Updated on April 10, 2023
Over the last few years, glutathione supplements have been appearing on store shelves and health food websites. So what are the benefits of glutathione supplementation? Does it really help? Whenever a hot new supplement like glutathione hits the market, it is important to consider the research before jumping on the bandwagon.
An abundance of in vitro research supports the use of glutathione. Although there is still a relative lack of large-scale clinical studies on the benefits of glutathione for specific health problems, early research suggests that glutathione might provide nutritional support for a wide variety of health conditions, from neurological health to skin health.*
Glutathione 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). It is the ratio between these two forms that determines its capacity for antioxidation.
Glutathione is 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.*
In vitro research on the benefits of glutathione indicates that it plays a variety of beneficial roles in cellular function, primarily through its activities as an antioxidant.* Glutathione neutralizes several different types of free radicals that can cause cellular and tissue damage, including singlet oxygen radicals, hydroxyl radicals, and superoxide radicals.* Glutathione also plays a detoxifying role by neutralizing the free radicals that are produced during the first phase of liver metabolism.*
These antioxidant activities do not just occur in the cytosol; they are also crucial to the functioning of mitochondria (the organelles involved primarily in cell energy generation) and the protection of mitochondrial DNA from damage.* This beneficial connection between glutathione and mitochondrial function is significant due to the role of the mitochondria in cellular longevity and metabolism—two crucial aspects of health maintenance.
The antioxidant activities of glutathione go beyond its direct function as an antioxidant. Glutathione 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.* Additionally, 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 sufficiently water-soluble 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.* In vitro studies also suggest that glutathione aids in detoxification processes after overexposure to toxic chemicals like paraquat, iron, and hydrogen peroxide.*
The Effectiveness of Glutathione Supplementation
The potential benefits of glutathione are impressive. As with any compound, patients and practitioners must recognize that a supplement might not necessarily have clinically relevant benefits. However, the existing evidence suggests that taking glutathione in supplemental form can have a positive effect on overall patient health.*
In 2015, researchers from Penn State University conducted a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial to determine whether oral glutathione supplementation increased glutathione stores in participants’ cells. The sample included 54 healthy adults who received either a placebo, a daily supplement of 250 mg of glutathione, or a daily supplement of 1,000 mg of glutathione.
The researchers found statistically significant increases in glutathione stores in both glutathione treatment groups after the 6-month study period. This study was 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.* This indicates that supplementation can have clinically significant beneficial effects that directly impact patient health outcomes.*
When it comes to the effectiveness of glutathione supplementation, its naturally low bioavailability is an important concern for both researchers and supplement developers who are interested in the potential health benefits of glutathione supplementation. With recent improvements in delivery technology, researchers have successfully developed innovative systems that enhance the absorption of oral glutathione supplements. By choosing a supplement optimized for bioavailability, patients can maximize the impact of glutathione supplementation.
Thanks to the well-documented antioxidant, detoxifying, and other cell regulatory activities of glutathione, there is growing interest in exploring its impact on specific health conditions and general wellness. Here are several of the most promising findings:
As researchers continue to call for more comprehensive clinical trials on the potential health benefits of glutathione, practitioners and their patients will more fully understand how to harness the wide-ranging activities of this unique compound to support health. Even now, it is possible to take advantage of the existing research and experience the benefits of glutathione supplementation today.
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