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Better Than NAC—Herbs & Foods that Increase Glutathione Levels in the Body

September 30, 2023 14 min read

Nature's Gift of Longevity with Health

Topics in this article include:

Master Antioxidant & Detoxification Specialist—The Role of Glutathione in the Body

The Effects of Heat, Storage, and Stomach Acids on Glutathione Containing Foods

Physical Longevity & the Effects of Toxicity on Glutathione

Are Glutathione Supplements, NAC, or Glutathione Supportive Foods Your Best Sources?

The Chemicals Used to Make NAC

Whole Foods vs Isolated Compounds (like the chemical NAC, and extracted nutrients from plants, like curcumin, vitamin A, C, etc.)

Foods and Herbs That Contribute to the Making of Glutathione in the Body

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Master Antioxidant & Detoxification Specialist—The Role of Glutathione in the Body

"We've already found dozens of ways to live an extra decade or two - in good health. The easiest and surest way: Increase your body's supply of glutathione, a natural compound that is a tripeptide (combination of three amino acids)." - Dr. David Williams.

Glutathione Stimulating Hormone (GSH) is the body's master antioxidant and detoxifier.  Foods that boost glutathione levels can help the body rid itself of heavy metals, chemicals and other toxic substances.

Glutathione is also central to immune system effectiveness.

This same simple tripeptide is key to retaining youth and health overall.

Glutathione plays at least 15 fundamental roles in metabolic and biochemical reactions including:

1. as the body's master antioxidant, thus serving a central role in heavy metal, chemical, venom, and radiation detoxification, as well as boosting immune response powers SARS-Cov-2 and common flu symptom reduction

2. DNA synthesis and repair

3. gene regulation

4. protein synthesis (involved in 1/3 of all proteins made in the body)

5. modulating (regulating) proper immune response

6. regulating apoptosis (the disintegration of dysfunctional cells)

7. an increase in lymphocyte presence (T Cells, B Cells, and Innate Lymphoid Cells which includes Natural Killer Cells) while improving their effectiveness

8. assists in the detoxification of the lungs, thus improving respiratory conditions, especially in cases of lung toxicity (mold, smoking, asbestos, coal mining, etc.)

9. supports redox balance (electron transfer that increases or decreases oxygen in chemical reactions), thus reducing reactive oxygen species (ROS)

10. helps maintain other antioxidants like Vitamin C and E in their active forms

11. supports amino acid transport and enzyme activation 

12. prostaglandin synthesis (controls vascular smooth muscle constriction or dilation and many other vital functions)

13. assists in the detoxification of the small intestines, thus improving digestion

14. assists in the protection of the nervous system, thus the prevention or improvement of neurological disorders

15. assists in the removal of toxins in fat before being incorporated into bile (your fat emulsifier) 

Thus, every system in the body can be affected by the presence of glutathione in the body, especially the immune system, the gastrointestinal system, the nervous system, the cardiovascular system, and the respiratory system.

The Effects of Heat, Storage, and Stomach Acids on Glutathione Containing Foods

Both heat and long term storage reduce the quantity of viable glutathione in the food source.  Thus maximum benefits are derived from consuming glutathione containing foods in their raw state. 

Several raw fruits and vegetables support the production of glutathione or contain glutathione (listed below).

Raw dairy whey made at home from raw, organic, grass-fed milk offer strong support for glutathione production by boosting cysteine, one of the three amino acids responsible for the construction of glutathione within the body.

Raw eggs and raw meat contain viable amounts of glutathione, yet the strong acidic digestive juices required to breakdown these challenging foods diminish some of its usability in the body.

Raw liver, even from organic grass-fed cows, commonly recommended for its selenium content, is not a good source of the glutathione precursor, selenium, due to the levels of toxins still remaining in the liver consumed by the animals from simple grazing beneath polluted skies. 

Why?  Toxins deplete the quantity of glutathione in the body.

Vegetable sources of glutathione and its precursors (discussed below) provide a superior alternative to the animal supplies of glutathione and its precursors.

Fresh human breast milk is high in glutathione also, yet this diminishes rapidly if the milk is left out on the counter for later use, frozen, or refrigerated, losing as much as 70-80% of its original content.  Cooked, pasteurized, microwaved, and processed foods contain little to no viable glutathione. (Ankrah NA et al. J Trop Pediatr. 2000 Apr;46(2):111-3)

It is important to note that microwaved food has little to no nutrition in it at all, as the microwaving converts the food and drink into toxic compounds.  This includes water, coffee, and of course, breast milk.

Physical Longevity from Glutathione and the Effects of Toxicity on Glutathione

In animal experiments, increased glutathione consumption increased longevity by about 40%.

The more toxic the body is, however, the faster glutathione levels in the body are used up.

As an example, in experimental animals, liver glutathione levels were reduced 70 to 80% after administering acetaminophen (Tylenol/Paracetamol)

NAC is the standard medically recommended protocol for the treatment of liver poisoning from the use of Tylenol.  It is also recognized as an effective treatment for poisoning from immunizations. 

Its effectiveness is drawn from the fact that it breaks down in the body leaving L-cystiene, one of the three amino acids required to make glutathione, thus providing additional glutathione for the elimination of toxins.

The study associated the rapid and long term depletion of glutathione from Tylenol intake with increased aging and susceptibility to disease:

The results support the hypothesis that a decrease in GSH [glutathione] and mixed function oxidases [enzymatic pathways involved in the metabolism of fatty acids and numerous hormones] may contribute to changes associated with aging as well as to the increased susceptibility to disease and drugs which occur with advanced age.

One mechanism for how chemical toxins in the liver can result in liver failure was described in another study:

The toxicity is initiated by the formation of a reactive metabolite, which depletes glutathione and binds to cellular proteins, especially in mitochondria...  The mitochondrial dysfunction and nuclear DNA damage ultimately cause oncotic [within the capillaries] necrotic cell death with release of damage-associated molecular patterns that trigger a sterile inflammatory response.  Current evidence supports the hypothesis that innate immune cells do not contribute to injury but are involved in cell debris removal and regeneration. [Evidence, btw, that autoimmunity is not scientifically supported.]

Similar conclusions between toxins and glutathione depletion can be drawn regarding other pharmaceutical drug-based therapies (the vast majority of which are derived from toxic petroleum compounds), as well as other forms of toxic exposures from the home, work, diet, and environment.

Therefore, if you have ever been exposed to the following you need to pay very close attention to consuming glutathione supportive foods on a daily basis:

a. prescription drugs, radiation-based diagnostic or therapy measures

b. immunization shots (all of which contain toxic chemicals and heavy metals)

c. antibiotics

d. over the counter drugs

e. microwaved food, water, or beverages (converts all to toxins)

e. still have, or had, silver-mercury amalgam fillings in your mouth

f. have been exposed to house or farm use herbicides, pesticides, chemical fertilizers, or chemical cleaning fluids

g. have used non-organic cosmetics, shampoos, lotions, sunscreens, or toothpastes (the ones with poison control warnings on the label!)

h. have been exposed to work related chemicals or radiation

i. have been in the military

j. have lived near nuclear power plants, munitions manufacturing plants, chemical manufacturing plants, oil refinery plants, electrical power generating plants, or toxic waste disposal sites

k. have lived in a moldy home, or exposed to workplace or yard mold 

l. have lived, or work, or attended school near a cell phone tower or an airport

m. have WIFI in your home or are subjected to broadcasts from your neighbors

n. have a Smart Meter on your home or workplace

o. spend time on a cell phone or cordless phone

p. have a Smart TV, Smart appliances/light bulbs, or are being exposed to harmful scalar waves by other means

Are Glutathione Supplements, NAC, or Glutathione Supportive Foods Your Best Sources?

Clearly, "naturally occurring" sources have an advantage over isolated pieces of plants or chemical lab-derived inventions (like NAC), simply due to the more comprehensive nutritional profiles found in whole foods and herbs allowing for a synergistic balance of medicinal influences entering the body at once.

However, NAC is not found in food naturally, it is manufactured in the lab and was a patented pharmaceutical (now expired).  NAC stimulates the cleansing of the body, yet, it is simply another isolated compound, missing the comprehensiveness of Nature's original forms, and therefore can have side effects to its use.

NAC stimulates the body to thin the lung mucus to increase expectoration to purge the toxin, and increases kidney output in order to rid itself of poisons in the body.

So, it accelerates detoxification, which is a benefit (and possible cause behind some of its side effects).

The most commonly reported adverse effects for IV formulations of acetylcysteine are rash, urticaria [hives], and itchiness.

Up to 18% of patients have been reported to experience anaphylaxis reaction, which are defined as rash, hypotension, wheezing, and/or shortness of breath. Lower rates of anaphylactoid reactions have been reported with slower rates of infusion...

Adverse effects for oral formulations of acetylcysteine have been reported to include nausea, vomiting, rash, and fever...

Although N-acetylcysteine prevented liver damage when taken before alcohol, when taken four hours after alcohol it made liver damage worse in a dose-dependent fashion.

The purging of poisons need an exit.  The skin is the organ that is often used to rid the body of toxins that the liver has accumulated.  However, the skin is designed to release these toxins during sweating phases, yet how many are actually going to be able to keep up with enough sweat to manage a rapid purge?  

Possibly with clay baths and clay body slurries will one be able to keep pace with such intense detoxification. 

However, why use a chemical when Nature has safer effective alternatives? 

The Chemicals Used to Make NAC

N-Acetylcysteine can be chemically synthesized in a laboratory using the following chemicals:  L-cysteine, N-acetyl-1H-benzotriazole, thionyl chloride, acetic acid, acetone, methanol, ethanol, and diethyl ether.  It is common for residues of chemicals used during manufacturing end up in the product.

Does this sound appetizing to you?

The purpose of the chemical concoction is to allow NAC (along with possible chemical residues from the manufacturing process) to break down in your body leaving L-cysteine for the making of glutathione. 

Yet, the plants in the Allium genus, which includes approximately 500 species, including onions, garlic, shallots, leeks, scallion, and chives, contain numerous naturally occurring organosulfur compounds—which are natural sources from which glutathione is constructed within the body.

Just a few of the organosulfur compound derivatives found in the Allum genus include S-Allylmercapturic acid (ALMA), allyl methyl sulfide (AMS), allyl methyl sulfoxide (AMSO), allyl methyl sulfone (AMSO2), and S-allylcysteine (SAC).

NAC is just one chemically synthesized sulfur compound with potential side effects, including anaphylaxis. 

The Allum genus also contains vitamins, minerals, and numerous supportive compounds which boost immune functions in a multitude of ways.

Onions are also by far the richest dietary source of quercetin derivatives (highly recommended during a flu season). 

Asparagus, and raw milk whey are also common sources of glutathione precursors. 

However, in an emergency, if this knowledge of garlic and onions (and other natural resources beneficial during times of an emergency) are not known or not readily available, then the use of NAC can be life saving—if the person is able to manage the intense purging of toxins from its administration. 

Intravenous administration of NAC is more likely to provoke these side effects than oral administration, yet oral NAC is not assimilated as well, thus requiring higher dosage to be effective. 

Apart from this emergency use at times when one is unaware of the more effective herbal and food resources that support the body's own synthesis of glutathione, I recommend Nature's own remedies in their whole forms, preferably taken in on a daily basis as a preventative, so the emergency never develops. (See the list below.)

Whole Foods vs Isolated Compounds (like the chemical NAC, and extracted nutrients from plants, like curcumin, vitamin A, C, etc.)

Whole foods and herbs are the superior way to obtain any nutrient required for overall health. 

Isolated ingredients, especially when formulated in a lab, can quickly disturb your biological terrain when taken over extended periods, or taken in quantity, and will not be as wholesome or balanced as something designed by Nature for the human body.

Without exception, isolated components found within a food source (like vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, etc.) will require complementing nutrients to support their assimilation and utilization in the body). 

Invariably those supportive compounds will also be found in the same food source they were taken from as well.

One example is rose hips that contains both the vitamin C and the required bioflavonoids to enhance the effectiveness of vitamin C in the body.  Rose hips also contain numerous antioxidants helpful in detoxification and the elimination of pathogens.

Therefore a steady, daily intake of glutathione-supportive whole foods and herbs is the best way to maintain high levels of glutathione in the body, and thereby chip away at the stockpile of toxins that have accumulated over the years (and continue to take in on a daily basis).

Food sources that increase glutathione do so by providing precursor building blocks (glutamate, glycine, l-cysteine, l-cystine, selenium, sulfur, alpha lipoic acid, vitamins C&E, folate, carnosic acid, glutathione reductase, etc.).

So I do NOT recommend taking NAC, except in an emergency, when more balanced, whole food approaches are not available.

Yes, it can save lives, yet when we have time to detox in a more gentle fashion and are incorporating other practices to keep the lymph, bowels, and kidneys flowing, such a strong catalyst is not necessary.

There are much safer versions available directly from Nature that cause no harm to your liver, skin, and kidneys from over-flushing—and which do not trigger potential anaphylactic responses to the abundance of toxins leaving the body all at once (or contained in the supplement). 

Foods and Herbs That Contribute to the Making of Glutathione in the Body

The truth is, cayenne pepper in small to moderate (even large) quantities will accomplish a detoxification effect and thinning of the mucus much more safely than NAC.

The body needs more than just a catalyst.  It needs hundreds of other nutrients to maintain equilibrium while cleansing.

Cayenne pepper possesses a rich history in healing and accelerating recovery from virtually any condition.  Its nutritional profile includes many essential nutrients for overall health, such as niacin, zinc, vitamin A, E, C, several B's, quercetin, iron, magnesium, folate, essential fatty acids, phosphorus, potassium, and many others.

Cayenne pepper is a perfect example of why whole foods are superior medicines as they will also contain numerous supportive phytonutrients required for the optimal delivery of their active ingredients, many of which nutritional science of today has yet to discover, and will not be contained in the supplements of single isolated compounds.

Cayenne pepper also contains four enzymes involved in the Ascorbate-Glutathione Cycle including glutathione reductase, as will any herb or food containing Vitamin C, many of which are contained in the Herbal C formula.

Sea vegetables contain all of the important glutathione precursors in a bioavailable form, along with numerous minerals, iodine (antimicrobial), selenium (immune boosting), amino acids, proteins, and alkalizing benefits (essential to healing). 

Hyssop, while not directly contributing to glutathione's construction, is one of Nature's finest liver and organ detoxifiers, with great benefits for the entire respiratory system and pathogen reduction powers, complementary to glutathione's purpose in the body . 

Pine Needle Tea also provides excellent glutathione production along with close to 700 other nutritional compounds and their health benefits.

Hyssop Pine Tea now contains Pine Needles and Rosemary (another antioxidant), and many other immune boosting herbs.

Vitamin D from sunlight, mushrooms, pine needle tea, and sea vegetables increase the production of glutathione in the body, particularly in the brain.

Additional Glutathione Promoting Herbs and Foods

  1. Raw goat or A2 cow whey, cultured at home, (by simply leaving it out on the counter until the curds and whey separate, or adding Sacred Clay to accelerate the separation of curds and whey in one to three days depending on room temperature) is one of the highest known sources of glutathione precursor cysteine, and is readily absorbed.

    The dry powder of un-denatured raw whey protein is an acceptable option as long as it comes from antibiotic and hormone free, grass fed animals.

  2. Raw milk (should be hormone and antibiotic free) will also contain cysteine, although the whey itself is the form that is most easily assimilated.  The whey must be unpasteurized, made from the raw milk to be an effective glutathione producer.  

  3. Animal milk tends to concentrate radiation, yet this can be mitigated by feeding your animals Silica Rich Clay and Kelp to draw the radiation and other toxins out of the animal (and increase milk production at the same time).

  4. Milk thistle seed helps to prevent glutathione depletion in the liver.  It is also a natural liver detoxifier and liver protectant.

  5. Watermelon is one of the great sources of plant-based glutathione precursors, while showing tremendous benefits in the regulation of blood sugar levels in diabetics. 

  6. Asparagus and avocado consumed raw are commonly reported as the two highest plant-based sources of glutathione precursors.

  7. Raw okra is also naturally high in glutathione precursors and assists in the elimination of the mucoid plaque in the small intestines.

  8. Raw spinach, tomatoes, and rice bran, high in Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) promote the synthesis of glutathione in the body.

  9. Spinach, parsley, chlorella, phytoplankton, seaweeds, alfalfa, moringa and other dark green herbs and foods contain a high amount of chlorophyll which drives the creation of glutathione.

  10. Several spices found in Indian curry including turmeric, cinnamon, and cardamom contain glutathione precursors.

  11. Rosemary contains carnosic acid which supports glutathione synthesis – and which is shown to be behind its antioxidant, metal chelation, and anti-inflammatory properties.

  12. The sulfur-containing vegetables (kale, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, onions, garlic, cauliflower, bok choy, watercress, mustard, horseradish, turnips, rutabagas, kohlrabi) assist in the making of glutathione in the body (glutathione is a sulfur-containing molecule).

  13. Sacred Clay also contains sulfur, along with a balance of iron, silica, and other minerals that support glutathione usage in the body.

  14. A functional ileum (at the end of your small intestine) manufactures methylation nutrients like vitamins B6, B9, B12, and biotin, all of which support glutathione production.

  15. Pink Sulfur Salt (Black Salt) contains sulfur and minerals important for glutathione production.

  16. Herbal C and fruits containing vitamin C or the oligomeric proanthocyanidins or anthocyanidins found in bilberry, grape seeds & skin, grape seed extract, cocoa, cinnamon, pine needles, blueberries, cranberries, hawthorn berries, rose hips, and sea buckthorn berries, relieve the strain on the liver's use of glutathione by providing their antioxidant powers in the liver's defense. 

  17. Peaches are also among the many fruits containing glutathione precursors.

  18. Red beets provide a potent antioxidant in its betalain pigments thus relieving the strain on glutathione levels.  Red beets also provide support for nitric oxide in the body, the loss of which is implicated in blood pressure imbalances.

  19. Aloe vera supports the increased presence of glutathione through its antioxidant properties.

  20. Rhodiola rosea and other adaptogens in Adaptogen & Mushroom Blend or Kidney & Adrenal Builder or Revitalize for Men / Women protect glutathione levels in the body through their potent antioxidant properties.

  21. Brazil nuts - the highest natural source of selenium.  Selenium is a co-factor for the enzyme glutathione peroxidase. (1-2 Brazil nuts per week. Keep it minimal due to the way nuts also feed the herpes strain of viruses).

  22. Legumes (beans, lentils, alfalfa, clover, peas, etc.) are also high in selenium and thereby support glutathione production.  (Be cautious with peas and pea protein, however, as they promote the herpes strains more that other legumes.  Nuts and seeds in quantity will also, due to their high arginine content.)

  23. The most valuable and effective glutathione promoters are sea vegetables.  Most of them contain glutathione in addition to additional compounds that support its production in the body.

    Sea vegetables also contain chlorophyll, protein, amino acids, minerals, electrolytes, and numerous plant-based compounds that boost immune response and assist in hormone production, among hundreds of other benefits to the human body (alkalizes, detoxes chemicals and heavy metals, balances hormones and sugar levels, boosts immune responses, etc.). (Glutathione Related Disorders: Do Seaweeds have Potential for Cure).

  24. Sea Vegetable Blend combines several seaweeds and algae along with moringa, all of which exist as some of Nature's most dense nutritives and effective glutathione promoters.

Whole herbs and foods have the critical function of glutathione formation taken care of.  Therefore herbs, sea vegetables, and whole foods will be your best sources of precursor elements required for the manufacture of this valuable master antioxidant in your body.

Foods that are high in glutathione precursors, and therefore help boost glutathione levels naturally, are best when eaten raw (as in raw asparagus or a spinach salad), or fermented (like in sauerkraut or whey).

Cooking, pasteurization, and microwaving food destroys the delicate glutathione precursor amino acids – L-glutamate, glycine, and L-cysteine.

Glutathione precursors in raw foods also survive the stomach acids.

The reason that the pill-form of glutathione doesn't work is primarily because glutathione is manufactured inside the cell, or within the liver, from its three precursor amino acids, glycine, glutamic acid, and cysteine.  The pill form of glutathione can also be toxic, or of an unreliable quality.

So food sources that provide these three amino acids and other precursor components, or which support their construction in the body, are the most efficient way to improve glutathione levels in the body.

The human body is complex.  Only a naturally made whole food is able to provide the very best support possible to meet our physiological requirements long term.

Short term, in emergencies, isolated fragments of natural whole foods and herbs can be therapeutic if nothing else is available, but it is much better to stay close to the whole food, herb, or clay versions for long term, daily health maintenance.  

Glutathione supportive foods are Nature's way of giving us long lives with health and vitality! 

Many blessings of health and success.
Enjoy the many gifts from Nature!

Michael King
Michael King

Michael King is a Life Enrichment Consultant, a natural intuitive, a researcher of Nature's most powerful healing resources the world over, the author of "Detoxify, Nourish & Build – Three Essentials for Vibrant Health", the Vital Health News Updates – a periodic newsletter documenting the most life-building natural resources on the planet, The Blessing Transformation, and the co-author of Life Chats with Oversoul – an ongoing dialogue designed to gain clarity and direction while navigating the immense changes going into the New Era. Michael is also an advocate of sustainable gardening, environmental responsibility, and an architect of ways to increase global food production.

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