What to Avoid When Taking Glutathione
Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant with many health benefits. Depleted levels of glutathione play a role in aging and chronic disease, and restoring glutathione levels may be one way to promote a long, vibrant, and healthy life. That’s something I want, which is why I’m so passionate about this tiny molecule called glutathione.
“Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant with many health benefits. Depleted levels of glutathione play a role in aging and chronic disease, and restoring glutathione levels may be one way to promote a long, vibrant, and healthy life.”
Please keep reading to learn more about this incredible molecule, the benefits of glutathione supplementation (in the correct form), plus when you might want to avoid taking it.
I’ll cover the following:
- What is glutathione?
- Health benefits of glutathione
- Glutathione and skin
- Glutathione supplements
- Glutathione side effects
- How to improve glutathione levels, naturally
Let’s jump in!
What is Glutathione?
Glutathione is a small peptide composed of the amino acid building blocks cysteine, glycine, and glutamic acid (glutamate). Glutathione is known as the master antioxidant and is abundant inside every cell. (Source 1)
As an antioxidant, glutathione has two forms: GSH is the reduced form, and GSSH is the oxidized form. Healthy cells have more GSH. The cell synthesizes GSH from the three amino acids using the methylation cycle, and the cell recycles GSSH back into GSH to keep levels high. The efficiency of these processes may vary due to genetics. (Source 2)
Glutathione plays many roles in the body, including:
- Neutralizing free radicals and reducing oxidative stress
- Liver detoxification
- Regeneration of vitamin C and vitamin E
- Cofactor for antioxidant enzymes
- Transfers mercury out of cells
- Mitochondrial function
- Genetic expression
- Cell proliferation and apoptosis
- Nutrient metabolism (Source 1, 2)
Several dietary factors influence glutathione levels. For example, whey protein found in dairy is a beneficial source of cysteine, and supplemental use increases glutathione levels. Cruciferous vegetables, like Brussels sprouts and broccoli, contain sulfur compounds such as sulforaphane and may increase glutathione enzymes and levels in some groups. (Source 3)
Health Benefits of Glutathione
Low levels of glutathione, or glutathione deficiency, are associated with many chronic diseases, including:
- Parkinson’s disease
- Liver disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Immune system disorders, including lupus and multiple sclerosis
- Alzheimer’s disease (Source 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10)
In addition, people with chronic exposures to toxins, cadmium exposure, and alcohol abuse may have low glutathione levels. (Source 2)
Given its role as a powerful antioxidant, it’s not surprising that low glutathione affects so many body systems. And conversely, higher levels are associated with overall health and longevity. (Source 2, 11)
“Given its role as a powerful antioxidant, it’s not surprising that low glutathione affects so many body systems. And conversely, higher levels are associated with overall health and longevity.”
For more on the health benefits of glutathione, read Glutathione: 14 Benefits of the Master Antioxidant.
Glutathione and Skin
If you google glutathione, you’ll likely come across information claiming glutathione as a skin-lightening agent. In addition to being a powerful antioxidant, glutathione has anti-melanin properties. Melanin is the natural pigment produced by the skin.
There still haven’t been many studies looking at glutathione for skin lightening, and recent reviews of clinical trials suggest inconsistent and inconclusive results. In clinical practice, results tend to be variable and slow to observe. Evidence suggests the lightening effects of glutathione on the skin (from topical or oral use) are likely temporary and reverse when glutathione use stops. (Source 12, 13, 14, 15)
So, while we need more research on the connection between glutathione and skin, antioxidants are essential for skin and total body health. Learn more about antioxidants and skincare here in this article: What Do Antioxidants Do for Skin?
Glutathione is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Let’s look at some of the different types of glutathione supplementation.
- N-acetyl cysteine – N-acetyl cysteine, or NAC, is a supplement that increases glutathione levels. While it isn’t glutathione itself, it contributes cysteine (the rate-limiting amino acid) to the production of glutathione. Production of glutathione from its precursors requires energy and methylation. NAC also has antioxidant properties on its own. (Source 3)
- Intravenous glutathione – IV glutathione bypasses the digestive system and is delivered directly into the veins. While there is some support for this delivery method in Parkinson’s disease and other populations, it can be cost-prohibitive and inaccessible for many people. Additionally, glutathione injections may be hard to access. (Source 3)
- Oral glutathione – An oral dietary supplement is the most common type of glutathione you’ll find on shelves. The downside is that because it’s a peptide, it may break down in the digestive system instead of being absorbed as a complete molecule. Research on oral glutathione raising glutathione levels is mixed. (Source 3)
- Liposomal glutathione – Liposomal glutathione contains glutathione packaged in phospholipids that resemble the body’s cell membranes. Liposomal delivery allows absorption into the body without breakdown in the GI tract.
Liposomal glutathione is more bioavailable than other oral options, with more efficient absorption and delivery to cells. It’s also easier to access and more affordable than IV therapy. (Source 3, 16)
“Liposomal glutathione is more bioavailable than other oral options, with more efficient absorption and delivery to cells. It’s also easier to access and more affordable than IV therapy.”
After one week of supplementation with liposomal glutathione, GSH levels may increase up to 40 percent. (Source 16)
“After one week of supplementation with liposomal glutathione, GSH levels may increase up to 40%!”
Glutathione Side Effects
Glutathione is typically safe at recommended dosages of up to 500 to 1000 mg per day of liposomal glutathione. (Source 3, 16)
There are few reported side effects of glutathione at this dosage, but some people may experience bloating or cramping, although these are less likely with a liposomal delivery. Because glutathione promotes detoxification, some people may experience symptoms related to the mobilization and removal of toxins from the body. To counter this, start at a lower dose and ensure your elimination pathways are working well.
In general, adverse effects have not been observed in human studies. In an animal study to establish acute toxicity, the lethal dose was incredibly high at 5 grams per kilogram body weight, much higher than any available supplemental dose. (Source 17)
Still, some people shouldn’t take glutathione. Since glutathione may interact with some medications or be contraindicated with certain medical conditions, please discuss supplements with your healthcare provider for personalized care. (This article is for information only and is not medical advice.)
Glutathione is typically not recommended during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. Please consult with your provider for guidance.
In addition, do not take glutathione if you are allergic or sensitive to any ingredients in the supplement. Always check labels.
How to Improve Glutathione Levels
There aren’t many things you’ll need to avoid when trying glutathione, but it’s always a good idea to check with your healthcare provider. Here are some natural ways to improve glutathione levels:
- Decrease toxic load. Exposure to toxins depletes glutathione levels, so one way to improve glutathione is to avoid the toxins you can.
- Eat a glutathione-supportive diet. Specific foods contain glutathione or promote glutathione production. These include whey protein, wild salmon, green tea, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, asparagus, avocado, cucumber, green beans, and spinach.
- Take liposomal glutathione. Liposomal glutathione has better bioavailability than other oral options and significantly increases glutathione levels.
Core Med Science Liposomal Glutathione contains 500mg of glutathione per dose in a phospholipid complex derived from sunflower and palm. It’s free of allergens, GMOs, and alcohol, and manufactured in the United States. I recommend starting with two capsules in the morning on an empty stomach.
Glutathione lives up to its name as the master antioxidant. Improving levels inside cells is a strategy for a longer and healthier life.
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