Glutathione: The ins, outs and benefits of this antioxidant

Glutathione, or GSH, is an antioxidant that is growing in popularity among naturopaths and doctors of Western medicine alike, and for good reason. This powerful compound has some significant functions within the body which include scavenging free radicals, high amounts of antioxidant activity and detoxification to name a few.

What is Glutathione GSH?

This antioxidant is produced by every cell in the body and is primarily made of three major amino acids: glycine, glutamine, and cysteine. Not only is it produced by every cell of the body, but it can also be taken in through supplement form either intravenously, as an inhalant, oral glutathione supplements, through glutathione injections, or topically as well as being present in some foods. This is a good thing because glutathione deficiency is something that can happen in the body.

Ironically, though glutathione is essential to health it is not classified as an essential antioxidant, this is because it is produced in the body by glycine, glutamine, and cysteine. The term essential typically refers to a nutrient that is needed but not made in sufficient amounts by the body. Therefore, while glutathione is essential to health it is not an essential nutrient.

Glutathione’s primary miraculous function in the body is its ability to fight free radicals. Free radicals are molecules that are naturally formed in the body through diet and our environment. They have the ability to damage healthy cells within the body which can result in a multitude of negative health outcomes. So, naturally, we want to prevent their replication in our bodies.

Glutathione benefits

The benefits of glutathione are innumerable and shocking. Uses for glutathione in supplement form is just as lengthy and diverse. From the simplest treatment of psoriasis to helping prevent or improve liver disease, glutathione most likely has a health benefit to offer anyone striving for better health.

Reduces oxidative stress
What is oxidative stress? It is stress or damage to healthy cells caused by free radicals in the body. When there becomes an imbalance between the free radical fighting antioxidants and free radicals the outcome is oxidative stress which may result in many harmful effects on the body including cancer. Since glutathione is in every cell in the body, its antioxidant properties help to protect against oxidative stress, but if levels are depleted issues may arise.

Reduces cell damage in fatty liver disease

There is two types of fatty liver disease, alcoholic and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. They manifest in different ways and treatment options are also generally different between the two. However, glutathione works equally in both diseases to decrease the damage that either type may cause in the liver. Protein, liver enzymes, and bilirubin levels improve in both cases when glutathione is given. Cell death from a deficiency in antioxidants can also lead to damage to liver cells which results in fatty liver disease as well. But glutathione is shown to prevent cell death in the liver. Essentially, glutathione can both prevent and treat these forms of liver disease.

Reduces symptoms of Parkinson’s disease
Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a terribly life-altering disease. It is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects the central nervous system that manifests in tremors, gait and balance issues, and limb rigidity. Research is beginning to show that glutathione may have a positive impact on certain symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. When given intravenously, glutathione has been shown to reduce tremors and rigidity in PD patients. This is a hopeful finding for the potential to improve quality of life for those living with PD. Glutathione also supports mitochondria which provide energy to cells. This support can prevent cell death which makes them neuroprotective and able to slow the progression of PD.

Improves insulin resistance in the elderly
Glutathione levels in the body decrease naturally with age. When glutathione levels drop fat burning decreases and insulin resistance ensues. Studies have shown that when a diet rich in cysteine and glycine is eaten that glutathione levels will increase. This then resulted in an increase in fat burning and a decrease in insulin resistance.

Increases mobility for people with peripheral artery disease
Peripheral arteries are the arteries that are located in areas other than the heart and abdomen. They are primarily in the arms, legs, feet, and hands. The clogging of these arteries by plaque is referred to as peripheral artery disease (PAD). This can lead to a loss of circulation in these arteries and limbs, chiefly the legs. Glutathione can improve circulation in these areas which will improve quality of life for PAD patients. This is an encouraging finding for those living with neuropathy caused by PAD.

Possible benefits of Glutathione

It seems as though research is finding new ways in which glutathione can and does benefit specific disease states and overall health. The presence of glutathione in cells has a two-fold benefit; it keeps them working properly and protects them from damage or death. While there are many known benefits of glutathione there are still some being researched and developed, but the findings are encouraging.

May improve psoriasis

Psoriasis speeds up the life cycle of skin cells resulting in dry, itchy, patches on the skin. While it may not be a terminal diagnosis it can be a life-altering diagnosis. For anyone suffering from psoriasis, any relief is welcomed. While more research is still needed, some findings are showing that whey protein can increase glutathione levels. Why is this important? Because when participants in a study consumed 20 grams of whey protein a day their glutathione levels increased so much that their psoriasis showed improvement.

May help fight against autoimmune disease
An autoimmune disease is a disease in which the body’s own immune system attacks itself. There are over 100 known autoimmune diseases. These diseases often cause chronic inflammation in the body. One main factor of autoimmune disease is their attack on the mitochondria of cells, but glutathione has a protective effect on the mitochondria. Glutathione may also reduce the body’s immune response, this helps in autoimmune disease because often these diseases cause the immune system to be overly responsive to the point it attacks things that are not foreign or dangerous.

May reduce oxidative damage in children with autism
Children with autism may have higher levels of oxidative damage. As has already been discussed a major benefit of glutathione reduces oxidative damage. This oxidative damage is the result of lower levels of glutathione in the brain among children with autism. This can lead to vulnerability of neurological damage. One eight week study showed that transdermal application of glutathione led to a decrease in oxidative damage.

May reduce the impact of uncontrolled diabetes
One side effect of diabetes is an increase in blood sugar (glucose) levels. This long-term rise in glucose will cause glutathione levels to plummet, which in turn leads to oxidative damage and stress in the body. A study showed that those with uncontrolled diabetes who took cysteine and glycine supplements saw an increase in glutathione and reduce the impact of uncontrolled diabetes

May reduce respiratory disease symptoms
A well-known byproduct of glutathione is N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC). NAC is an effective treatment for those with respiratory illnesses. Specifically, it assists with thinning the thick mucus that is common among individuals with asthma and cystic fibrosis. This thick mucus makes it difficult to breathe. With an increase of glutathione, the body will also have an increase in NAC, which may lead to improved breathing among those with respiratory illnesses or disease.

Natural Glutathione booster

Why does glutathione need a boost? There are many factors that can cause glutathione in the body to be depleted. Aging, ongoing stress, environmental toxins, antibiotic overuse, injuries, radiation treatment, infections, and even artificial sweeteners are all major culprits of glutathione exhaustion in the body. Luckily there are ways this nutrient can be increased.

Beef Liver

Not a food that is very popular as a meal these days, but it should be considered when trying to improve glutathione levels through food. Studies have shown that beef liver may actually be more effective in increasing glutathione production in the body than glutathione supplements. Beef liver is also an excellent source of iron.

Milk Thistle
Silymarin is a flavonoid compound found in Milk Thistle that gives it it’s immune boosting health benefits. However, Milk Thistle can be praised in and of itself for its ability to increase glutathione in the body. It is especially powerful in preventing a decrease of glutathione when alcohol is consumed, which is known to decrease glutathione levels.

Whey Protein
This type of protein may have more benefits than just helping you gain muscle or lose weight by acting as a meal replacement. Studies have shown when glutathione is depleted due to an immune response that whey protein can help replenish those levels. It is also thought to be a better way of increasing glutathione in cancer patients, increasing metabolism, and reducing appetite than supplementation. Quality of the protein does matter. Try to find a whey protein that is organic, hormone and pesticide free, free of artificial sweeteners, gluten-free, and non-GMO (Genetically Modified Organism).

Sulfur Foods
Some amino acids contain sulfur; primarily methionine, cysteine, homocysteine, and taurine. They have many important functions within the body. Uniquely, it has long been known that when glutathione levels in the body are low that these amino acids also become depleted in the liver and lungs.
Eating sulfur-rich foods will help boost both of these nutrients. Sulfur-rich foods include vegetables like bok choy, arugula, watercress, turnips, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, and kale. Load up on these to help increase your glutathione levels.

This antioxidant is actually required by the body to be able to create glutathione. Foods that are high in selenium range from something you would normally keep in your pantry or refrigerator too much less common, but equally tasty. Some foods that you may not generally have, but are high in selenium are sardines, yellowfin tuna, and halibut. However, turkey, chicken, eggs, spinach, and grass-fed beef also top the list.

Vitamin C & E
These two vitamins are quite important to boosting glutathione levels. Vitamin C is most essential is raising glutathione levels in lymphocytes and red blood cells. While vitamin E actually works with glutathione to prevent oxidative damage. And they are found in some pretty great foods. Oranges, red and green peppers, strawberries, kiwi, and grapefruit are all rich sources of vitamin C. The sweet potato is a little-known source of vitamin E, while other sources include spinach, olive oil, and almonds.

Methylation Nutrients
Methylation occurs when a methyl group, which is three hydrogen atoms and a carbon atom, attach to another molecule. These methyl groups are important for many processes in the body such as stress response, inflammation response, DNA repair, and most significant to this topic, glutathione production, and recycling. If methyl groups in the body are in short supply these processes can be interrupted. To improve methylation in the body it is important to take in folate-rich foods. Asparagus, spinach, garbanzo and pinto beans, as well as liver and beets are all folate-rich foods that can increase methylation in the body and thereby increase glutathione.

Glutathione review

This antioxidant can be found in every cell in the body and can be increased through supplementation or food. When taken in supplement form it is known as L-glutathione, reduced glutathione or GSH. Doses between 500 to 1000 mg have been studied for up to six months and seem to be well tolerated. Whether trying to fight off a psoriasis issue or desiring to increase the quality of life from Parkinson’s disease, glutathione seems to be able to handle it all. It is no surprise that glutathione with its high amounts of antioxidants actively improves health outcomes. Glutathione is only being used as a health benefit. More recently, glutathione injections have been used by people to whiten their skin, despite the risks associated with it.

Final Thoughts

Glutathione is categorized as a supplement; therefore, it does not require approval or regulation by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This can often be off-putting for someone seeking a decent supplement. Glutathione, however, has proven its health benefits over many years and has proven itself to be quite the miracle compound. Speak with your healthcare provider to determine if glutathione can help you take control of any health concerns you are facing.

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