Your immune system is your personal army and it works tirelessly to keep you healthy and well, defending you against the millions of bacteria, fungi, viruses and toxins with which you are bombarded every day. Think of it as a defence system consisting of a series of fortifications to repel enemies and would-be invaders. But the immune system itself is under constant pressure from life in the 21st century. Stress, insufficient sleep and poor diet are its main enemies and in challenging times like these, it is important to give it all the help you can. How can you do that? Provide it with a never-ending supply of antioxidants through your diet.

Why are antioxidants important?

Viruses and bacteria produce oxidants, which are reactive forms of oxygen which damage cells and cause you to age more rapidly – and they are REALLY bad news. Furthermore, we are also getting an abundance of oxidants from grilled and blackened foods, environmental toxins or breathing polluted air for instance, and many people have eaten a less than ideal diet over the years. The result can be a situation in which you have far too many oxidants and not enough antioxidants to deal with them.

Upping your antioxidant status at times like these is therefore a really good move. While Vitamin C seems to get all the praise when it comes to immunity, there’s another molecule which is the under-recognised supporting actor but deserves the starring role – glutathione.

Glutathione – the master antioxidant

Glutathione is one of the most important molecules in the body – almost like a charmed elixir of health. Too little of it and you are at risk of developing one of the most feared health conditions facing us today, including stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, and heart disease. But when levels are adequate or high, magic happens. You will not only have protection from the conditions above, but you will also have amazing energy, glowing skin, healthy and effective detoxification, strong heart and brain function, and possibly even a longer life!

Glutathione is made up of three amino acids called cysteine, glycine, and glutamic acid (or glutamate). It’s often described as the “master” antioxidant because it helps recycle all the other antioxidants in your body like Vitamins C and E, as well as alpha lipoic acid and CoQ10.

Research has shown that glutathione primes the white blood cells of the immune system and helps them produce more infection-fighting substances to enable them to control both bacterial and viral infections.

Foods to increase glutathione

Eating the right foods to naturally increase glutathione will help keep you fighting fit. There are a small number of foods which naturally contain glutathione and these include asparagus, avocado, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, spinach, broccoli, garlic, chives, tomatoes, cucumber, almonds and walnuts.

Other foods featuring the building blocks needed to make glutathione itself – ie the pre-cursors or the warm-up act – are those which contain cysteine, sulphur and selenium. So choose from onions, spring onions, shallots, leeks, kale, pak choy, rocket, spring greens, watercress and radishes. Several spices such as turmeric, cinnamon and cardamom have compounds which can also help to restore healthy levels of glutathione and its antioxidant enzymes.

Alpha Lipoic Acid – glutathione’s re-loader

Alpha lipoic acid (also called ALA) is a critical co-enzyme which helps to recycle many antioxidants, including Vitamins C and E, and most importantly, glutathione – and it is well known for its anti-ageing effects on our cell’s energy factories, the mitochondria. Good food sources of ALA include organ meats, beef, brewer’s yeast, broccoli, spinach, Brussels sprouts, peas and tomatoes.

Selenium - a building block of antioxidants

Selenium is an important trace mineral which is key in the production of glutathione - it also happens to be great for thyroid function so if your thyroid is struggling, getting more of this antioxidant is a double win. Good dietary sources of selenium include seafood, oysters, Brazil nuts, eggs, mushrooms, whole grains and organ meats.

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