The Health Benefits of Glutathione

What GSH Supplements Can and Cannot Do for Your Body

Glutathione, also known as GSH, is a molecule found naturally in your body. Produced by the liver as well as by neurons in the central nervous system, glutathione is made up of three amino acids: L-cysteine, glycine, and L-glutamate.

Glutathione is an antioxidant. It is involved in metabolism of toxins and carcinogens, DNA synthesis and repair, protein and prostaglandin synthesis, amino acid transport, immune system function, prevention of oxidative cell damage, and enzyme activation. Proponents claim that glutathione supplements can help treat and prevent a number of health conditions.

glutathione
Verywell / Alexandra Gordon

Health Benefits

Glutathione is said to protect against a wide range of health problems, including atherosclerosis, Lyme disease, Alzheimer's disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, colitis, high cholesterol, osteoarthritis, alcoholism, asthma, cataracts, diabetes, glaucoma, heart disease, hepatitis, liver disease, and Parkinson's disease.

In addition, glutathione is purported to reverse the aging process, prevent cancer, and preserve memory.

Maintaining optimal levels of glutathione is essential to your health, according to a 2014 report published in Integrative Medicine. The author notes that glutathione plays a key role in antioxidant defense, the breakdown of nutrients, and the regulation of many biological processes (including immune response).

The author also points out that glutathione deficiency contributes to oxidative stress, which in turn influences the development of many diseases (including Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, liver disease, cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, cancer, heart attack, stroke, and diabetes).

While research on the use of glutathione supplements is fairly limited, there's some evidence that glutathione may offer certain benefits when taken in supplement form. But the benefits could be due to the increase in L-cysteine as glutathione is digested into its amino acids. Here's a look at several key findings.

Ulcerative Colitis

Inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis are characterized by oxidative stress, and glutathione is a key antioxidant in gastrointestinal tissue.

Some research suggests that N-acetylcysteine (NAC), a precursor for L-cysteine, which can increase glutathione levels in the body, may aid in the treatment of ulcerative colitis by reducing the impact of oxidative stress and decreasing inflammation in the injured colon.

Cardiovascular Health

In a 2017 study published in Nutrition, researchers found that sublingual glutathione supplementation helped reduce vascular stiffness and lowered total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol with long-term use. Oxidative stress markers remained unchanged in this study.

Autism

A small study published in Medical Science Monitor in 2011 shows a connection between low glutathione levels and autism spectrum disorders. Children with the condition have lower levels of glutathione than their typically developing peers. For the study, 26 children (ages three to 13) with an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis were assigned to eight weeks of treatment with either oral glutathione supplements or transdermal glutathione (a type of treatment that involves delivering active ingredients through the skin).

Results showed that glutathione supplements helped increase participants' glutathione levels to various degrees. The study's authors call for further research to explore the effects of using glutathione supplements.

Skin

A number of personal-care products containing glutathione are marketed for their supposed skin-whitening effects. These products include soaps and creams. However, some people take glutathione supplements for skin-whitening. Although glutathione is often touted as a natural solution for whitening of the skin, there is no scientific support for this claim.

Possible Side Effects

Due to a lack of research, little is known about the side effects of using glutathione supplements. However, there's some concern that the use of glutathione supplements may cause cramping and bloating. In addition, some people may experience allergic reactions to glutathione supplements, such as a rash.

Dosage and Preparation

There is not enough scientific evidence to determine the proper dose when taking a GSH supplement, and some suggest that supplementing with NAC may be more effective. Various doses have been studied in research investigating specific medical conditions. The proper dose for you may depend on several factors, including your age, gender, and medical history.

In some cases, healthcare professionals administer glutathione through use of an IV, typically to treat conditions like atherosclerosis and diabetes. In addition, administering glutathione through an IV is sometimes used to treat the side effects of chemotherapy, hemodialysis treatment, and bypass surgery. Glutathione can be inhaled and given through a nebulizer, or administered by IV for Parkinson's patients.

What to Look For

Glutathione is readily found in certain foods, such as fruits and vegetables. A study published in Nutrition and Cancer found that dairy products, cereals, and breads are generally low in GSH; fruits and vegetables have moderate to high amounts of GSH; and freshly prepared meats are relatively high in GSH.

Glutathione is sold in dietary supplement form, as well. Widely available for purchase online, glutathione supplements and glutathione-containing personal-care products are sold in many natural-foods stores, drugstores, and stores specializing in dietary supplements.

Although glutathione plays a vital role in the body, oral glutathione supplements are digested to the three peptide precursors (cysteine, glycine, and glutamic acid), and the benefits are thought to be due primarily thanks to cysteine. Other supplements, such as N-acetylcysteine (NAC), may provide the cysteine needed to raise glutathione levels in the body in a less expensive way.

According to limited research, increased glutathione production through direct administration and promotion through precursors (such as NAC) has been found clinically helpful in the following conditions: Parkinson's, cystic fibrosis, emphysema, COPD, lead exposure, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and exercise-induced fatigue, among others.

If you're considering the use of glutathione for a condition, make sure to consult your physician before starting your supplement regimen. Self-treating a chronic condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.

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