Have you ever wished there was a nutritional superhero that could vanquish harmful free radicals, boost your immunity, and repair the damage caused by the multitude of environmental contaminants you’re exposed to day in and day out? Turns out, this health crusader already exists inside your body! Often called the “Master Antioxidant,” glutathione is a small, yet powerful, molecule made up of three key amino acids—cysteine, glycine, and glutamine—and it’s found in every single cell in your body.
Under optimal circumstances, the body produces all the glutathione it needs. But poor food and lifestyle choices, exposure to environmental toxins, chronic illness, and the use of some medications can deplete your stores. What’s more, the aging process itself can cause your glutathione levels to drop. (1) As a result, most people don’t have adequate levels of this critical nutrient.
Fortunately, there are a number of ways you can increase your glutathione levels. And one surefire way to up the amount of this cell-saving nutrient is with supplementation.
Did you know? Regular moderate amounts of exercise can boost your glutathione levels. Just don’t overdo it. Studies show that high-intensity workouts lasting more than an hour can actually cause your levels to drop. (2)
What are the benefits of Glutathione?
Glutathione’s biggest claim to fame is its role as a free radical fighting super-antioxidant that not only reduces oxidative damage, but also recycles other antioxidants like vitamins C and E. (1) Glutathione has also been found to aid in DNA synthesis, help certain enzymes function, support immune function, and assist in the destruction of old, worn out cells (a process called apoptosis). (3) Taken together, these actions can translate to some real health benefits.
Did you know? Glutathione works with vitamin C to maintain healthy antioxidant levels. (4)
Improves immune function
Whether your body is battling a cold or a chronic illness, glutathione helps keep your immune system in balance, protecting key immune cells and helping them function optimally. (5)
Fosters liver health
Your liver is under constant assault by environmental toxins, alcohol, and a diet lacking in antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables. This can eventually increase your odds of developing fatty liver disease. Pairing healthy lifestyle changes with a daily glutathione supplement has been shown to protect liver cells and help treat nonalcoholic fatty liver disease thanks to its antioxidant and detoxification powers. (6)
Improves insulin sensitivity
If you are living with insulin resistance, you will likely have a glutathione deficiency. (7) Preliminary research suggests that raising glutathione levels may improve insulin sensitivity and enhance metabolic health, especially in older people. (8)
May reduce the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease
Because oxidative damage can increase the risk of Parkinson’s disease, some research suggests that antioxidant properties in glutathione might protect brain cells and reduce symptoms. (9)
Oxidative damage also plays a key role in inflammatory bowel disease, especially colitis. Preliminary research suggests that taking a glutathione supplement may improve some of the damage the disease wrecks on the colon. (10)
Enhances pain-free walking distance in those with peripheral artery disease (PAD)
PAD commonly occurs in smokers and people with diabetes when their peripheral arteries—usually those in the legs—become damaged and clogged with plaque. However, one small study found that glutathione improved circulation and pain-free walking distance when compared to a placebo. (11)
May help those with an autoimmune disease
A glutathione supplement may help with rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease, or lupus. According to one study, glutathione can help regulate inflammation and reduce the oxidative stress that causes cellular damage—two key factors that contribute to all autoimmune conditions. (12)
Choosing the best glutathione supplement
Staying healthy and aging well depends largely on having sufficient amounts of glutathione. But for years, when asked if glutathione supplements were effective, researchers said no. They insisted that supplemental glutathione was readily destroyed by stomach acid and so there was no way to directly boost your levels. Luckily these researchers were wrong!
Recent studies show that glutathione can be directly absorbed either through the intestinal wall or it can be directly taken into the cells within the GI tract. Glutathione can also be broken down into its three individual amino acids and then put back together in the liver. (14)
One clinical trial published in the European Journal of Nutrition showed just how well supplemental glutathione is absorbed. When the researchers measured the participant’s blood levels after supplementing with either 250 mg or 1,000 mg. of glutathione, they discovered that overall glutathione concentrations increased up to 35 percent. Even more impressive was that glutathione levels increased by 250 percent in the cells that line the inner cheek among those taking the higher dose. (5)
Just be aware that, when you go shopping for a glutathione supplement, there are several different types to choose from. What should you take? Glutathione naturally exists in two forms—oxidized or reduced. The reduced form is the active, more stable form and what you should look for in a supplement. While reduced glutathione has traditionally been available in capsule form, newer sublingual and liposomal forms have hit the market. Recent studies suggest that both of these forms can provide superior absorption and bioavailability compared to reduced glutathione. (15)(16) The downside? These new delivery forms can be pricey compared to reduced glutathione.
But don’t just rely on a supplement to supply you with the glutathione you need for good health. Combine it with a glutathione-boosting lifestyle to make sure you’re getting all that this powerful nutrient has to offer.
Disclaimer: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently adopted a position prohibiting supplement manufacturers from marketing N-acetyl-L-cysteine (NAC) products as dietary supplements. At this time, all NAC products will remain available through the Fullscript catalog. Fullscript will be closely following the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) and the FDA for guidance and will not be removing NAC from the catalog until it is mandated. Fullscript’s quality team is continuing to monitor this situation, and should any changes occur, Fullscript will promptly notify practitioners.
- Pizzorno J. Glutathione! Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal. 2014;13(1):8-12.
- Gambelunghe C, Rossie R, Micheletti A, et al. Physical exercise intensity can be related to plasma glutathione levels. Journal of Physiology and Biochemistry. 2001;57(2):9-14.
- Galan N. What are the benefits of glutathione? Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Intl., 10 Dec. 2018.
- Wang Y, Kashiba M, Kasahara E, et al. Metabolic cooperation of ascorbic acid and glutathione in normal and vitamin-deficient ODS rats. Physiological Chemistry and Physics and Medical NMR. 2001;33(1):29-39.
- Richie JP Jr, Nichenametla S, Neidig W, et al. Randomized controlled trial of oral glutathione supplementation on body stores of glutathione. European Journal of Nutrition. 2015;54(2):251-63.
- Honda Y, Kessoku T, Sumida Y, et al. Efficacy of glutathione for the treatment of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease: an open-label, single-arm, multicenter, pilot study. BMC Gastroenterology. 2017;17(1):96.
- Lutchmansingh FK, Hsu JW, Bennett FI, et al. Glutathione metabolism in type 2 diabetes and its relationship with microvascular complications and glycemia. PLoS One. 2018;13(6):e0198626.
- Nguyen D, Samson SL, Reddy VT, et al. Impaired mitochondrial fatty acid oxidation and insulin resistance in aging: novel protective role of glutathione. Aging Cell. 2013;12(3):415-25.
- Smeyne M, Smeyne RJ. Glutathione metabolism and Parkinson’s disease. Free Radical Biology & Medicine. 2013;62:13-25.
- Loguercio C, D’Argenio G, Delle Cave M, et al. Glutathione supplementation improves oxidative damage in experimental colitis. Digestion & Liver Disease. 2003;35(9):635-41.
- Arosio E, De Marchi S, Zannoni M, et al. Effect of glutathione infusion on leg arterial circulation, cutaneous microcirculation, and pain-free walking distance in patients with peripheral obstructive arterial disease: A randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled trial. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 2002;77(8):754-9.
- Perricone C, De Carolis C, Perricone R. Glutathione: A key player in autoimmunity. Autoimmune Review. 2009;8(8):697-701.
- Mahagita C. Roles of meditation on alleviation of oxidative stress and improvement of antioxidant system. Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand. 2010;93 Suppl 6:S242-54.
- Kariya C, Leitner H, Min E, et al., A role for CFTR in elevation of glutathione levels in the lung by oral glutathione administration. American Journal of Physiology. Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology. 2007;292:L1590-1597.
- Schmitt B, Vicenzi M, Garrel C, et al. Effects of N-acetylcysteine, oral glutathione (GSH) and a novel sublingual form of GSH on oxidative stress markers: A comparative crossover study. Redox Biology. 2015;6:198-205.
- Sinha R, Sinha I, Calcagnotto A, et al. Oral supplementation with liposomal glutathione elevates body stores of glutathione and markers of immune function. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2018;72(1):105-11.
- Park S, Karunakaran U, Jeoung NH, et al. Physiological effect and the therapeutic application of alpha lipoic acid. Current Medicinal Chemistry. 2014;21(32):3636-45.
- Whillier S, Raftos JE, Chapman B, et al. Role of N-acetylcysteine and cysteine in glutathione synthesis in human erythrocytes. Redox Reports. 2009;14(3):115-24.
- Sappington DR, Siegel ER, Hiatt G, et al. Glutamine drives glutathione synthesis and contributes to radiation sensitivity of A549 and H460 lung cancer cell lines. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta. 2016;1860(4):836-43.
- Bumrungpert A, Pavadhgul P, Nunthanawanich P, et al. Whey protein supplementation improves nutritional status, glutathione levels, and immune function in cancer patients: A randomized, double-blind controlled trial. Journal of Medicinal Food. 2018;21(6):612-6.