Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant that is naturally produced by the body. It’s one of the most talked about supplements nowadays, as it provides a long list of benefits — from helping prevent oxidative damage to improving skin health and protecting the immune system.
It’s also found in, and used by every cell and tissue in the body, making it a vital molecule for a number of physiological processes.
However, there’s a variety of factors that may deplete your body’s glutathione levels over time, resulting in a number of health issues, including a weakened immune system, cell mutations and higher susceptibility to cancer.
Read on to find out more about the importance of this natural antioxidant and the ways to maintain normal levels of it in your body.
What Is Glutathione?
Glutathione is a small tripeptide molecule that’s made up of three amino acids: glutamate (aka glutamic acid), cysteine and glycine.
Glutathione is often labeled as the “master antioxidant” or “mother of all antioxidants,” as it helps recycle and maximize the function of other antioxidants, such as vitamin C, vitamin E, coenzyme Q10, and alpha-lipoic acid.
There are two forms of glutathione: the reduced glutathione (GSH), which is also called L-glutathione, and the oxidized glutathione (GSSG).
When the GSH molecules exert their antioxidant effects on the reactive oxygen species, they oxidize and turn into GSSG.
The commercial glutathione products available today contain reduced glutathione since this is the active form. This is why the term “L-glutathione” is sometimes interchanged with glutathione.
According to a study published in the Journal of Integrative Medicine, the ratio of GSH to GSSG determines the cellular redox status. A ratio of 1-to-10 means that the cells are exposed to oxidant stress.
Even though glutathione is naturally synthesized in your cells, your body’s levels of it may still decrease, especially as you age.
Glutathione also does not act alone in your body — it needs coenzymes to perform its various enzymatic roles.
Your glutathione levels may also be affected by certain diseases, such as cancer, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), Type 2 diabetes, hepatitis and Parkinson’s disease.
Other external factors that may deplete this essential substance include:
- Poor diet
- UV radiation
Some people turn to oral glutathione supplements in capsule or liquid form to optimize their glutathione levels. One type of glutathione supplement that’s said to be formulated for optimum absorption is the liposomal glutathione.
These supplements include:
- milk thistle
- N-acetyl cysteine
- superoxide dismutase
Keep in mind, though, that oral supplementation is expensive and may not be effective, since glutathione is broken down in the intestines, thereby preventing it from entering the cells intact. Glutathione is also given intravenously, intramuscularly, topically or as an inhalant.
One of the best ways to increase your glutathione levels is by eating foods that help boost its production in your body, particularly those that contain high amounts of sulfur, like high-quality whey powder.
Top 6 Benefits of Glutathione to Your Well-Being
Glutathione provides a wide array of health benefits, thanks to its powerful antioxidant properties. Some of these benefits include:
1. Help fight oxidative stress — Low levels of glutathione have been linked to high oxidative stress, which may lead to a number of serious health issues, like diabetes, cancer, and rheumatoid arthritis, to name a few. Studies have shown that maintaining normal glutathione levels may help protect the body against oxidative damage.
2. Helps control inflammation — According to a 2009 study published in the journal Autoimmunity Reviews, glutathione may help regulate inflammation by stimulating or inhibiting your body’s immunological response.
3. Help keep age-related health problems at bay — Research shows that improving glutathione synthesis through higher dietary cysteine intake may help stave off age-related health issues, as it has a favorable effect on muscle and vascular health, bone density, and cognitive function.
4. Helps in the management of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease — Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease are both linked to oxidative stress and low levels of glutathione. Increasing the amount of this antioxidant in your body may help slow or ameliorate the progression of these neurodegenerative disorders.
5. Helps fight infections — According to a 2013 study published in Biochimica Et Biophysica Acta, glutathione may help fight against microbial, viral and parasitic infections while enhancing the functional activity of immune cells and improving your innate and adaptive immunity.
6. Aids in the management of autism — Study shows that children with autism have lower levels of glutathione, putting them at a higher risk of neurological damage caused by oxidative stress.
7. May reduce oxidative damage in children with autism
Several studies, including a clinical trial reported in Medical Science Monitor, indicate that children with autism have higher levels of oxidative damage and lower levels of glutathione in their brains. This increased susceptibility to neurological damage in children with autism from substances such as mercury.
The eight-week clinical trial on children aged 3 to 13 used oral or transdermal applications of glutathione. Autistic symptom changes were not evaluated as part of the study, but children in both groups showed improvement in cysteine, plasma sulfate, and whole-blood glutathione levels.
8. May reduce respiratory disease symptoms
N-acetylcysteine is a medication used to treat conditions such as asthma and cystic fibrosis. As an inhalant, it helps to thin mucus and make it less paste-like. It also reduces inflammation. N-acetylcysteine is a byproduct of glutathione.
9.Increases mobility for people with peripheral artery disease
Peripheral artery disease occurs when the peripheral arteries become clogged by plaque. It most commonly happens in the legs.
One study reported that glutathione improved circulation, increasing the ability of study participants to walk pain-free for longer distances.
Participants receiving glutathione rather than a saline solution placebo were given intravenous infusions two times daily for five days and then analyzed for mobility.
10.Reduces cell damage in alcoholic and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
Cell death in the liver may be exacerbated by a deficiency in antioxidants, including glutathione. This can lead to fatty liver disease in both those who misuse alcohol and those who don’t.
Glutathione has been shown to improve protein, enzyme, and bilirubin levels in the blood of individuals with alcoholic and nonalcoholic chronic fatty liver disease.
A study reported that glutathione was most effective when given to people with fatty liver disease intravenously, in high doses. Participants in the study also showed reductions in malondialdehyde, a marker of cell damage in the liver.
Another small study found that orally administered glutathione had positive effects on people with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease following proactive lifestyle changes. In this study, glutathione was provided in supplement form in a dose of 300 milligrams per day for four months.
Glutathione is found in some foods, although cooking and pasteurization diminish its levels significantly. Its highest concentrations are in:
- raw or very rare meat
- unpasteurized milk and other unpasteurized dairy products
- freshly-picked fruits and vegetables, such as avocado, and asparagus.