How do I increase glutathione on a ketogenic diet?

The amino acids glycine, cysteine, and glutamine are used in glutathione production. Eating foods that are good sources of complete amino acids or taking a balanced amino acid supplement will help you make more glutathione. Other important nutrients like B-vitamins, magnesium, selenium, zinc, iron, and alpha-lipoic acid can also help the body supercharge the already higher levels of glutathione possible on a ketogenic diet.

Introduction

This blog post will discuss how and why you may want to provide additional supplementation to increase your glutathione (GSH) production while on a ketogenic diet for mental illness or neurological disorders. 

This blog post contains multiple affiliate links. Please do not feel obligated to use them. They are here for your convenience.

If you are not on a ketogenic diet, you may still find this post to be very helpful in evaluating whether or not you are getting enough of what you need for improved glutathione production.

If you do not know what glutathione (also known as GSH) is or why you might need it to heal a mental illness or neurological disorder, I encourage you to read the following. 

If you are on a ketogenic diet, you are already doing a great thing to increase your glutathione. Lowering your carbohydrates and reducing the inflammation and oxidative stress that goes with that means more glutathione available to begin to heal your brain. If you are doing a well-formulated and nutrient-dense ketogenic diet, you are increasing your intake of what your body needs to make more glutathione. But it’s not just your reducing inflammation and oxidative stress with knowledgeable food choices or increased nutrient intake. 

The production of ketones you are making on your ketogenic diet improves your mitochondrial function. Because ketones are signaling molecules, they trigger adaptive transcriptions of genes that provide improved mitochondrial functioning. Mitochondria are the powerhouses of your cells, and this enhanced function and increase in energy will provide additional fuel for detoxification and healing processes in your neurons. 

This process may ultimately increase the levels of antioxidants (e.g., GSH) and detoxification enzymes, thereby improving brain function and alleviating neurodegeneration.

Shamshtein, D., & Liwinski, T. (2022). Ketogenic Therapy for Major Depressive Disorder: A Review of Neurobiological Evidence. Recent Progress in Nutrition2(1), 1-1. doi:10.21926/rpn.2201003

So the ketogenic diet all by itself is a huge glutathione boost! But let’s say you have a lot of healing to do. And you want more! Then what?!

Why don’t I just take a glutathione supplement?

You totally can! And that is a legitimate way to do it, now that we have liposomal glutathione, which we know is absorbed well by the body and used. It is not my preferred option with clients, and I will tell you why.

First of all, it can be expensive, depending on the brand. I would prefer my client’s budget for other supplements of important micronutrients, good quality food, and occasional testing. But there is a place in certain cases for supplementing directly with liposomal glutathione. 

Secondly, there have not been enough studies to show that pre-assembled glutathione gets into all cells without any issue. So if I supplement you with premade glutathione, I just don’t know how much you are absorbing for sure. Even the liposomal form, because we just don’t have all those studies yet. And if I hand you supplements for liposomal glutathione, I have no idea if it is getting to all the places that your brain and body need it to heal. It’s much better for me to make sure you have everything you need to make your own and trust your body knows how to deliver it where it needs to go. 

I know that my saying your body knows how to heal itself instead of saying that I, as the healthcare practitioner know best, might be a little shocking. 

It will be most shocking if you are reading it after being in the traditional medical model of being told that your doctors know what pill to give for what thing and that they know best. No. Your body often knows best. And if you have been sick for a long time and gone to a lot of doctors, you may have stopped trusting your body was on your side or that it knew what to do to help you feel better. 

That is not what went down. It’s time to change how you think about your body. What happened is that you didn’t know what or how to give your body what it needed to heal. And quite frankly, neither did your doctor. 

But I digress. 

The third reason I do not prefer supplementing glutathione directly is that your body already has wonderful mechanisms to determine how much needs to be made at any given time. I trust your body to be smarter than me. In fact, I know your body is smarter than me when it comes to knowing how much glutathione your body needs to make and at what rate to heal. As long as I help you get access to the rate-limiting precursors and make sure you are able to digest and absorb them, I know that your body is going to use those resources appropriately to help you heal. 

What if I give you a dose of supplemental liposomal glutathione each day that is not enough of what your body wants or needs? And you didn’t have enough of these other rate-limiting precursors or important nutrients to make more? I would slow down your healing.

What if I gave you a really big dose of supplemental liposomal glutathione each day, and you were doing just fine being able to make your own with the right precursors and nutrients? Well, then I just wasted a lot of your money.

So feel free to supplement liposomal glutathione if you feel like you just want that extra support to heal and you can afford it. And don’t prioritize its purchase over your well-formulated ketogenic diet grocery list. Don’t buy it and ignore the other important nutrients discussed in this blog post. You still need many of the amino acids and micronutrients we will discuss to make neurotransmitters and facilitate your healing!

If you want to take liposomal glutathione, you can find several good brands here (affiliate links):

I don’t recommend the liquid forms because they don’t taste good, and they don’t mix well in other things. But if you do need a liquid for whatever reason, you can find one here (affiliate link)

I would just simply take as directed on the back of the bottle. There does not appear to be any negative side effects of taking larger doses (up to 1000mg) for longer amounts of time. The range is between 250mg-1000mg, and it can take months to build up. You may want to take a mid-range to a higher dose if you are trying to recover from mental illness or a neurological disorder. You can discuss dosing with your healthcare provider. 

So let’s talk about all the things you might need to supercharge your ketogenic diet to treat your mental illness or neurological disorder and why.

Why you might need supplementation even though you are on a well-formulated, nutrient-rich ketogenic diet

You were or are ill – People with mental illnesses or neurological disorders can have genetic variances that require them to have particular forms of vitamins or more of certain vitamins or minerals. Until you get genetic testing and look at your nutrigenomics, you might not know what supplements and foods to increase to meet your needs. 

You may find getting genetic testing helpful through 23andme (affiliate link) and subscribe to geneticlifehacks.com (affiliate link) to learn more about yourself! 

Your prior diet depleted your nutrients like Thiamine (B1) and Magnesium and was probably insufficient in protein and vitamins, and minerals. Eating a well-formulated ketogenic diet will definitely help a great deal! But you may need to play a bit of catch-up through supplementation to feel better faster or to even recover from the deficit you are already in.  

Your prior diet produced a lot of inflammation that drained your nutrient stores to fight inflammation and oxidative stress.

Your prior diet was not nutrient-dense enough and included ultra-processed foods that crowded out your intake of what you needed for a well-functioning brain.

You were on medications that caused drug-induced nutritional deficiencies which left your stores of nutrients low that would be used to make more glutathione. If you do not know what drug-induced nutritional deficiencies are or what medications may cause them you may benefit from reading the following:

You were exposed to heavy metals, either acutely or chronically over your lifetime, and you need a lot of glutathione to help detox your system. Glutathione (and other specific supportive supplements) are particularly important if working with a functional medicine person during chelation therapies.

So what do you need to make sure you are making and recycling glutathione well to help heal your mental illness or neurological disorder?

Certain amino acids and micronutrient cofactors are needed to upregulate your glutathione production. Here is a good overview before we begin!

Graphic listing the glutathione cycle, precursor amino acids, and what nutrient cofactors are involved in glutathione production and maintenance. Created by http://www.mentalhealthketo.com

Amino Acids

You must get enough protein, and you must be able to break it down and absorb it properly. A good rule of thumb is a protein intake is between 0.8 g/kg and 1.8 g/kg (not lbs, kg) of body weight. 

Ketogenic diets for mental health and neurological disorders tend to be on the low side of protein traditionally. This level needs to take into consideration factors such as your age, activity level, how often you exercise, and how much healing you have to do. 

If you are vegan or vegetarian, know that you are only absorbing about half of the protein you think you are from plant-based sources and that you may need to supplement accordingly or be particularly careful in making sure your meals provide complete amino acid profiles. 

Ketogenic diets tend to be on the lower end of protein intake, but I don’t suggest that for all of my clients because of the factors I just mentioned. Also, different types of ketogenic diets use higher levels of protein intake and still successfully treat disorders, such as epilepsy. The modified-Atkins diet form of the ketogenic diet is a good example of this. 

Why do I want you to make sure you get enough protein if you are trying to upregulate your glutathione production on the ketogenic diet? 

Because glutathione production uses the amino-acids glycine, glutamine, and most importantly, cysteine. Cysteine is the rate-limiting factor. Meaning if you do not have enough cysteine, your body is limited in making as much glutathione as it wants and needs to heal. 

This does not mean I want you to run out and just supplement these three amino acids. People with mental illness should only supplement with individual amino acids if they work with a medical provider. Why? Because they are powerful enough to throw your neurotransmitters out of balance. I am infinitely more interested in you getting your amino acids from whole foods that come in balanced ratios.

To do that, you need to have sufficient stomach acid and the ability to break those proteins down and absorb them. If you don’t know what I mean by that, you should read this blog post here:

But let’s say you already know your stomach acid and digestion is a work in progress. You still need to upregulate your glutathione, which may very well be the case if you are doing a ketogenic diet for mental illness or neurological issues.

Luckily, you can take a balanced amino acid supplement that has already done the work of breaking the protein down for you. Don’t take a supplement that are just branch-chain amino acids (BCAAs) because that is not a balanced formulation and could upset neurotransmitter balance.

These are products that I recommend for clients for various reasons, and that you can use to increase your intake of these amino acids.

Balanced Free-Form Amino Acids (Hardy’s Nutritionals) – this is not an affiliate link but you can use 15% off discount code: MentalHealthKeto

“But wait a minute!” you might say. “This doesn’t have the rate-limiting amino acid cysteine in it! How will this help me make glutathione?”

Don’t worry! Cysteine is made from the amino acids serine and methionine that are in these formulations! But you need enough micronutrient cofactors to help that happen.  

You will also notice that the above amino acid supplements have a nice dose of glutamine, and that should make you very happy!

Glutamine is a non-essential amino acid, meaning our body can make it as needed. And when we are in a healthy body (with a healthy brain), our body has no problem doing that. But you do not have a healthy body (or brain) yet, so you can likely benefit greatly from supplementing with the glutamine in the supplement above. Glutamine can become depleted with chronic stress, and I think we can agree that having a mental illness or neurological disorder is a form of chronic stress!

Glutamine supplementation will help you upregulate your glutathione, but it also provides fuel for your gut cells that are trying to repair themselves. And that is just an extra bonus that will translate into gains for your mental health as your gut health improves. 

Glycine is also in the amino acid supplement Amino Replete (affiliate link) but in a smaller amount. I believe there is a benefit to supplementing glycine on its own and possibly in addition to the Amino Replete supplement. 

I like taking mine in my coffee as a collagen supplement (glycine is one of the amino acids provided). This is the one that I use (affiliate link):

I get collagen peptides from a local big box store (Costco) because it is cheaper. I take one scoop in my morning coffee and one in my second cup a few hours later (decaf usually, or in some tea). 

You can also supplement this using gelatin or just glycine. Most people do not get adequate levels of glycine in their diet, and so there is less concern with creating a neurotransmitter imbalance with it. Below is a brand my clients use, and I recommend just 1 a day for a total of 1,000 mg (1 gram). Again, we don’t want large amounts of any one amino acid taken without the assistance of a healthcare practitioner who knows your case. (affiliate link):

I have used glycine powder before, but I like the extra boost of arginine, proline, and hydroxyproline I get from a collagen peptide powder. That is how they come when consumed in whole foods, and so I think taking them as a collagen peptide is preferred.

And that wraps up our section on amino acids. In summary, you want to eat enough protein and be sure to do things to improve your breakdown and absorption of the protein you get in whole foods. Make sure you eat proteins that are as complete as possible, which is a major concern if you are vegan or vegetarian. 

Let’s move on to the micronutrients your body uses to make glutathione!  

Micronutrients

You can have plenty of amino acids but if you don’t have the micronutrients you need to make plenty of glutathione and glutathione enzymes your healing is going to be stymied.

Vitamin C

This micronutrient is used to glutathione from its oxidized state (used) back to its active state. You can get vitamin C from foods on a well-formulated ketogenic diet just fine, but as you are healing, you can give your glutathione production a nice boost with a little bit of supplementation, at least in the short term. 

Vitamin C can be the least expensive and easiest supplement to add, and it doesn’t have to be a very high dose to improve your glutathione recycling capability. You don’t need very much, and it is suspected your body is better at recycling vitamin C when you eat low carbohydrate diets. 

I just use the simple and inexpensive form for clients to provide a small boost. Liposomal Vitamin C is better absorbed, and if you feel you would like to try that, there can be a benefit in helping reduce early on in your healing process. You can supplement anywhere from 250mg to 1000mg a day. I have provided affiliate links below:

Vitamin E

I am not a huge vitamin E fan, but I think it has its place, especially if you come from a highly-processed diet high in industrialized seed oils. You will benefit from increased Vitamin E for at least a couple of years as you work those oils out of your system. And there is also some benefit to taking vitamin E if you are trying to upregulate your glutathione. You need vitamin E to ensure your glutathione enzymes can work properly. 

I generally choose this supplement for clients and provide about 30mg (approx. 45 IUs).

B vitamins

These water-soluble micronutrient cofactors help keep your glutathione enzymes functioning and are important in recycling glutathione back into its active form; you need plenty of vitamins B1 (thiamine) and B2. These B vitamins have a direct effect on glutathione production and enzyme function. But there are other B vitamins that have indirect effects that you will want to make sure you have plenty of, such as vitamin B6, B9 (folate), and vitamin B12 which help you make and use the amino acids we discussed earlier in this post.

I tend to recommend this one in my practice because they have good, bioavailable forms of b vitamins for my clients. You can purchase through this affiliate link below:

Selenium

If you are on a well-formulated ketogenic diet, you are likely getting plenty of selenium. But in the beginning, as your body is trying to heal, you may benefit from supplementation to help boost glutathione production. Selenium helps make the enzyme glutathione peroxidase (GPx) and speeds up how fast your glutathione works to detox free radicals. I like to think of them as little detox accelerators, and the faster that free radical is neutralized, the less damage has to be repaired later. And I think that is a good thing that benefits your healing journey. 

Selenium is an inexpensive supplement with great benefits. Particularly for this purpose. I recommend this one to my clients below (affiliate link):

Magnesium

I just cannot stress enough that you are very, VERY likely coming into your ketogenic diet for your mental health magnesium deficient. I could do a whole blog post on magnesium and how it influences your mental health and neurological functioning. Still, for our purposes here, you just need to know that it is very important for the enzyme gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase (GGT) and that this enzyme is directly involved in your body’s ability to make glutathione!

So please don’t mess around in your supplementation of it. Take it seriously. have clients take 400 to 800mg a day, up to bowel tolerance. If you find it makes your stools loose, back off a pill or two. But it is likely you are so deficient you won’t have that effect until far further down the road (if at all, our bodies need a LOT of magnesium). Break the doses up throughout the day to improve absorbability. 

I like this particular brand because I know there is 200mg of elemental magnesium in each capsule. This is an affiliate link: 

Zinc

If you are insufficient in zinc, it will reduce your glutathione levels. How? It is needed to make the enzyme glutamate-cysteine ligase (GCL). This enzyme is needed for the very first step in glutathione production of combining glutamate and cysteine. Many people are low in zinc, particularly if they do not eat a lot of bioavailable proteins. But most people are somewhat deficient in this nutrient or are taking in suboptimal levels. I recommend 1 of these, 2x per day with food. Zinc on an empty stomach can cause nausea. This is an affiliate link:

MSM (methylsulfonylmethane)

I really like this supplement because it can provide a source of dietary sulfur. If you are already eating a lot of sulfur-containing vegetables and meats with methionine you may not need this supplementation. But I find a lot of people could benefit from increased sulfur in their diet. Particularly those coming off of a vegan or vegetarian diet.

I add this supplement hesitantly to this blog post because some people have gut bacteria that make their own form of sulfur, and adding MSM to their stack can cause real stomach problems like cramping and diarrhea. Most of my clients do not have issues with taking MSM but once in a while someone does, and when that happens we just discontinue its use and deal with why their gut is making its own sulfur in the first place.

But I think MSM is an underutilized healing molecule in people trying to reduce oxidative stress by increasing their body’s own antioxidant pathways, and so I include it here so you can give it a try. I think it is super amazing.

Alpha-lipoic acid

Your body makes this antioxidant, and while it doesn’t help you make more necessarily, it plays a role in helping stimulate the enzymes involved in glutathione synthesis. It has other roles in helping you recycle vitamin c and E and getting cysteine in the cell where the amino acid will be used for glutathione production. 

If you eat a well-formulated ketogenic diet with bioavailable proteins and low carbohydrate vegetables, you are likely getting enough of these nutrients. But if you would like to supplement for additional healing purposes, or if you know that you have challenges producing glutathione because you have done genetic testing, this might be a good addition. This supplement plays a role in restoring and maintaining glutathione levels. 

Below is an affiliate link for alpha-lipoic acid for your convenience:

Multivitamins

If you do not want to supplement these higher doses individually, I completely get that. That said, I want you to be aware that if you were suffering from a mental illness or neurological disorder, you likely need many more nutrients than you think. You may have a higher need for them than other people because of genetic variations. And you are likely coming into your ketogenic diet with real deficiencies in important vitamins like B1 and magnesium, which may require very high supplementation for a short time to turn your mental health around and feel better. 

You may need personalized testing and supplementation for some of these micronutrients to correct deficiencies. If you are still not feeling well after about three months, be sure to reach out and contact me or another professional for an individualized nutrition and supplement plan. 

I know it is not ideal to be taking a lot of extra pills a day and spending a lot on extra supplements. But it might be really helpful to your healing if you do, at least for a while, until you have a better idea of what the minimum is you need to feel well, along with your improved food choices in your nutrient-dense, well-formulated ketogenic diet.

If you just want to take one formula as a multivitamin, I cannot recommend Hardy’s Nutritionals enough. I do not have an affiliate link for them, but I do have a 15% of discount code you are welcome to use: MentalHealthKeto

DAILY ESSENTIAL NUTRIENTS 360

These are 9 to 12 pills a day, broken up ideally into three times a day, but people definitely feel the benefit and get away with twice a day if they are busy humans. I recommend you work up to the recommended 12 a day if you are healing from mental illness or neurological disorders.  

If you are not healing from a mental illness or neurological issue, do not have any chronic health issues, do not have a history of or are taking medications that might deplete your nutrient stores, you may not need these higher levels of supplementation. You may want to just take a good multivitamin to help upregulate your glutathione production (on a ketogenic diet or not). If that is the case, I would recommend this multivitamin (affiliate link):

As you can see, these have all the micronutrients we have discussed in this article in different amounts, some smaller amounts, some equal, and some even higher. They are a good, general, all-purpose way to cover most of your bases if you intend to increase your body’s capacity to make and benefit from glutathione. You will still need to supplement magnesium.

Another potential supplementation is melatonin. If you are part of an older population and you suspect you are not making sufficient melatonin there is a possibility it could be affecting your glutathione production. Melatonin plays a role.

… we review the studies which document the influence of melatonin on the activity and expression of the antioxidative enzymes glutathione peroxidase, superoxide dismutases and catalase both under physiological and under conditions of elevated oxidative stress. 

Rodriguez, C., Mayo, J. C., Sainz, R. M., Antolín, I., Herrera, F., Martín, V., & Reiter, R. J. (2004). Regulation of antioxidant enzymes: a significant role for melatonin. Journal of pineal research36(1), 1-9. https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1600-079X.2003.00092.x

Melatonin can be tricky because if you take too high of a dose you can feel sleepy the next day. If I suspect melatnoin is needed I will supplement 0.25 mg and work up to perhaps 3mg in some populations. In older populations and in those with a history of Alzheimer’s disease in their family sometimes I will supplement 3-6mg. I like the sustained release versions over the quick release and sometimes I will have people take a combination of forms.

Conclusion

After glutathione levels are increased you need adequate levels of copper, zinc, manganese, iron, selenium, and magnesium to neutralize the free radicals that your glutathione “catches”.

I hope you have found this blog post helpful in learning how to increase your glutathione levels naturally or with direct supplementing with liposomal glutathione. Whether you decide to supplement with liposomal glutathione or increase your precursors to supercharge your ketogenic diet, rest assured that paying attention to your glutathione status is an important factor in attaining and keeping your mental health.                

Because you have the right to know all of the ways that you can feel better.


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