When it comes to antioxidants, glutathione might not be the most well known, but it deserves more attention. Our bodies produce glutathione, also known as GSH, and use it for tissue repair, building the immune system and preventing cell damage.
Let’s take a closer look at what exactly glutathione is and glutathione benefits you should know about.
What Is Glutathione?
GSH is made up of three amino acids—glycine, glutamate and cysteine—and has been cited as useful in managing several health issues, including cataracts, glaucoma, liver disease, hepatitis, osteoarthritis, heart disease, dementia and anemia (1). Lylen Ferris, a naturopath in Portland, Oregon, calls glutathione “one of the most powerful antioxidants naturally produced in the body.”
5 Glutathione Benefits
While natural health practitioners tend to be big fans of GSH, peer-reviewed scientific studies to support such a wide range of uses are limited. There is, however, solid data to support these five major glutathione benefits from this super supplement:
Improves insulin resistance: GSH is involved in metabolizing insulin and regulating blood glucose levels, making it a popular supplement for diabetics. Research published in the journal Diabetes Care found that patients with uncontrolled Type 2 diabetes had severe deficiencies in glutathione synthesis and supplementation helped restore that function (2). A 2018 animal study found that using glycine supplements to correct GSH deficiencies helped improve insulin sensitivity (3).
Reduces inflammation: Given that inflammation depletes GSH, it makes sense that glutathione supplementation could help control inflammation. Studies have linked glutathione to regulating inflammation (4, 5). Maintaining normal GSH levels could also help protect against inflammatory diseases.
“[Glutathione] plays a critical role in the body’s defense system against oxidative stress by directly neutralizing free radicals [and] maintaining the activity of vitamins C and E,” explains Ferris.
Research published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that supplements helped restore GSH levels and reduce levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation, in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (6).
Alleviates side effects from cancer treatment: For cancer patients, glutathione can help reduce the toxic side effects of chemo. Patients with gastric cancer who received GSH via intramuscular injection showed a significant reduction in hemo-transfusion requirements and treatment delays, according to research published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology (7). In patients with ovarian cancer, one study found that administering GSH in conjunction with chemotherapy allowed health care providers to use higher doses of drugs while minimizing chemo’s debilitating side effects (8).
Helps burn fat: GSH helps control the oxidation of fat. When our bodies are deficient, we store more fat and burn less. For older adults, who find it harder to lose weight and are more apt to be GSH-deficient, supplementation helped restore fat-burning abilities, according to researchers at Baylor College of Medicine (9). Within 14 days, adults taking supplements boosted their metabolisms and improved their fat oxidation so it was on par with that of younger adults.
Reduces oxidative stress: Ferris notes that chronic exposure to toxins, such as smoke, radiation, chemicals and food additives, leads to an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants, including glutathione. The result is oxidative stress, which has been linked to a host of health conditions.
GSH supplements can help our bodies fight off free radicals, reducing the risks of developing diseases ranging from rheumatoid arthritis and asthma to cancer and liver disease, according to Ferris.
“Glutathione helps stave off the impact of oxidative stress, which may, in turn, reduce disease,” she says.
Ways to Boost Glutathione
Glutathione contains sulfur molecules, so Ferris recommends eating foods high in sulfur, including eggs, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, and alliums like garlic and onions, to boost the natural GSH production. If a supplement is needed, a glutathione supplement is best, but Ferris notes that taking its building blocks, cysteine, L-glutamine (which converts to glutamate) and glycine, may also be beneficial. Vitamins C and E could help, too.
Glutathione Side Effects
Although GSH might offer health benefits, supplements should be taken with care. Ferris cautions against taking glutathione while pregnant or breastfeeding. In addition, asthmatics should not use the inhaled version of the supplement. To reduce common side effects like gas and bloating, take supplements at least 30 minutes before eating.
How to Choose a Glutathione Supplement
When choosing a glutathione supplement, Ferris suggests looking for liposomal, reduced glutathione for the best absorption, and liquid formulas might be better absorbed than powders or capsules. GSH can also be injected or inhaled. The most effective delivery depends on the condition being treated and the health of the patient. Common doses range from 250 to 1,000 milligrams per day. Your health care provider can recommend the right dose and delivery method to meet your health goals.