What Is 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 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, from heart disease to Alzheimer's disease.

This article reviews what GSH is, what it does, and what health benefits it may have.

glutathione
Verywell / Alexandra Gordon

What Is GSH?

Glutathione is an antioxidant, a molecule that helps fight free radicals.

Free radicals are unstable molecules that form in response to factors like your diet and the environment. When more free radicals exist than antioxidants, oxidative cell damage occurs. This can lead to inflammation and a variety of health issues ranging from high blood pressure and diabetes to Alzheimer's disease and more.

Antioxidants are critical as they help keep things in healthy balance. Your body makes some antioxidants, but others comes from external sources like your diet or supplements like GSH.

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, a compound with hormone-like effects
  • Activation of enzymes

Glutathione also helps with the breakdown of nutrients and the regulation of important body processes, such as the immune response.

What Is Glutathione Used For?

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:

Recap

GSH is an antioxidant that help balance free radicals. 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.

Can Glutathione Help Autism?

A small study published in Medical Science Monitor in 2011 shows a connection between low glutathione levels and autism spectrum disorders.

For the study, 26 children ages 3 to 13 with an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis were assigned to eight weeks of treatment. They received either oral glutathione supplements or a glutathione-containing skin lotion.

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 for those with autism spectrum disorders.

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 of GSH. Some suggest that supplementing with N-acetylcysteine (NAC, or whey) 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, sex, and medical history.

In some cases, healthcare professionals administer glutathione through use of an IV to treat atherosclerosis, diabetes, Parkinson's disease, and side effects of chemotherapy. hemodialysis, and bypass surgery.

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

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

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. Fuits and vegetables have moderate to high amounts of GSH, and freshly prepared meats are relatively high in GSH.

Glutathione dietary supplements and personal care products are widely available for purchase online and in many natural-foods stores, drugstores, and vitamin shops.

Although glutathione plays a vital role in the body, the benefits are thought to be primarily due to the cysteine that helps form it. 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, increasing the body's glutathione through diet or supplements can help with certain health conditions.

Recap

Glutathione is found in many foods, especially fruits, vegetables, and meats. Supplemental GSH can be delivered in a variety of ways, including orally (pills or capsules), by IV, or even inhalation treatments. Your healthcare provider will help decide which method is best for you.

Summary

As an antioxidant, glutathione helps your body balance free radicals and stay healthy. It works at the cellular level to prevent inflammation and other cell damage that can make you sick.

GSH is found in certain foods, but can also be taken as a dietary supplement. Talk to your healthcare provider before starting any new dietary supplements.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What does glutathione do for the body?

    Glutathione is an antioxidant that fights free radicals, molecules that cause cellular damage. Glutathione also helps to break down nutrients, activate enzymes, produce proteins, repair DNA, inactivate toxins, and regulate the immune system. 

  • What are the benefits of taking glutathione?

    Low glutathione levels are liked to several diseases and conditions, including Alzheimer’s and dementia, cancer, chronic liver disease, diabetes, hypertension, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis. However, there is limited research to support the use of glutathione supplements for treating any condition.

  • Does glutathione lighten skin color?

    Possibly. Glutathione is marketed overseas as a skin-lightening agent, but a 2019 review of published studies said the evidence for that use was inconclusive. However, the review noted glutathione appears to brighten skin tone when applied topically prior to light exposure.

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6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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