When Should You Take Glutathione?
Your body naturally makes glutathione, a powerful antioxidant important for overall health. Glutathione works mainly in the liver, and it helps prevent cell damage and repair cells that have been damaged due to exposure to oxidative free radicals.
Most healthy people don’t need to take a glutathione supplement, as the body makes enough of the antioxidant on its own. However, supplemental glutathione may benefit people who have a deficiency, including people with AIDS or cystic fibrosis. Learn about glutathione side effects and whether you may benefit from taking glutathione.
While people in overall good health probably won’t benefit from a glutathione supplement, it may help some people who don’t produce enough glutathione naturally. Because of glutathione’s role as an antioxidant, people without enough of it may have more cell damage from free radicals due to a disproportionate amount of oxidative stress. They may experience an enlarged spleen, gallstones or, after many years of deficiency, mental problems.
Other ways a glutathione supplement may benefit the body include:
- Digestion: People without enough glutathione may have problems digesting food properly, leading to weight loss or failure to thrive. Glutathione supplements have been shown to help people with AIDS to better digest food and reverse weight loss. Similarly, people with cystic fibrosis often have weight loss due to malabsorption of nutrients, along with intestinal inflammation. A study found that children with glutathione deficiency who took a supplement experienced less inflammation and better growth.
- Weight management: Older people have a reduced ability to produce glutathione naturally, which can lead to a reduced ability to burn fat, as well as weight gain. One study in mice found that correcting a glutathione deficiency helped the mice burn fat better and reduced their risk of diabetes. The researchers found a similar effect in humans, though they say more study is needed.
- Peripheral artery disease pain symptoms: A study found that an intravenous glutathione supplement helped ease pain in people who had decreased blood flow to their legs due to vascular disease. These people had previously experienced calf pain while walking, but with twice-daily IV glutathione treatment, they could walk farther without pain. However, for most healthy people, the free radicals created by exercise are neutralized by a higher production of antioxidants in their body.
- Anticancer effects: Some studies have shown that glutathione’s neutralization of free radicals may have anticancer and anti-tumor effects. Researchers note that a glutathione supplement is not meant to replace standard chemotherapy treatment for cancer, but it is an antioxidant that needs more study for its potential anticancer effects. Be sure to talk to your doctor before adding a supplement to your diet if you’re undergoing cancer treatment.
- Skin properties: A study showed that taking a low-dose glutathione supplement may help reduce the appearance of wrinkles. It may also have a skin-lightening effect. Researchers in this study suggested glutathione may have an antiaging agent.
Glutathione appears to be safe to take in low doses for a short time. Some people who take an inhaled form of glutathione may experience bronchospasm. This is when the bronchial tubes contract, making it difficult to breathe and potentially causing wheezing or coughing.
Glutathione supplements come in several different forms including oral pills and powder, or as an inhalant, topical treatment or intravenous injection. One study found that the sublingual form (which dissolves under the tongue) was more effective than an oral (swallowed) form.
Additionally, because glutathione is a tripeptide consisting of three amino acids—glutamine, glycine and cysteine—raising the levels of these amino acids can boost your body’s ability to create glutathione naturally. Cysteine is most commonly the amino acid the body doesn’t have enough of, so a cysteine supplement may be just as helpful as a glutathione supplement in some cases. A whey protein supplement can significantly raise your level of cysteine, giving your body the building blocks it needs to make the antioxidant powerhouse.
Always talk to your doctor before adding any supplements to your diet, to discuss possible risks and potential interactions with any medications you may be taking.