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. It is produced by the liver and by neurons (nerve cells) in the central nervous system. Glutathione is made up of three amino acids: L-cysteine, glycine, and L-glutamate.

Proponents claim that glutathione supplements can help treat and prevent a number of health conditions. This article reviews what GSH is, what it does, and some of the health benefits it provides to the body.

glutathione
Verywell / Alexandra Gordon

What is GSH?

For the body to function properly and stay healthy, it's important to have a balance of antioxidants and free radicals (a type of oxygen-containing molecule in the body). When this balance is gone, and more free radicals exist, these molecules can cause what is called oxidative cell damage.

Glutathione is an antioxidant that helps keep the necessary balance in place. In addition to being an antioxidant, GSH also plays a part in your body's:

  • Metabolism of toxins and cancer-causing substances
  • Natural creation and repair of DNA
  • Production of protein and prostaglandin
  • Activation of enzymes

Glutathione also helps with the breakdown of nutrients, and the regulation of many biological processes (including immune response).

Health Benefits of GSH

Glutathione is purported to reverse the aging process, prevent cancer, and preserve memory. It is also said to protect against a wide range of health problems, including:

GSH is an antioxidant that help balance free radicals in our bodies. Having too many free radicals can cause damage at the cellular level, which is how many diseases start. Antioxidants like GSH can help prevent diseases that result from inflammation caused by oxidative stress.

Ulcerative Colitis

Inflammatory bowel diseases like 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 (under the tongue) 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 autism have lower levels of glutathione than their peers without autism. 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—like a patch or gel).

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 to treat:

For some conditions, glutathione can also be inhaled and given through a nebulizer.

While glutathione is found in many foods, some people don't get enough in their diet. Supplemental GSH can be delivered in a variety of ways, including orally (pills or capsules), by IV, or even inhaled. Your doctor will help decide which method is best for you.

Sources of GSH

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.

Summary

As an antioxidant, glutathione helps our bodies balance free radicals and stay healthy. It works at the cellular level to prevent inflammation and other cell damage that can make us sick. GSH is found in certain foods, but can also be taken as a dietary supplement. Talk to your doctor before starting any new dietary supplements.

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