Glutathione is a naturally occurring antioxidant that can be found in humans, animals, plants, fungi and some bacteria. It is mainly composed of three amino acids: glutamine, glycine, and cysteine.
It can be found in every human cell and plays an important role in preventing cell damage. As a natural antioxidant, glutathione plays an important role in combating the free radicals that cause cell damage. It’s also a powerful detoxifying agent that helps the body to process harmful chemicals and toxins.
Natural glutathione production can be affected by a number of factors including poor nutrition, environmental toxins, and stress. Glutathione levels also tend to naturally decline as people get older.
To bolster natural production, many people take glutathione supplements. These are available as intravenous injections, inhalants and as oral supplements in the form of tablets or capsules.
Benefits of Glutathione
Besides its natural antioxidant properties, glutathione carries out a number of important processes in the body. Glutathione helps to:
- Make DNA
- Support and enhance immune function
- Form sperm cells
- Break down free radicals
- Improve enzyme function
- Regenerate vitamins C and E
- Transport mercury out of the brain
- Helping the liver and gallbladder process with fats
- Help with regular cell death (known as apoptosis)
Glutathione is also used in skincare and skin lightening products. Since it reduces the natural production of melanin, it can be used to naturally lighten skin tone and reduce the appearance of dark spots and blemishes.
Natural Sources of Glutathione
Glutathione occurs naturally in a range of foods including:
- Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and some greens
- Allium vegetables like garlic and onions
- Lean protein like fish and chicken
Some supplements can also help to increase the body’s natural production of glutathione. These include:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
Reducing oxidative stress
Oxidative stress occurs when there’s an imbalance between the production of free radicals and the body’s ability to fight them off. High levels of oxidative stress can lead to a range of diseases and health problems including diabetes, cancer, and rheumatoid arthritis. As a natural antioxidant, glutathione can help to reduce oxidative stress, which may reduce the incidence of disease and even help to fight the aging process.
May help with liver function
Glutathione is believed to help reduce cell damage for people with liver disease.
Alcoholic and non-alcoholic liver fatty liver disease and hepatitis all cause cell damage in the liver. Glutathione has been shown to improve protein, enzyme, and bilirubin levels in the blood of individuals with chronic fatty liver disease.
Other potential uses
Research suggests that glutathione supplements may also be useful in treating or reducing the severity of symptoms in people with cancer, Alzheimer’s, cystic fibrosis, Parkinson’s disease and autoimmune diseases like HIV/AIDS. However, research is still in its early stages.
Risks and side effects
Long-term glutathione usage has been linked to lower zinc levels. When taken as an inhalant, glutathione may trigger asthma attacks in people who have asthma. It’s also unclear whether glutathione use is safe for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Glutathione skin whitening injections for cosmetic uses may also have side effects due to inexperienced intravenous injection.