Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant that has gained a lot of attention for its purported health benefits. But what is glutathione, and does it actually affect the body?
Some people swear by its anti-aging properties, while others say that it can treat autism, increase fat metabolism, and even prevent cancer.
Read on for more information about this antioxidant and what the research says about its effectiveness.
Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant found in every cell in the body. It is made of three types of molecules known as amino acids.
Amino acids combine in different patterns to make all of the proteins in the body.
One unique thing about glutathione is that the body is able to make it in the liver, which is not true of most antioxidants.
Glutathione has many important functions, including:
- making DNA, the building blocks of proteins and cells
- supporting immune function
- forming sperm cells
- breaking down some free radicals
- helping certain enzymes function
- regenerating vitamins C and E
- transporting mercury out of the brain
- helping the liver and gallbladder deal with fats
- assisting regular cell death (a process known as apoptosis)
Researchers have found links between low levels of glutathione and some diseases. It is possible to increase glutathione levels through oral or intravenous (IV) supplementation.
Another option is to take supplements that activate the natural glutathione production in the body. These supplements include:
- milk thistle
- N-acetyl cysteine
- superoxide dismutase
Reducing toxin exposure and increasing intake of healthful foods are also excellent ways to naturally increase glutathione levels.
The benefits of glutathione may include:
1. Antioxidant activity
Free radicals may contribute to aging and some diseases. Antioxidants help to counteract free radicals and protect the body from their damaging effects.
Glutathione is a very strong antioxidant, partly because high concentrations can be found in every cell in the body.
2. Preventing cancer progression
However, the same research indicates that glutathione may make tumors less sensitive to chemotherapy, which is a common cancer treatment.
Determining the effects of glutathione on cancer will require more research.
3. Reducing cell damage in liver disease
Hepatitis, alcohol abuse, and fatty liver disease all damage the cells of the liver.
The researchers note that larger studies are needed to confirm this effect.
4. Improving insulin sensitivity
Insulin resistance can result in the development of type 2 diabetes. The production of insulin causes the body to move glucose (sugar) from the blood and into cells that use it for energy.
5. Reducing symptoms of Parkinson’s disease
The findings appear to support injected glutathione as a potential therapy, but there is little evidence about oral supplementation. Further research is necessary to support its use.
6. Reducing ulcerative colitis damage
Like other inflammatory diseases, ulcerative colitis has been linked to oxidative damage and stress.
Determining the effects of glutathione on ulcerative colitis will require more research in humans.
7. Treating autism spectrum disorders
There is some evidence that children with autism have lower levels of glutathione than neurotypical children, or those without autism.
Glutathione is a very strong antioxidant that the body makes and uses every day. Researchers have associated low levels with several medical conditions.
While supplements may be appropriate for some people, they may not be safe for everyone, and they could interact with other medications a person is taking.
Speak with a doctor before starting glutathione supplementation to determine whether it will be safe or effective.