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Glutathione is an antioxidant produced in cells. It’s comprised largely of three amino acids: glutamine, glycine, and cysteine.
Glutathione levels in the body may be reduced by a number of factors, including poor nutrition, environmental toxins, and stress. Its levels also decline with age.
In addition to being produced naturally by the body, glutathione can be given intravenously, topically, or as an inhalant. It’s also available as an oral supplement in capsule and liquid form. However, oral ingestion of glutathione may not be as effectiveTrusted Source as intravenous delivery for some conditions.
Reduces oxidative stress
Oxidative stress occurs when there’s an imbalance between the production of free radicals and the body’s ability to fight them off. Too-high levels of oxidative stress may be a precursor to multiple diseases. These include diabetes, cancer, and rheumatoid arthritis. Glutathione helps stave off the impact of oxidative stress, which may, in turn, reduce disease.An article cited in Journal of Cancer Science and Therapy indicated that glutathione deficiency leads to increased levels of oxidative stress, which might lead to cancer. It also stated that elevated glutathione levels raised antioxidant levels and resistance to oxidative stress in cancer cells.
2. May improve psoriasis
A small studyTrusted Source indicated that whey protein, when given orally, improved psoriasis with or without additional treatment. Whey protein had been previously demonstrated to increase glutathione levels. Study participants were given 20 grams as an oral supplement daily for three months. Researchers stated that more study is needed.
3. 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 studyTrusted Source 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 studyTrusted Source 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.
4. Improves insulin resistance in older individuals
As people age, they produce less glutathione. Researchers at Baylor School of Medicine used a combination of animal and human studies to explore the role of glutathione in weight management and insulin resistance in older individuals. Study findings indicated that low glutathione levels were associated with less fat burning and higher rates of fat storing in the body.
Older subjects had cysteine and glycine added to their diets to increase glutathione levels, which spiked within two weeks, improving insulin resistance and fat burning.
5. 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.
6. Reduces symptoms of Parkinson’s disease
Parkinson’s disease affects the central nervous system and is defined by symptoms such as tremors. It currently has no cure. One older study documented intravenous glutathione’s positive effects on symptoms such as tremors and rigidity. While more research is needed, this case report suggests that glutathione may help reduce symptoms, improving quality of life in people with this disease.
7. May help fight against autoimmune disease
The chronic inflammation caused by autoimmune diseases can increase oxidative stress. These diseases include rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease, and lupus. According to one studyTrusted Source, glutathione helps reduce oxidative stress by either stimulating or reducing the body’s immunological response. Autoimmune diseases attack the mitochondria in specific cells. Glutathione works to protect cell mitochondria by eliminating free radicals.
8. May reduce oxidative damage in children with autism
Several studiesTrusted Source, including a clinical trial reported in Medical Science MonitorTrusted Source, indicate that children with autism have higher levels of oxidative damage and lower levels of glutathione in their brain. 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.
9. May reduce the impact of uncontrolled diabetes
Long-term high blood sugar is associated with reduced amounts of glutathione. This can lead to oxidative stress and tissue damage. A study found that dietary supplementation with cysteine and glycine boosted glutathione levels. It also lowered oxidative stress and damage in people with uncontrolled diabetes, despite high sugar levels. Study participants were placed on 0.81 millimoles per kilogram (mmol/kg) of cysteine and 1.33 mmol/kg glycine daily for two weeks.
10. 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 byproduct of glutathioneTrusted Source.
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.
Glutathione contains sulfur molecules, which may be why foods high in sulfur help to boost its natural production in the body. These foods include:
- cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and bok choy
- allium vegetables, such as garlic and onions
- lean protein, such as fish, and chicken
Other foods and herbs that help to naturally boost glutathione levels include:
- milk thistle
- guso seaweed
Glutathione is also negatively affected by insomnia. Getting enough rest on a regular basis can help increase levels.
A diet rich in glutathione-boosting foods does not pose any risks. However, taking supplements may not be advisable for everyone. Talk to your doctor about glutathione to determine if it’s right for you. Possible side effects may include:
- abdominal cramps
- trouble breathing due to bronchial constriction
- allergic reactions, such as rash
Lifestyle-Related Impacts on Relevant Patient Populations
Nevertheless, when deciding whether or not to integrate glutathione IV therapy into a treatment strategy for a condition like Parkinson’s disease or autism, it is important to recognize some of the other ways that intravenous administration can impact a patient’s life, in the same way that side effects would. Consider the fact that, in all of the studies that have suggested that glutathione can be a valuable therapeutic for patients with Parkinson’s disease, it has been administered at least once or twice a day. On top of the mobility challenges already facing patients with Parkinson’s disease, the obligation to get a daily glutathione IV can make it even harder to maintain an independent lifestyle. This makes oral supplementation an appealing supplement for these patients.
Similarly, while early studies suggest that glutathione administration may have benefits for patients with autism spectrum disorder, it may not be the optimal treatment solution when it comes to the patient’s lifestyle concerns. One of the most common symptoms of autism is a high level of sensory sensitivity, which can make the very process of intravenous drug administration a major challenge for patients and parents alike. Therefore, because of the potential hassle of IV administration, clinicians and parents may want to consider how a complementary oral glutathione supplement may be integrated into the treatment strategy.
The Growing Promise of Oral Glutathione Supplements as Alternatives to IV Therapy
Sponsored AdvertisementOne of the primary reasons scientists initially began exploring glutathione IV therapy, rather than oral supplementation, was that there were concerns about the absorption of glutathione from the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. With early supplements, glutathione was not entering the bloodstream and being transported to the cells that needed it, like those in the brain. However, in recent years, that problem has been resolved by the development of advanced delivery systems for glutathione. Thus, today’s supplements can reach brain cells, and other cells outside the GI tract, so glutathione IV therapy may not actually be necessary. Moreover, these new delivery systems may also help address issues related to the short half-life of glutathione, giving today’s advanced supplements the potential to offer longer-lasting benefits for patients.
While future studies may provide more conclusive data on the side effects of glutathione–whether administered intravenously or orally–today’s clinicians, patients, and parents can be relatively confident that treatment with the compound is unlikely to lead to adverse effects. However, in patient populations for whom daily IV administration may be a significant lifestyle disruption, oral supplementation may be a valuable addition to an effective treatment strategy.
Aebi S, Assereto R, Lauterburg BH. 1991. High-dose intravenous glutathione in man. Pharmacokinetics and effects on cysteine in plasma and urine. European Journal of Clinical Investigation. 21(1):103-10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1907548/
Davids LM, Van Wyk JC, Khumalo NP. 2016. Intravenous glutathione for skin lightening: Inadequate safety data. South African Medical Journal. 106(8):782-6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27499402
Fukugawa NK, Ajami AM, Young VR. 1996. Plasma methionine and cysteine kinetics in response to an intravenous glutathione infusion in adult humans. American Journal of Physiology. 270(2 Pt 1):E209-14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8779940
Hauser RA, Lyons KE, McClain T, Carter S, Perlmutter D. 2009. Randomized, double-blind, pilot evaluation of intravenous glutathione in Parkinson’s disease. Movement Disorders. 24(7):979-83. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19230029
Kern JK, Geier DA, Adams JB, Garver CR, Audhya T, Geier MR. 2011. A clinical trial of glutathione supplementation in autism spectrum disorders. Medical Science Monitor. 17(12):CR677-682. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3628138/
King LA, Horak FB. 2009. Delaying mobility disability in people with Parkinson disease using a sensorimotor agility exercise program. Physical Therapy. 89(4):384-393. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2664996/
Marco EJ, Hinkley LBN, Hill SS, Nagarajan SS. 2011. Sensory processing in autism: A review of neurophysiologic findings. Pediatric Research. 69(5 Pt 2):48R-54R. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3086654/
Otto M, Magurs T, Langland JO. 2017. The use of intravenous glutathione for symptom management of Parkinson’s disease: A case report. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29101773
Pizzorno J. 2014. Glutathione! Integrative Medicine: A Children’s Journal. 13(1):8-12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4684116/
- Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant used by the body to protect against cellular and tissue damage
- Studies suggests that glutathione supplementation can significantly augment the body’s glutathione stores and improve immune function
- Glutathione supplementation may help alleviate symptoms of a wide variety of health conditions, including Parkinson’s disease, gastrointestinal disorders, and autism spectrum disorder while simultaneously having anti-aging effects
Over the last few years, glutathione supplements have been appearing on store shelves and health food websites, raising questions among patients and clinicians alike about the potential benefits of glutathione supplementation. Whenever a hot new supplement like glutathione hits the market, it is important to consider the rigorous research behind the use of the compound for health purposes before jumping on the bandwagon. For glutathione, a relative abundance of in vitro research provides a strong foundation of information about the compound’s broad role in improving human health, and several recent studies have supported the effectiveness of taking it in supplemental form. While there is still a relative lack of large-scale clinical studies on the benefits of glutathione for treating specific health problems, early studies suggest that it may aid in the prevention and/or management of a wide variety of serious conditions, ranging from neurological diseases to aging skin.
The Basics of Glutathione: Structure and Physiological Activities
Sponsored AdvertisementGlutathione is a low-molecular-weight, water-soluble tripeptide consisting of three amino acids: glycine, cysteine, and glutamic acid. It exists in two forms: the reduced form (GSH) and the oxidized form (GSSG), and the ratio between these two forms determines the cell’s redox status—that is, its capacity for antioxidation. Although many patients may not have heard about glutathione until recently, it is actually one of the most abundant compounds in cells; under normal conditions, the concentration of glutathione is comparable to that of glucose, potassium, and cholesterol, a fact that highlights its importance in supporting healthy cell function.
Over the last few decades, in vitro research on glutathione has indicated that it plays a variety of critical roles in cellular function, primarily through its activities as an antioxidant. Glutathione directly neutralizes several different types of free radicals that cause cellular and tissue damage, including singlet oxygen radicals, hydroxyl radicals, and superoxide radicals. It also plays a detoxifying role in the body by neutralizing the free radicals that are produced during the first phase of liver metabolism. Importantly, these antioxidant activities do not just occur in the cytosol; they are also crucial to the functioning of mitochondria (organelles involved primarily in cell energy generation) and the protection of mitochondrial DNA from damage. This key connection between glutathione and mitochondrial function is significant because of the importance of the mitochondria in cellular longevity and metabolism—two crucial aspects of health maintenance.
It is important to note, however, that the antioxidant activities of glutathione go beyond its direct function as an antioxidant. The compound also serves as an essential cofactor for several antioxidant enzymes, which means that its presence is necessary for these enzymes to carry out their own antioxidant activities. In addition, glutathione is a necessary component of the regeneration pathways for two other major antioxidants: ascorbate (vitamin C) and tocopherol (vitamin A).
Glutathione is also involved in detoxification processes. For instance, in the second phase of liver metabolism, glutathione is required for the conjugation of toxic intermediates, rendering them water-soluble enough for excretion by the kidneys. Another detoxifying activity of glutathione is the removal of mercury from cells throughout the body, including neurons in the brain. There is also evidence from in vitro studies that glutathione may aid in detoxification processes after overexposure to toxic chemicals like paraquat, iron, and hydrogen peroxide.
Finally, glutathione has been implicated as a possible regulator of cell proliferation and apoptosis, suggesting that the compound may have significant anticarcinogenic effects. As early as the mid-1990’s, scientists recognized that glutathione had anticancer properties, and in vitro research highlighted some of the molecular mechanisms through which this role may be mediated. Specifically, glutathione impacts the expression levels of p53, a protein with connections to multiple cancer-related cell-signaling pathways. It is also associated with the inhibition of tumor angiogenesis. Based on these observations, glutathione is now considered a promising all-natural candidate for cancer prevention and/or treatment.
The Effectiveness of Glutathione Supplementation
Sponsored AdvertisementClearly, there is a wide range of benefits of glutathione for individual cells the body as a whole. However, as with any compound, patients and practitioners must recognize that taking a supplement may not necessarily have clinically relevant benefits. Excitingly, with glutathione, the early evidence suggests that taking glutathione in supplemental form can have a positive effect on overall patient health.
Most notably, in 2015, a group of researchers from Penn State University conducted a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial to determine whether oral glutathione supplementation actually increased glutathione stores in patients’ cells. The sample included 54 healthy adults who received either a placebo, a daily supplement of 250mg of glutathione, or a daily supplement of 1000mg of glutathione. The researchers reported statistically significant increases in glutathione stores in both of the glutathione treatment groups after the six-month-long study period. This study served as the first-ever demonstration that daily supplementation can lead to higher stores of glutathione in the body. Importantly, the researchers also observed multiple improvements in immune function, including a twofold increase in natural killer cell cytotoxicity in patients who took the higher dose of glutathione, which indicates that supplementation can have clinically significant effects that directly impact patient health outcomes.
When it comes to the effectiveness of glutathione supplementation, the naturally low bioavailability of the compound has remained an important concern for both researchers and supplement developers who are interested in the potential health benefits of glutathione supplementation for patients. With recent improvements in delivery system technology, researchers have successfully developed innovative systems that have significantly enhanced the absorption of oral glutathione supplements. By choosing a supplement that has been optimized for bioavailability, patients can maximize the impact of glutathione supplementation on their cellular stores of the compound.