Updated on August 17, 2023
For healthy individuals, their thyroid gland receives only minimal attention in general health habits, but for individuals with autoimmune diseases or genetic abnormalities, maintaining the peak performance of the thyroid can be an uphill battle.
Without healthy regulation of thyroid hormones, the entire body can go suffer. Thyroid hormones are responsible for controlling bodily metabolism, which means that even minor deviations from the norm can impact body weight, energy levels, and mood. Given how many other bodily factors can cause these same symptoms, the thyroid might be the last place that an individual thinks to look when they are not feeling well. Additionally, while a thyroid problem is usually easily diagnosed with a blood test, treatment can sometimes be difficult and disruptive. As such, individuals will be better served by maintaining the health of their thyroid in the first place.
Unfortunately, patients have historically had few options for supporting their thyroid health on a routine basis. In recent years, however, researchers have wondered if glutathione supplementation might be an important tool for individuals who are seeking to maintain peak thyroid health.* So does glutathione help thyroid health? Current evidence suggests the answer is yes.
Glutathione’s Critical Role in Regulating Oxidative Stress*
Glutathione is produced by nearly every cell in the human body and is used by cells to regulate their level of oxidative stress, making it an essential part of maintaining health.* Oxidative stress occurs when reactive oxygen species (ROS) chemically react with cellular machinery, preventing the cells from fulfilling their normal functions. If left unaddressed, then the oxidative stress that ROS causes can actually kill cells. Therefore, controlling oxidative stress is a cellular priority.
As a small molecule that is highly prone to reacting with ROS, glutathione is at the core of a handful of different oxidative stress management systems.* In each of these systems, glutathione acts as a carrier of ROS; and because the ROS are chemically bound to the glutathione molecule, they can’t react with cellular machinery to impair their function and cause damage.* Glutathione is thus said to be an antioxidant.* In addition to its potent antioxidant activity, glutathione also supports the other cellular antioxidant systems in the body by offloading excess ROS from them and allowing them to be metabolized safely.*
The Complex Relationship Between Glutathione and the Thyroid
Glutathione’s relationship with the functioning of the thyroid gland is indirect. Although the majority of the body’s cells use glutathione to protect themselves from oxidative stress, different types of cells need slightly different quantities of glutathione. The cellular balance of glutathione is regulated via several enzymes, one of which is glutathione peroxidase. These enzymes are up-regulated or down-regulated depending on cellular glutathione concentrations and exert a similar effect on glutathione itself.
Glutathione peroxidase is of particular concern to the cells of the thyroid because oxidative stress can interfere with the thyroid’s primary job: producing hormones. Oxidative stress is controlled very tightly in the thyroid gland via the synthesis of glutathione peroxidase, which can safely inactivate sources of oxidative stress, such as hydrogen peroxide and free radicals.
In the context of the thyroid, there’s one obstacle with synthesizing glutathione peroxidase in sufficient quantities: selenium insufficiency. Selenium, a necessary trace element, is needed by cells because it’s a component of glutathione peroxidase and other glutathione system enzymes. Selenium is also an essential component of other metabolic systems that deal with oxidative stress, such as the thioredoxin system. For most cells, access to selenium is easy because there are not many enzymes that require selenium as a building block, and so the synthesis of antioxidative stress enzymes and molecules proceeds unimpeded. In the thyroid, however, the situation is different.
Thyroid cells require large amounts of selenium to synthesize the hormones that are then distributed throughout the body. If thyroid cells don’t have enough selenium, then they can’t produce sufficient quantities of hormones for the body to maintain homeostasis, and problems like Hashimoto’s disease can develop. Additionally, other issues, like liver disease, might become aggravated by fluctuating thyroid hormone levels, even when the liver cells are capable of handling their own levels of oxidative stress.
Because thyroid cells use far more selenium than other cells, high levels of oxidative stress can pack a double punch; when thyroid cells can’t synthesize enough glutathione peroxidase to reduce oxidative stress, they also don’t have enough selenium to produce hormones. This leaves the thyroid cells incapable of performing their physiological job, while also being incapable of repairing damage caused by oxidative stress. However, thyroid cells do need to maintain a small quantity of ROS to incorporate into the thyroid enzymes they produce. This means that thyroid cells need to maintain their level of oxidative stress within a certain range, rather than uniformly attempting to lower it by producing more anti-ROS enzymes and molecules like glutathione.
So why don’t individuals with compromised thyroid function simply consume more foods that contain selenium or take a selenium supplement? There are two reasons that make these solutions non-viable. First, selenium can be toxic when taken in excess. Although selenium is a necessary nutrient, the body has a relatively low rate of excess selenium excretion because evolutionarily selenium is a fairly uncommon nutrient to encounter.
This allows selenium to build up and cause damage to the gut and other tissues because the body cannot easily store it. Second, selenium supplementation might not always result in higher glutathione peroxidase activity, although it does at least some of the time. The efficacy of selenium supplementation on glutathione peroxidase activity appears to be connected to the level of serum iodine; i.e., having an excess of iodine seems to nullify selenium’s impact.
Clinically, this would lead to unpredictable results, with the day-to-day efficacy of the supplement varying wildly with the food consumed by the patient. The mechanisms responsible for these interactions are unclear, as is the utility for selenium supplementation for thyroid health. Directly supplementing with glutathione might be a more appealing option.
How Does Glutathione Help Thyroid Health?
Glutathione supplementation supports thyroid health by reducing the need for selenium and providing the thyroid cells with an oxidative stress regulation tool they natively use.* Glutathione helps to recycle glutathione peroxidase, removing the toxic products the enzyme captures.* This means the thyroid cells will not need to produce extra glutathione peroxidase to cope with oxidative stress.* Additionally, glutathione neutralizes ROS directly, independent of the antioxidant-enabling activity it performs for glutathione peroxidase.*
Using a glutathione supplement can thus modify the threat model of thyroid issues from selenium insufficiency or excess oxidative stress.* Rather than an individual with compromised thyroid function worrying about both impaired hormone production and thyroid damage, they would only need to be mindful of maintaining a minimum viable level of oxidative stress to provide for essential functions (although it is highly unlikely to fully deprive thyroid cells of the baseline level of oxidative stress they need to produce hormones).
Using Glutathione to Optimize Well-being*
Although there is currently no data on the utility of glutathione supplementation in healthy individuals, the unique niche of the thyroid might well be where a glutathione supplement can do the most good. For individuals with a family history of thyroid disorders or who suspect they have subjected their thyroid to excessive oxidative stress in particular, including a high-quality glutathione supplement in their daily health and wellness regimen, such as the one produced by Tesseract Medical Research, could potentially head off future issues.* By proactively supporting their thyroid function, even individuals without known risk factors might now have a new way of protecting their health and enhancing their quality of life.*
The power of Tesseract supplements lies in enhancing palatability, maximizing bioavailability and absorption, and micro-dosing of multiple nutrients in a single, highly effective capsule. Visit our website for more information about how Tesseract’s products can help support your endocrine health.*