Discovered in the 1880s, glutathione is the most important antioxidant, so why has it taken more than a century for the buzz to start? One reason is that environmental factors have changed and are now depleting glutathione in many to dangerous levels.

Hailed as the "Master Antioxidant," glutathione is like your body's head housekeeper and the ultimate handyman. It tidies up the messes (free radicals) of everyday living (breathing, moving, converting food and oxygen into energy); it takes out the trash (by binding with toxins and heavy metals so they can be eliminated); it repairs damage, and it maintains good working order (cellular health.)

Low levels of glutathione are associated with every health problem, from recurrent colds to cancer, and low levels at the time of environmental exposures to disease or toxins can lead to serious trouble. The immune system just can't properly do its job without it.

What depletes glutathione? Anything that uses it: Everyday bodily functions, physical and emotional stress, illness of any sort and exposure to tens of thousands of chemicals that didn't exist a hundred years ago. Pesticides, herbicides, plasticizers, flame retardants, vinyl, electromagnetic fields, pharmaceuticals . . . the list is nearly endless.

A commonly used drug that depletes glutathione is acetaminophen (Tylenol). Most people are aware of acetaminophen's liver toxicity issues. It's easy to take too much, especially when combining pain relievers with cold medications. According to the FDA, acetaminophen toxicity is now the leading cause of liver failure in the U.S. But few know that acetaminophen depletes glutathione to dangerously low levels. In fact, an overdose of acetaminophen is treated with N -Acetylcysteine (NAC), a glutathione precursor that increases hepatic (liver) glutathione stores.

Dr. Erika Krumbeck, ND, a member of the Pediatric Association of Naturopathic Physicians, says glutathione is actually active in the brain. In fact, if you deplete glutathione at critical times, "you can end up with oxidative damage, inflammation and brain injury," she said. Studies show acetaminophen has been linked with autism and adverse reactions when given at the time of routine pediatric vaccinations. "Do not give acetaminophen before or after your child’s vaccinations," Krumbeck advises.

Pregnant women should avoid acetaminophen altogether. A recently published study in the International Journal of Epidemiology concluded: "Gestational exposure to acetaminophen may increase symptoms of ASC [autism spectrum conditions]." Further, the study showed acetaminophen can affect attention function and is associated with hyperactivity/impulsivity behavior.

With so much depleting your glutathione, what can you do to boost your supply? Luckily, our bodies are great at making glutathione when we give it the right building blocks. The best boosters are high-sulfur veggies like kale, broccoli, onions and garlic; healthy fats like walnuts, virgin olive oil and avocados; fresh fruit; eggs, and quality animal protein. Undenatured whey protein is an excellent source of glutathione building blocks, and milk thistle (tea or supplement) has been shown to boost levels as well as cleanse the liver.

Nutrients vary depending on how a food was grown or raised. So as much as possible, your choices should be organic, unprocessed, pasture-raised and grass-fed. You want maximum nutrition without trace toxins that deplete your glutathione. The amino acid cysteine is the most essential glutathione building block and can be the hardest to get because although it's abundant in protein foods, it's easily destroyed by high temperatures, which means our meat and dairy don't provide nearly as much as it once did. Unlike past generations, we don't often consume raw animal products. Milk and milk products are pasteurized and we generally cook all eggs and meat. We do so to kill off any potential pathogens and extend product shelf life, but this protection comes at the expense of important glutathione building blocks. If you don't have access to, or the appetite for, safe organic raw dairy, meat, or eggs, try to keep cooking temperatures to a minimum, and avoid ultra-pasteurized dairy, which uses ultra-high heat and destroys whey proteins. N -Acetylcysteine (NAC) provides a derivative of cysteine and is available as a dietary supplement.

Other factors to boosting glutathione? Movement and sunshine. Glutathione needs the energy molecule ATP, created during moderate aerobic movement. So walk, hop, dance, outside if you can, with some skin exposed so the sun can trigger the production of Vitamin D. This movement also serves as the pump for your lymphatic system, which carries nutrients around the body and gathers the waste glutathione snatches up.

In short, avoid glutathione-depleters, eat well and go outside and play — your immune system will thank you.