avoid processed foods and sugar


  • Drink plenty of water
  • Eat selenium rich foods. Good dietary sources of selenium include seafood, oysters, Brazil nuts, eggs, mushrooms and whole grains.


  • Exercise more to boost glutathione levels, boost your immune system and improve detoxification


  • If you have Hashimoto’s, a gluten-free diet is beneficial, as many studies show a connection between Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism and a gluten intolerance or celiac disease. [12]
  • Drink green tea for its antioxidants
  • Eat plenty of omega-3 fatty acid rich-foods such as fish [13]

Taking steps to boost your glutathione levels

There are various botanical and nutritional compounds and lifestyle steps we can take to activate glutathione reductase and support the synthesis of reduced glutathione. By boosting this enzyme and supplementing glutathione levels we can increase glutathione levels and glutathione recycling to reduce inflammation in the body and possibly prevent it from occurring in the first instance.

At Advanced Functional Medicine, we can support you by testing your glutathione levels and determining the best ways in which to boost production of this important antioxidant to support your autoimmune disease symptoms and contribute to your overall wellbeing.


The above information is intended to be general, educational advice only, on topics which are of interest to us. It is not intended to represent specific or individual health or medical advice and is not specific to your situation. The below information is educative and is not intended to advertise any service.

Before making any decisions in relation to your health, you should always discuss your individual situation with your own health practitioners to ensure that any advice you have read is right for you.

Jarrod Cooper – ND

Jarrod Cooper – ND

Jarrod Cooper - ND is the founder of Advanced Functional Medicine Australia. He is a Naturopathic Doctor with extensive functional medicine training from leading practitioners in the USA and worldwide.

He is leading the way with advancements of functional medicine, clinically implementing worldwide best practices in Functional Medicine throughout Australia.

Jarrod consults in person from Perth, Western Australia and also online via Telehealth throughout Australia and worldwide.

If you are looking for personalised treatment, we highly recommend contacting Jarrod Cooper’s Advanced Functional Medicine clinic in Australia.

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