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Why You Need Antioxidants – And 8 Ways to Up Your Levels, Naturally

While you’ve heard plenty about antioxidants and free radicals, you may not know exactly what they are, or how they work in the body. But they’re important: a balance between damaging free radicals and defensive antioxidants is vital for cellular health, immunity and overall wellness. 

In the simplest of terms, a free radical is a molecule or atom with an odd, unpaired number of electrons orbiting its nucleus; the odd number of electrons makes it unstable and highly reactive toward other substances. In an effort to complete its electrons, a free radical can “steal” an electron from another molecule; that molecule then become a free radical itself, beginning a chain reaction that, over time, damages or destroys the cell. An antioxidant is a molecule that donates one of its electrons to a free radical, stabilizing the reactive free radical, inhibiting cellular damage and protecting against oxidative stress. 

Free radicals are unavoidable, generated by tobacco smoke, radiation (including ultraviolet light from the sun), alcohol, air pollution and even the body’s normal metabolic processes. Normally, antioxidants are able to quench free radicals, halting their destructive activities. But when free radicals outnumber antioxidant defenses, it leads to a process called oxidative stress, linked with inflammation, impaired immunity and serious health concerns. 

So, yes: antioxidants are really important. And while you’re heard of beta carotene, lycopene and other celebrated members of the antioxidant clan, you may not know much about glutathione (but you should). Found in every cell, glutathione is the most powerful antioxidant in the body, stopping free radicals in their tracks and halting their destruction. It’s critical in the body’s detoxification system, and plays a key role in respiratory health, immune system function, DNA synthesis and repair, cellular health and more. Plus, after other antioxidants like vitamin C and vitamin E do their thing with free radicals, glutathione recycles or regenerates those depleted antioxidants. 

Called the “master antioxidant,” glutathione is unique; unlike most antioxidants, which come from plant sources, glutathione is produced in the liver from a combination of amino acids and other nutrients that play a supportive role. Even though your body naturally makes glutathione, diet, lifestyle and environmental factors that generate free radicals can deplete reserves. And glutathione levels naturally decrease with age, leaving you more vulnerable to damaging free radicals. But you can offset the losses and maintain robust levels of glutathione (and other antioxidants). Try these eight ways to preserve, protect and enhance your body’s antioxidants, naturally. 

1. Focus on the building blocks

A few foods, like spinach, asparagus, avocados and green beans, are excellent sources of glutathione. Glutathione precursors can also be eaten to create more glutathione in your body, but these require more work than direct consumption of glutathione-rich foods. Focus on foods high in sulfur, crucial for the synthesis of glutathione, like onions, garlic, leeks, scallions and other members of the allium family. Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale, cauliflower, cabbage and brussels sprouts are also rich in sulfur-containing compounds (plus other important antioxidants like beta carotene, lutein and quercetin). Meat, fish and eggs are rich in methionine and cysteine, sulfur-containing amino acids that act as precursors for glutathione synthesis. Whey protein is an especially good source of cysteine, and other dairy products contain beta-casein proteins, which can promote glutathione production; milk with the A2 form of beta-casein is most effective.

Protect your antioxidants: make sulfur-rich foods a part of your daily diet; shoot for at least two serving of crucifers, and add onions, garlic and leeks to salads, stir-fries and soups. Use whey protein powder in smoothies to boost levels of cysteine. Include grass-fed, pastured and/or organic meat, fish and eggs. If you don’t eat meat, focus on plant sources of selenium, and be sure you’re getting plenty of protein; some research links vegan diets low in protein with decreased blood glutathione levels.

2. Eat raw foods

Foods like spinach, avocado and green beans contribute to the body’s total glutathione status. But cooking and processing can diminish or destroy available glutathione in foods, and decrease levels of certain antioxidant vitamins and other beneficial phytochemicals. Fresh, unprocessed foods have the greatest levels of glutathione and bioactive compounds. One exception: freezing doesn’t appear to impact antioxidants, and can make some varieties more available. 

Protect your antioxidants: have a big salad every day with a variety of raw vegetables, especially spinach, asparagus, avocados and others that contain glutathione; include onions, broccoli, kale and other sulfur-rich foods. Add red peppers and tomatoes for vitamin C, shown to fight free radicals and spare glutathione. Make salad dressings with olive oil (high in antioxidants) and garlic, and add turmeric; some research suggests it can increase glutathione. And add frozen blackberries and strawberries to your morning smoothies.

3. Snack on nuts

Almonds, walnuts, pecans and other nuts are rich in vitamin E and other antioxidants shown to lessen inflammation and protect against free radicals. Brazil nuts are especially potent; they’re one of the most concentrated dietary sources of selenium, an essential mineral that’s required for glutathione activity; and selenium is a powerful antioxidant in its own right, protecting the body from oxidative stress. If you’re allergic to nuts, seafood, meat, poultry, brown rice and sunflower seeds are also excellent sources of selenium. And seeds have a similar nutritional profile to nuts; some, like pumpkin seeds and hemp seeds, are also high in antioxidant zinc.

Protect your antioxidants: add more nuts and seeds to your daily diet: sprinkle walnuts on salads, spread almond butter on apple slices, add hemp seeds to smoothies, make pesto with a combo of pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, cashews and greens (plus sulfur-rich garlic). And eat a Brazil nut every day—just one nut contains more than 100 percent of the daily value for selenium. But don’t overdo it; too much selenium can be toxic. 

4. Move more

In additional to all those other benefits (heart health, more energy, enhanced cognitive function, better mood) physical activity has been shown to boost glutathione levels, reduce oxidative stress and support the body’s antioxidant defenses. Some research suggests older adults who’ve been physically active throughout their lives have higher blood levels of glutathione, and exercise can increase glutathione concentrations even in people who have led a sedentary lifestyle. Combine cardiovascular activities like jogging, cycling and swimming with weight training; a blend of the two is more effective for increasing glutathione, compared to doing just one or the other. And exercise enhances sleep, critical for glutathione production.

Protect your antioxidants: make movement a part of your daily life; incorporate activity in easy ways, like parking at the far end of the lot or taking the stairs, instead of the elevator. At work, take active breaks instead of snacking; jog around the block, jump rope for five minutes or take a walk during phone meetings. Enlist a workout buddy to increase your accountability (and make exercise more fun), and shoot for at least 30 minutes of activity every day. But don’t overdo it; acute, strenuous bouts of exercise can hamper glutathione.

5. Prioritize sleep

Chronic lack of restful slumber is linked with higher levels of inflammation and an increased risk of heart disease, mood disorders and other illnesses. And lack of quality sleep also interferes with glutathione levels and activity: your body makes more glutathione during slumber than at any other time, and sleep deprivation results in a significant decrease in glutathione levels. In some research, people with chronic insomnia showed significantly lower levels of glutathione activity and higher markers of oxidative stress. And on the flip side, glutathione can also help you sleep more soundly; studies suggest people with increased glutathione levels fell asleep easier and woke up more refreshed in the morning.

Protect your antioxidants: start by improving your sleep routines; at least two hours before bedtime, dim lights and disconnect from electronics; exposure to blue light from computers, pads and other devices suppresses the production of melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep. Make sure your bedroom is cool—optimal sleep temperate is between 60 and 68 degrees—and dark; total darkness affects pigments in the retina involved in the body’s biological sleep/wake cycles. Hang blackout shades or curtains, or use an eye mask to shut out light. And mist pillowcases with lavender essential oils; it’s shown to increase sleep quality and duration, and enhance vigor the following morning.

6. Chill out

Ongoing tension, stress and anxiety increase inflammations, hampers immune response and diminishes antioxidant activity. Chronic stress is linked with higher cortisol—the body’s primary stress hormone, known to inhibit enzymes responsible for the antioxidant activity of cells. And ongoing stress and anxiety amp up inflammation, increase oxidative stress and deplete glutathione levels. Plus, tension and worry seriously disrupt sleep, critical for glutathione production (and overall health).

Protect your antioxidants: swap morning coffee for green tea—it’s lower in caffeine, rich in calming L-theanine. Start your day with a simple meditation practice, shown to decrease levels of cortisol. During the day, as tension mounts, give yourself 15 minutes to disconnect: turn off your laptop, mute your phone and go for a walk (movement shakes off tension, and being in nature is shown to promote feelings of calm). Prioritize exercise; regular physical activity lessens stress and lowers cortisol levels. Yoga is especially effective, and research shows a regular practice significantly increases glutathione activity and total antioxidant status.

7. Breathe better

Short, shallow breathing patterns associated with tension and stress impact immune response, disrupt respiratory function and reduce antioxidant levels. Deep, diaphragmatic breathing—also called belly breathing or abdominal breathing—has been shown to significantly decrease antioxidant-depleting cortisol and lessen oxidative stress; breathing practices combined with yoga and meditation boost the body’s glutathione levels. Slow, full breathing also supports respiratory health, eases inflammation and enhances melatonin production for sounder sleep. And the stress-reducing effects of deep breathing encourage sounder sleep, linked with better glutathione production. 

Protect your antioxidants: pay attention to how you’re breathing, especially when you’re anxious or stressed. Set an hourly timer to remind you to breath, and set aside 10 minutes morning or evening to consciously focus on your breath. Try this simple version of the 4/7/8 breath: inhale to a count of 4, hold the breath for 7 and exhale for 8; lengthier exhalations promote calm. 

8. Supplement with (the right) glutathione

Nutritious food, regular exercise, plenty of sleep and a peaceful lifestyle go a long way toward naturally enhancing your body’s glutathione reserves. But unavoidable life challenges, like stress, infections and environmental toxins, diminish antioxidants, and glutathione levels naturally decline with age. So even with the most virtuous diet and lifestyle, you may need a little supplemental support. A well-formulated glutathione supplement, in combination with glutathione-rich foods, can amp up your natural reserves and give you that extra layer of protection you need—especially as you age. 

Protect your antioxidants: start with a high-quality glutathione supplement, manufactured under rigorous standards to ensure safety and quality, and backed by scientific research. Choose one made using a natural fermentation process, free from additives, preservatives, GMOs, soy, gluten or other allergens. And glutathione supplements must be properly absorbed by the body to reap their full benefits; Setria® Glutathione, a clinically tested form of glutathione, is manufactured using a fermentation process. In clinical trials, Setria® Glutathione has been shown to increase blood glutathione levels, replenishing the body’s natural reserves that may be depleted through diet, lifestyle, environmental toxins, even the natural aging process—supporting peak mental and physical function throughout your life. Give one of these brands with Setria Glutathione a try:

Country Life
Lady Bug


Alani Nu Balance




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Setria® is a clinically studied form of oral glutathione that has been shown to replenish the body’s reserves which may be depleted as a result of poor lifestyle choices, stress or natural aging. Called the “master antioxidant,” glutathione helps protect cells in the body from the damaging effects of oxidative stress and toxins. Setria Glutathione is manufactured by Kyowa Hakko an international health ingredients manufacturer. 

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