Glutathione is the body's master antioxidant, a potent molecule that combats oxidative stress in the body to protect our cells from damage. It does this by recycling antioxidants such as vitamin C, quenching free radicals, detoxifying harmful compounds, and shielding cells from reactive oxygen species (1). Glutathione benefits can range far and wide and may include many positive effects such as improved mitochondrial function, anti-aging properties, reduced oxidative stress, anticancer effects, improved antioxidant levels, lowered risk for chronic disease such as heart disease and diabetes, and keeping your body healthy.
5 amazing benefits of glutathione
Supports the detoxification of harmful compounds
Glutathione is your most potent antioxidant but also a detoxifier!
As our world is becoming increasingly toxic, we need adequate glutathione levels more than ever in order to prevent the build-up of toxins in the body from creating damage.
Glutathione can be found majoritively in the liver due to its importance in the detoxification process. This detoxifier is essential for the body to properly eliminate harmful toxins and compounds from the body. It is particularly involved in phase 2 detoxification in the liver, which is commonly compromised leading to various health issues.
Glutathione works by binding onto toxins and transforming them into water-soluble molecules so that they can effectively be flushed by the body.
When it comes to detoxification and the effectiveness of glutathione, it is important to address toxin exposure while also supporting the detoxification and eliminatory organs to do their job properly.
Many times our bodies can be overburdened by too many chemicals and toxins which then increases our need for glutathione.
By decreasing our toxic load we can decrease our need for glutathione and reduce the risk of depleting it.
These chemical toxins can be found in our environment, our food, our beauty products, but also our home, which means there is a lot that we can control.
Reduces oxidative stress
Oxidative stress occurs when there are excess free radicals for the body to handle, resulting in cell and tissue damage.
Have you ever seen an apple turn brown? This is due to oxidation. But squeeze some lemon juice onto the apple and it protects the apple from browning. This is where antioxidants come into play to protect against the effects of oxidation, and the same can occur in the body.
Low levels of glutathione are associated with increased oxidative stress and disease because this molecule is responsible for fighting free radicals as well as preserving and recycling antioxidants in the body (2).
Increased oxidative stress can lead to an increased risk of chronic illness and disease over time such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis (3).
Increases energy production
Energy is produced inside of the cell, and more specifically in our mitochondria, in the form of ATP. Contrary to popular belief, coffee actually isn't needed for energy! ATP is the main energy currency of the body and how cells store energy.
However, if the cells of our mitochondria become damaged, they can become sluggish and produce less energy.
How can we improve energy production inside of the cell? Glutathione!
Glutathione protects the cell against oxidative stress and damage, which is why having sufficient levels is so important for proper cell function and energy.
Protects against the effects of aging
Our body's defence systems can become impaired as we age, increasing the susceptibility to illness and the effects of aging, which may be linked to a decline in antioxidant defence systems.
Free radicals promote oxidative stress in the body which creates damage to tissues, and this can accelerate the aging process.
This is also why you may notice individuals who smoke seem to age more quickly due to increased oxidative stress.
Not only can glutathione help reduce the risk of chronic disease by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress, but it can also help to prevent accelerated aging.
Glutathione has been shown to reduce the signs of aging such as wrinkles while improving skin elasticity (4).
Oxidative stress and free radical production play an important role in age-related diseases which is why antioxidant therapy such as glutathione may be worthwhile for prevention and maintenance (5).
Reduces complications of type 2 diabetes
A study found patients with type 2 diabetes to have significantly lower levels of the antioxidant glutathione (6).
The complications of type 2 diabetes include cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, and blindness as well as increased oxidative stress and inflammation.
Due to its anti-inflammatory effects, dietary supplementation of glutathione can help to reduce oxidative damage caused by chronically high levels of blood sugar in diabetes patients (7).
Reduces cell damage in fatty liver disease
Glutathione has been shown to help in the treatment of alcoholic-associated and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a continually rising issue amongst the population and the most common form of liver disease in North America (8)(9). It is characterized by fat accumulation in the liver which is not caused by alcohol use but instead associated with poor dietary and lifestyle choices.
For this reason, it is commonly diagnosed in overweight individuals and those with metabolic syndrome such as insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes.
Adopting a healthy diet and lifestyle while maintaining a healthy weight are essential parts of treating NAFLD.
However, glutathione may also be a beneficial addition in the treatment of this condition. Its powerful antioxidant properties have proven useful in managing both alcoholic and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease by reducing cell damage in the liver and improving markers of proteins, enzymes, fats, and bilirubin (10)(11).
Improves insulin resistance
The role of glutathione in metabolic health is associated with its ability to fight oxidative damage. Oxidative stress is closely liked to the development of insulin resistance, increasing fat accumulation and decreasing fat burning.
But glutathione may be a part of the solution. The deficiency of this antioxidant is associated with an increased state of oxidative stress and impaired metabolic health among other imbalances.
Correcting a glutathione deficiency has been shown to be particularly effective at improving insulin resistance and the aging process in older adults (12).
As glutathione levels have been shown to decrease with age, oral glutathione supplementation may be especially useful for older populations to help prevent metabolic disturbances such as insulin resistance (13).
Improves mobility for people with peripheral artery disease
Peripheral artery disease refers to the narrowing or blockage of blood vessels that most commonly occurs in the legs and lower extremities. When this happens the extremities of the body don't receive enough blood flow to meet demands due to plaque buildup. PAD in the lower extremities can present itself as weakness or pain during movement.
A study showed that participants who were given glutathione infusions experienced improved leg arterial circulation and a prolonged ability to walk pain-free (14).
Reduces symptoms of Parkinson's disease
Glutathione may be a helpful treatment in the management of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's disease (PD), a medical condition linked to oxidative stress and low levels of glutathione (15).
The implication of oxidative imbalance in the pathogenesis of PD is becoming increasingly evident as this neurological disorder is greatly affected by changes in oxidative balance, highlighting the important role of maintaining good antioxidant status (16).
Though the efficacy of glutathione in the management of Parkinson's needs further research it has shown encouraging evidence in slowing the progression of neurodegenerative conditions by inhibiting oxidative stress and glycation.
May help fight against autoimmune disease
Autoimmune diseases occur due to a disturbance of immune function, where the immune system attacks and damages its own tissues and cells. Glutathione works by eliminating free radicals in the body and combatting oxidative stress, helping to protect our cells from mitochondrial damage. Adequate levels of glutathione will allow for the detoxification of harmful toxins to occur as well as tissue healing, recovery, and improved mitochondrial function.
The effects of glutathione on the immune system have been shown to vary, either stimulating or inhibiting the immunological response in order to control inflammation (17).
Glutathione may play a key role in controlling inflammation in the body and altered concentrations may be associated with autoimmune disorders.
Fight against cancer
Can glutathione help in the fight against cancer? It just might.
Mutations in a cell's DNA is the primary cause of cells becoming cancerous, and maintaining optimal levels of glutathione can help to prevent mutations, detoxify carcinogens and protect the cells from damage (18). Oxidative stress is a contributing factor in the development of cancers and depleted levels of glutathione can further worsen this state of imbalance and have even been associated with cancers (19).
Glutathione depletion may increase the risk of cancer development however excess glutathione can also be problematic and may even promote tumor growth (20). Too much or too little glutathione can lead to problems.
For this reason always verify with your doctor before supplementing with any health condition to ensure it is the right choice for you.
Can you get glutathione naturally from foods?
You bet you can! This compound is unique in that it can be produced by the body but also supplied externally. You can boost glutathione by consuming quality animal protein, cruciferous vegetables, garlic, shallots, almonds, onions, avocado, asparagus, milk thistle, whey protein, and okra.
Good sources of protein are also important as they provide the amino acids and building blocks for the production of glutathione. These amino acids in particular include glutamate, glycine, and cysteine and without them the body will have trouble with glutathione synthesis putting you at risk of elevated levels of oxidative stress.
So is eating food sources of glutathione better than supplementing? It depends.
Though the human body can produce glutathione naturally and obtain it through food, sometimes dietary supplements may be necessary.
The production of glutathione can be impaired through various factors such as aging, drugs, alcohol, chronic stress, poor diet, environmental toxins, and illness and infections.
Dietary supplementation can make a big difference for many people to achieve healthy glutathione levels, especially those dealing with inflammatory conditions or chronic diseases.
What are the risks of taking glutathione?
Adverse effects of taking glutathione are rare as supplementation is generally well tolerated in most individuals. There are precautions to be aware of as is the case when taking any supplement.
Adverse reactions may include skin conditions such as skin rashes but also abdominal cramps and dizziness.
These adverse events or allergic reactions are more typically associated when taking higher doses of the supplement. If you are pregnant, breastfeeding or have any medical condition it is advised to speak with your doctor before starting supplementation.
Dosage and Preparation
The form of glutathione is important to consider when choosing a glutathione supplement.
Glutathione supplements can come in a variety of forms and may include oral supplements such as tablets, softgels, capsules, powders, and liquids.
Glutathione is also available as intravenous glutathione, also known as IV therapy, which is typically recommended for higher doses that may be necessary in order to by pass the gastrointestinal tract and improve cellular glutathione levels by accessing the bloodstream right away.
Liposomal glutathione is said to be the most superior oral form of glutathione supplementation and often recommended if you are not able to go the IV route, because it can more easily make its way into the cell (21).
NAC is also a common supplement given to increase glutathione production because it acts as a precursor to the molecule.
Always consult with your healthcare provider before starting a new supplement regimen.
Laurence Annez is a Certified Nutritional Practitioner and Health Coach, specializing in PCOS and women's hormones. She also holds a degree in Creative Writing and has extensive experience writing on health and wellness topics. Laurence's mission is to inspire and motivate individuals to take control of their own health and reach their ultimate health goals.