Glutathione and Thyroid Autoimmunity
Glutathione plays an essential role in detoxification and maintaining healthy mitochondria.
As the master antioxidant, it’s vital for those of us with thyroid autoimmunity, which is characterized by an increase in oxidative stress.
Unfortunately, numerous lifestyle and environmental factors cause glutathione to be depleted.
Today I’m discussing the role of glutathione in your body, why it’s recommended for people with thyroid autoimmunity, environmental toxins and toxicants removed by glutathione, testing for glutathione, how to increase glutathione, and more.
During this episode, you’ll learn about:
- The role of glutathione in your body
- Factors that deplete glutathione
- Why glutathione is often recommended for people with thyroid autoimmunity
- What research shows about glutathione in thyroid eye disease patients
- How selenium can benefit people with Graves’ disease, thyroid eye disease, and Hashimoto’s
- Environmental toxins and toxicants removed by glutathione
- Testing for glutathione
- Functional reference ranges for indirect markers of glutathione
- How to increase glutathione through your diet and lifestyle
- Supplements that increase glutathione
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Here is the transcript to this episode:
Welcome back to the Save My Thyroid podcast. This is Dr. Eric Osansky. In this episode, I am going to discuss what you need to know about glutathione and thyroid autoimmunity.
Let’s go ahead and start out by discussing what glutathione is. Glutathione is the master antioxidant, and it is made and recycled mainly in the liver. Glutathione is considered to be sticky due to the sulfur groups. The way I have heard it being described is it travels around the body kind of like a Swiffer mop. It sticks to harmful chemicals and eliminates them before they can do further damage.
Also, glutathione plays a role in maintaining healthy mitochondria, which are the energy powerhouses of the cells. I won’t get into great detail here, but in episode #54, I interviewed Laura Frontiero as she chatted about the importance of mitochondria. Check that out.
What causes glutathione to be depleted? There are numerous factors. We live in a very toxic world. We are bombarded by environmental toxins.
Medications, especially acetaminophen, which is in Tylenol, could deplete glutathione levels quickly. Of course, there is a time and place for medication like acetaminophen. I am not saying never to take it. A lot of people take it unnecessarily or are just too quick to take this and other medications.
There are other over the counter prescription drugs that can cause glutathione to be depleted.
Alcohol. Having a drink every now and then probably isn’t a big deal. But drinking alcohol on a regular basis can cause lower glutathione levels.
Getting back to the environmental toxins, pollution in the water and air can play a big role.
Nutrient deficiencies. Nutrients are very important when it comes to having healthy glutathione levels. If you are low in specific nutrients, that can be a problem.
What I’d like to do is talk a little bit about glutathione and thyroid autoimmunity because that is the title of this episode. Autoimmunity is characterized by an increase in oxidative stress. This includes both Graves’ and Hashimoto’s. Taking antioxidants such as glutathione can help to decrease oxidative stress. It’s not to say that everybody should be taking glutathione. I will talk more about supplementation. One way is by supplementing with glutathione.
Also, it’s important to understand that selenium is a co-factor of glutathione. This is one of the important nutrients I mentioned. If you are deficient in selenium, there is a good chance you will be deficient in glutathione because it is a co-factor.
When it comes to thyroid eye disease, there is research that shows that glutathione levels are significantly decreased in thyroid eye disease patients. If you have thyroid eye disease, you should do things to increase glutathione levels. There is also research that shows that selenium can help with thyroid eye disease. It’s no coincidence that selenium is a co-factor for glutathione, and selenium can benefit people with thyroid eye disease.
It can also benefit people with Graves’ who don’t have thyroid eye disease as well as Hashimoto’s. There is also evidence that shows that selenium can help with the decrease in TPO antibodies. TPO antibodies, very common in both Hashimoto’s and Graves’. It’s not to say that if you take selenium by itself, it’s going to normalize the TPO antibodies. In some cases, it might not lower thyroid antibodies. The way it does this is by reducing oxidative stress, by increasing those glutathione levels.
We need to keep in mind that environmental toxins can also be a trigger. All this ties into it. I mentioned the impact of environmental toxins earlier. They can directly be a trigger, but they can also cause glutathione to be depleted. It’s all related.
Let’s go ahead and talk about some of the environmental toxins or toxicants removed by glutathione. We have phthalates and parabens. Benzene as well as other VOCs (volatile organic compounds). Pesticides and herbicides. Flame retardants. PCBs. Even fluoride is supposedly removed by glutathione. Heavy metals: mercury, arsenic, cadmium, lead, aluminum.
Next, I’d like to briefly discuss testing for glutathione. There are a few different ways you can test for it. Unfortunately, even though you can test for it in the blood and do a total glutathione test, it’s not the best way. If someone does a blood test, and glutathione is low, then I guess I would suspect they have low glutathione. Normal levels don’t always rule out a deficiency.
There is also an enzyme called Gamma glutamyl transferase, or GGT. This is the enzyme that breaks down glutathione from the blood to allow its importation into the cells. This is a marker that I do commonly recommend. Unfortunately, most conventional medical doctors won’t recommend GGT, but I do to pretty much all my patients. It easily can be tested at regular labs such as LabCorp or Quest Diagnostics or a hospital. If this marker is elevated, it usually relates to glutathione deficiency. However, if it’s normal, it does not necessarily rule out a glutathione deficiency.
It’s also worth mentioning that there is a lab range and an optimal range. I forget what the lab range is, but I think it has to be over 60 for it to be consider elevated. I’d like to see this level below 30, and below 20 would be even better. I forget what mine was recently. I think mine was either low 20s or upper teens. I’ve seen some people in single digits. Below 30 is ideal. Below 20 is even better. Once it gets in the 30s and especially the 40s, even though it is within the lab range, I start getting concerned.
There is also a marker called pyroglutamate, which you can find on an organic acids test such as the one from Great Plains Laboratory. The DUTCH test, which is a dried urine test, also has an organic acids section. On this, they test for pyroglutamate. When it is elevated, that almost without question means that someone has a glutathione deficiency. High pyroglutamate correlates with a glutathione deficiency. On a DUTCH test, it says either high or low. According to the company, if it’s on the lower side, it could potentially be a glutathione deficiency as well. With Great Plains, if it’s elevated, it’s glutathione deficiency. High pyroglutamate means you’re glutathione deficient. If it’s low, you might have a deficiency, if it’s below the reference range.
I mentioned selenium. Selenium isn’t a direct marker of glutathione. None of these are direct markers other than the total glutathione. RBC selenium is a co-factor of glutathione. If it’s low, there is a good chance that someone will have lower glutathione levels. It’s not specific for glutathione.
How can you increase glutathione levels? One way is through diet. You can eat sulfur-rich foods such as cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, kale, cauliflower. Garlic and onions are high in sulfur. Other foods higher in glutathione are asparagus, avocadoes, cucumbers, green beans, spinach, whey protein isolate. Most of my patients are trying to avoid dairy, so they wouldn’t be consuming whey protein, but I did want to mention it because it can still increase glutathione levels.
Exercise is key.
There is some evidence, not necessarily in the research, but some practitioners talk about coffee enemas increasing glutathione levels. Coffee enemas definitely have some benefit. I can’t say I do coffee enemas or recommend them regularly to my patients. I have had over the years patients who have done them. Most of them have spoken highly about them. I know they use them in Gerson therapy, which is a treatment for cancer. Other practitioners use them. That potentially can increase glutathione.
Of course, if you get IV glutathione, that will definitely help to increase glutathione levels.
Supplements that increase glutathione: There is NAC, n-acetyl cysteine, which I really like. That is a precursor to glutathione. You can take glutathione supplements, like acetylated glutathione and liposomal glutathione. There is L-glutathione or reduced glutathione. That can help, but it doesn’t seem to be as effective as taking liposomal glutathione or acetylated glutathione. Honestly, I’d rather give NAC than have someone take the reduced glutathione. Arguably, liposomal glutathione or acetylated glutathione might be better than NAC, but they are also more expensive. NAC is pretty cost-effective.
There is some evidence that curcumin can help to increase glutathione levels. I mentioned selenium, which is the co-factor for its production, so that can help.
I attended a conference a number of years ago that mentioned bacteria, a probiotic, lactobacillus fermentum ME3 can help increase glutathione levels. I can’t say I recommend that; it doesn’t mean that someone has to take everything that can increase glutathione levels. I figured I would bring it up here.
Vitamin C and Vitamin E can help. Vitamin C helps with the recycling of glutathione.
Milk thistle. Can’t forget about this one. Milk thistle, also known as silymarin, helps with the endogenous production of glutathione. It helps the body produce its own glutathione, unlike taking glutathione.
Alpha lipoic acid can also help with glutathione production.
That is pretty much what I wanted to discuss. Let me give a summary here. Glutathione is the master antioxidant. Many factors can cause glutathione to be depleted, including environmental toxins, certain drugs, drinking alcohol on a regular basis, and nutrient deficiencies such as selenium. Magnesium can also play a role. Certain amino acids like cysteine, which is why n-acetyl cysteine and glycine is important.
Also, autoimmunity is characterized by increased oxidative stress. Once again, this includes both Graves’ and Hashimoto’s as well as other autoimmune conditions. When it comes to thyroid eye disease, research shows that glutathione levels are significantly decreased in these patients. Of course, you want to try to do things to increase the levels. Selenium alone, even though it’s not giving glutathione directly, which is an option, but there is some research showing that selenium can benefit thyroid eye disease patients.
Glutathione helps to remove many toxicants from the body. You can increase glutathione through food. I mentioned sulfur-rich foods such as cruciferous vegetables as well as garlic, onions, and a few others. Taking supplements is another way. NAC is one of my favorites although I also like to recommend a liposomal glutathione or an acetylated glutathione sometimes.
That pretty much wraps up my presentation on glutathione. I hope you found this episode to be super valuable. I look forward to catching you in the next episode.