There’s little doubt that awareness of antioxidants is increasing. Journalists everywhere are running around like headless chickens trying to find a new super herb or rare fruit to recommend to their readers. New formulations of resveratrol and astaxanthin are popping up on a daily basis.
On the acne front, word has also reached the public and the latest interest is topical antioxidants. Vitamin E creams are touted as delivering antioxidants directly to your skin, and they do that well. Antioxidants are a particularly hot topic among life extenders who believe they’ll live to age 150 or more by protecting their cells against free radical damage.
Supplement companies believe that if they just slap the word antioxidant on their protein shakes and protein powders, they’ll wake up buried in cash…
…but amidst all the hype, some of which is accurate, some of which isn’t, there’s one antioxidant you’ll rarely see mentioned. It’s called glutathione and it’s the best antioxidant for clearing acne ever.
Glutathione – overlooked but very promising
Glutathione is known in medicinal circles as the “master antioxidant”. There’s reportedly over 1000 studies showing beneficial health effects from glutathione.
Low levels are found in patients with many major diseases whether its diabetes, chronic fatigue, chronic pain, or colon cancer. One piece of research published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that, among people with heart disease, those with the lowest amount of glutathione in their bloodstream were 30 percent more likely to have a heart attack than those with the most.
In fact, many of the health problems from abusing alcohol are caused indirectly by glutathione deficiency, since the main by-product of ethanol produced in liver is acetaldehyde and glutathione has to detoxify that.
Despite these powers, glutathione only gets the focus of the most dedicated acne masterminds. That’s all going to change today. Glutathione is just as powerful for clearing your acne and in fact, it’s up there with zinc (the best nutrient for inflamed pimples) and vitamin A (the greatest nutrient for oily skin).
Look at these studies…
- In this study scientists gathered skin samples from the stratum corneum of both acne patients and healthy subjects. They analysed the levels of glutathione (GSH) in both of them. The quantity of glutathione was measured not just in acne lesions, but also the clear areas of the acne patients’ skin. The amount of glutathione in acne-prone skin was “significantly lower” than in acne free skin. Additionally, the entirety of the acne patient’s skin was low in glutathione, both acne lesions and acne free areas. That shows that it’s not just a local phenomenon caused by environmental factors (air pollution, cigarette smoke) but a condition in the whole body. The conclusion was “We conclude that a decline in antioxidative activity led by a decrease in GSH quantity may play an important role in pathogenesis of acne vulgaris”.
- This 1984 study gathered 42 men with severe acne and 47 women with acne (26 of a moderate degree and 21 severe). The acne men had substantially lower glutathione peroxidase levels than the controls. The scientists also performed an experiment where the patients took 0.2mg of selenium for six weeks. The scientists found that this increased glutathione peroxidase levels substantially. At the same time, they observed a good reduction in acne.
- Finally, this 2013 study sought to analyse the link between oxidative stress and acne. Scientists gathered skin samples from 50 acne patients with varying degrees of acne (mild, moderate, and severe), and compared them with 40 controls who were matched for age and sex. Glutathione levels were analysed and the results were very interesting. In patients with mild acne, there was only slightly less glutathione in their skin. But in patients with severe acne, the glutathione in their skin was 20% lower. Moderate acne patients had just below 20% less. The acne patients also had far less superoxide dismutase (another antioxidant).
The results speak for themselves: acne patients or skin samples from acne patients have much lower glutathione levels than the average person without acne.
The results are substantial too; study number 3 found a 20% reduction in acne patients, which is huge for an antioxidant as ubiquitous in the body as glutathione.
Here we have clear evidence that you acne-prone genetics and rampaging teenage hormones can not only be counteracted, but crushed. Your glutathione levels are easily influenced. They only require some simple dietary changes to increase dramatically.
What is glutathione?
The key point is that glutathione is your body’s main indigenous antioxidant. You don’t get your glutathione from the diet – you make it yourself.
As humans, our bodies cannot synthesise many of the most important antioxidants like vitamin C, vitamin E, carotenoids, nor highly useful ones like resveratrol, polyphenols and astaxanthin. We have to eat them in food. It’s critical to eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and herbs for your acne and indeed, that’s what I recommend acne patients do in my eBook and the rest of this website…
…but we also make many antioxidants on our own, like superoxide dismutase and thioredoxin reductase. Glutathione is the most important one; it’s present in nearly every cell in the body. Large amounts are found in major organs, particularly the heart, lungs, brain, and kidneys.
Glutathione tackles a massive range of acne-causing reactive oxygen species. It hunts down lipid peroxides, free radicals, other peroxides and many more. By increasing glutathione you can tackle any diseases caused by oxidative stress, whether it be heart disease, muscle wasting, brain fatigue, or of course acne.
How does glutathione clear your acne?
If you’ve read the rest of this website or my eBook then you’ll already know how important antioxidants are for all acne patients. They protect the sebum on your face from oxidation.
When squalene, a component of sebum, comes up against air pollution or cigarette smoke, it oxidises into squalene peroxide, a compound which is far more comedogenic (pore-blocking) than regular sebum. Your body is smart and hence your sebum is equipped with antioxidants while it is manufactured in the sebaceous glands. The main one is the fat-soluble antioxidant vitamin E.
Glutathione is critical for acne as your skin builds it naturally into the tissues of your skin. When there’s enough glutathione, chains of aggressive free radicals don’t have the opportunity to spread throughout your skin’s tissues and ultimately oxidise your sebum.
Glutathione cuts the head off the acne-causing snake. Squalene peroxide never shows its face and your amount of blocked pores and p.acnes bacteria falls substantially.
What’s possibly more important is glutathione’s broader effect on acne causing free radicals. It’s so important for tackling all manner of reactive oxygen species that having low levels means that other antioxidants will have to pick up the slack.
Vitamin E will have to focus on other fat soluble tissues in your heart, your brain, your blood vessels, the protective coating of your liver. It’ll be distracted from guarding the sebum where it is so critically needed to keep acne at bay.
Additionally, certain forms of gluthathione can actually regenerate vitamin E, once it has donated its electron to a free radical and lost its antioxidant powers. Glutathione is also the main ingredient of the bodily antioxidant thioredoxin reductase. This one has the ability to restore vitamin C once it’s been used. Vitamin C is a water-soluble antioxidant, but has countless other benefits for clearing acne, like manufacturing the skin protein collagen and reducing stress hormone levels.
Then there’s the endless other benefits of boosting your antioxidant supply. Insulin molecules can be damaged and rendered ineffective by free radicals, so glutathione can protect them and boost your insulin sensitivity. Vitamin A is an all-important acne nutrient for reducing oily skin and is carried through to bloodstream to your skin by retinol-binding protein, which is vulnerable to oxidation. Lipid peroxides can bombard your brain and put you at higher risk of stress and anxiety.
Since glutathione is known as the “master antioxidant” for a reason, increasing your levels can work wonders.
Low glutathione is an epidemic!
With all the focus on eating green vegetables and colourful fruits these days, low glutathione levels are very common. Why? Glutathione has another major role in the human body – detoxification. It chelates many harmful toxins and your stocks can be depleted in this way.
If you don’t know already, then your body has three phases of detoxification. Phase 1 detoxification is when a toxin is made water soluble and altered into a form less harmful to DNA and cells. In phase 2, the toxin is broken down further. Phase 3 is when the now less harmful substance is chelated and removed from the body.
Glutathione is mainly active in phase 1 and 2. An example is its effects on mercury. There’s a big misconception that the heavy metal mercury, found in large fish and dental fillings, stays in your body forever, but it doesn’t.
Mercury has a high affinity for many thiol enzyme bonds in your body and it causes inflammation and cell death when it binds to them. Hence, phase 1 detoxification kicks in and a form called glutathione transferase is dispatched to bind to the mercury. It transfers (hence the name) a glutathione molecule to mercury and renders it substantially less harmful. From then the mercury can be removed and chelated with further detoxification agents.
Glutathione does this for all sorts of other toxins, but there’s a problem – any compound that glutathione has to detoxify will lower your bodily supplies…
…and that’s not good in this day and age, when we’re exposed to more chemical contaminants than we’ve ever been in our history.
Mercury itself continues to lurk in fish and amalgam fillings, and especially “natural” food products flooding out of India and Pakistan. Arsenic is still contaminating our fruit juice and rice fields. More and more crops are blasted with pesticides each year, particularly the carcinogenic glyphosate. There’s no let-up in the chemicals added to personal care products like shampoo and deodorants.
It sounds like hippie fear mongering, but they’re actually right: we are exposed to tons of those chemicals on a daily basis. I’ve looked at lots of studies specifically on whether they deplete glutathione, and I’d say roughly 60 to 70% percent of the environmental chemicals widely deemed harmful reduce it to some degree.
The average guy takes little effort to buy organic foods, fresh local produce, or chemical free personal care products. Hence, we can safely conclude that our glutathione levels are being constantly depleted, at least if you live in a Western country.
How to boost your glutathione levels
As we discussed at the beginning, there’s relatively little focus on glutathione among acne enthusiasts because it’s more complicated than other antioxidants. You can’t just eat tasty fruits or pop a pill. Most glutathione supplements are digested inefficiently and don’t work.
The good news is that if you’ve got the right strategies and the slightest bit of brainpower, increasing your levels is a piece of cake. Firstly there’s the holy trinity of acne nutrients which are all cofactors required to manufacture glutathione:
Selenium – the mineral you can’t ignore. Study number two above found that after six weeks of supplementation with 0.2mg of selenium, blood glutathione levels rose substantially.
Why’s it so important? Glutathione is actually a family of eight enzymes – GPx1, GPx2, GPx7, and so on. 4 out of 8 use selenium as a cofactor in their creation in the cells, and one of them, GPx6, is actually a seleno-protein, which makes selenium critical. Selenium is one of the best minerals for clearing acne and its effects on glutathione are the main reason why.
The strategy – either start eating more high quality meat, eggs and seafood, or cut right to the chase and eat two Brazil nuts per day. One single nut contains 137% of the RDA for selenium per 5 grams, making it the richest food source on earth and threatening to put supplement companies out of business. The product I recommend on this website is the top quality Anna and Sarah ORGANIC Raw Brazil Nuts.
Magnesium – the second stage of glutathione synthesis in the body involves the enzyme glutathione synthase. The ingredients of this enzyme are cysteine, glycine, ATP, and finally, magnesium ions.
Additionally, ATP relies on magnesium for its own synthesis. Not surprisingly then, this study found that human patients treated with magnesium had substantially higher glutathione levels at the end of 12 weeks.
The strategy – magnesium deficiency is an epidemic in acne patients because levels in fruit and vegetables have plummeted over recent decades thanks to soil depletion. Therefore magnesium is a one of the only nutrients I recommend that everyone supplements with (even if you don’t have acne).
I use this Ancient Minerals Magnesium Oil; it’s the ultimate supplement because you spray it onto the skin and absorb it directly into your blood, bypassing any nonsense like the digestive system. 16 squirts equalling 400mg left for 15 minutes is what I use.
Zinc – when scouting natural acne websites you might have read that zinc is an antioxidant. Well, it isn’t, but what zinc does do is stimulate your body to produce more of them.
This study analysed the effect of zinc supplementation and also swimming on a rat’s antioxidants levels. Group 2, containing rats supplemented with zinc, had the highest blood levels of glutathione. Group 1 was zinc-deficient and its glutathione levels were rock bottom.
The strategy – unlike magnesium, taking a zinc supplement is not necessary; some intelligent rearranging your diet to include meat, fish, eggs and oysters (the greatest source) will work.
If you want to simplify things and guarantee that you’re covered, then the optimal supplement for an acne-clearing enthusiast is this New Chapter Zinc Food Complex, which is food-derived, organic and even packaged with a bonus digestive blend. A cheaper but very pure supplement is this NutraBio L-OptiZinc.
Don’t go mad and megadose those acne minerals. All dietary minerals have a certain toxicity limit including those three, so excessive blood levels can actually inhibit glutathione formation.
Bring them up to acceptable levels and you’ll get all the benefits for acne possible.
Secondly, there are three amino acids in the body that are critical for glutathione formation, and they are glycine, l-cysteine, and l-glutamine.
Again, it’s not necessary to eat scoop after scoop of these proteins but getting higher levels than the average man is a smart idea. Our meat eating patterns (we mostly eat muscle meat rather than connective tissues and organs) mean we don’t get as much glycine as we should.
To start with you should eat good amounts of dietary protein from meat, fish, and eggs. This will provide enough variety of amino acids to make your glutathione production at least decent. You need to eat protein to keep your skin strong against acne anyway.
Then you can choose the specific foods with amino acid profiles optimal for glutathione synthesis, which include…
Whey protein – trusty old whey protein is used by bodybuilders to build muscle, but it’s also the best food for boosting glutathione hands down. Whey contains cysteine, glycine, and l-glutamine in proportions and quantities. However, it also contains an amino acid called glutamylcysteine – a molecule that’s a bond of glutathione and cysteine. Glutamylcysteine is only found in significant concentrations in whey and rarely appears in other protein foods. There’s also many lactoferrins, immunoglobulins, and peptides that help.
NOTE: your whey MUST be cold-pressed. The amino acids are fragile and can be denatured with heating, particularly glutamylcysteine. Your whey should also be organic and from grass-fed cows, to avoid pesticide, antibiotic, and poor dietary contaminations. It must be a whey protein concentrate, not a protein isolate. We will discuss the full nutritional profile of whey in a future article.
Raw milk – I’m not a doctor and hence you should treat any discussion on raw milk as entertainment only. But what I can tell you is that in the United States of America, there have been less than 10 death attributed to legal raw milk in the last decade.
What I can also tell you is that raw milk contains the same peptides, amino acids, and other compounds that whey protein does, albeit in lesser quantities. The benefits are obliterated during pasteurisation as the compounds are once again fragile.
Great Lakes Pasture-Raised Gelatin – proper animal derived gelatin is exactly the kind of connective joints and ligaments that humans don’t eat anymore. This brand is extremely rich in the amino acid glycine. Additionally, this will also boost your skin’s collagen production substantially as that’s something glycine is also needed for.
Organ meats – heart, liver and kidneys are rich in alpha-lipoic acid. This is quite a potent medicinal substance and is a popular substance for detoxifying heavy metals. As for glutathione, it’s a strong precursor and has been shown to boost levels well in studies. Organ meats are some of the healthiest foods in the world anyway; they’re full of acne nutrients like selenium, zinc and magnesium and particularly, vitamin A.
Red meat – top quality, preferably grass-fed red meat is preferable to white meat for acne patients because it is higher in alpha-lipoic acid.
The final group of glutathione boosting foods is sulphur rich plants. Glutathione itself is a sulphur based molecule, and hence, compounds in green vegetables like sulforaphane and also cyanohydroxybutene have been demonstrated to increase your levels. These compounds are also found in brussel sprouts, kale, and cabbage. Broccoli and spinach are also food sources of alpha-lipoic acid.
The two most sulphurous plant foods of all time are garlic and onions. Hence, this study found that oils extracted from garlic and onions boosted glutathione peroxidase strongly enough to supress the growth of cancerous tumours.
My actual recommendations for clearing acne
Firstly, I recommend that everybody fixes their magnesium, selenium and zinc levels. They are so integral for boosting glutathione that you can’t skip them. They reduce your acne in other ways too like controlling stress, boosting vitamin A’s bioavailability, and lowering insulin, so you can kill two or three birds with one stone.
Again, two Brazil nuts can provide your entire RDA for selenium, with magnesium you need a supplement, and you can read about the somewhat complicated zinc/acne strategy here.
Secondly, it’s a smart idea to eat at least one serving of the aforementioned sulphurous vegetables per day. There’s two reasons for that: 1) they boost glutathione well according to studies, and 2) they’re terrific for your acne anyway.
Broccoli, for example, contains 100% of the RDA for vitamin C, contains the sulforaphane compound that also has anti-inflammatory powers, and has many acne antioxidants. Garlic and onions both support your digestive system. Kale is a powerhouse of nutrition.
You should be eating some green vegetables to clear acne anyway, so while you’re there, it’s smart to include at least one serving of sulphurous ones. Personally, I’m eating 100 grams of broccoli for lunch every day. It’s fairly cheap and very convenient to steam in a pan.
Finally, it’s well worth adding in at least one of the amino acid optimising strategies. It’s very important to get your proper doses of cysteine, glycine, and l-glutamine. It’s easy to get the recommended level of cysteine and glutamine; just eat plenty of well-produced animal protein…
Glycine is where there’s a problem, because most of us modern humans don’t eat much. Back in our berry gathering, spear throwing, prehistoric days we had no choice but to eat the connective tissues, the organs – the whole lot.
Now though, we just eat an animal’s convenient muscle meat, which doesn’t contain much glycine. The solution? Just one of the options above will correct this balance.
My favourite is easily the Great Lakes Pasture-Raised Gelatin supplement. Firstly, it’s very convenient, and secondly, it’s also rich in another amino acid we eat little of – proline. This one is particularly important for the production of collagen, so you get a double whammy of acne clearing power.
If you love organ meats, then feast on those. If you’re a bodybuilder, then high quality whey protein is your optimal bulking tool. If you’re a risk-taker, then you could hop aboard the raw milk train.
The studies are clear as day: increasing glutathione is excellent for boosting your antioxidant supply and clearing acne. I highly recommend it for all acne patients. Unless your glutathione levels are already optimal, and that’s highly unlikely, the reduction in pimples could be shocking.
Your body can’t manufacture enough antioxidants to keep acne at bay but you can’t eat enough either. Therefore, the granddaddy of all antioxidant strategies is to combine the glutathione boosting steps above with tons of antioxidant rich foods like pomegranate, dark chocolate, apples, sweet potatoes and coffee.
There are also many other indigenous antioxidants which are just as overlooked and just as powerful against acne, including superoxide dismutase. We’ll discuss that at length in a future article.
Until then, don’t forget that antioxidants are one piece of the puzzle. If you want to fall down on your acne like a ton of bricks you also need to lower inflammation, minimise free radical exposure, get more acne nutrients and improve your gut health.
Thanks for reading!