Glutathione for Health: Benefits, Supplements, and Safety

Could a simple nutritional supplement be the key to a longer lifespan, healthy aging, and disease prevention? Glutathione is the latest supplement claiming to treat a host of health problems, from heart disease to dementia. But what is it and how does it affect our body?

What is Glutathione?

Glutathione (GSH) is naturally produced in the liver and found in virtually every cell of your body. It is an antioxidant, which means that it combats free radicals—the unstable atoms that can cause damage to cells if they're not kept in check.

Antioxidants like GSH are not a cure-all or fountain of youth. But GSH does appear to go hand-in-hand with better health and disease prevention. Let’s investigate some of the evidence of glutathione benefits to your health and body.

Benefits of Glutathione

Anti-Aging

Low levels of GSH have been linked to age-related conditions, such as heart disease and weakened immunity. A representative study of the elderly found that people with higher levels of GSH had lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and fewer illnesses. The study participants also reported higher levels of well-being.

Increased Lifespan

A study published in the journal Nutrients found that mice given a glutathione supplement lived 24% longer than control mice. Will we find a similar effect in humans? The researchers are currently conducting limited trials on senior citizens. Early results are promising, with participants showing a reduction in some symptoms of aging, like poor memory and muscle weakness. However, the effect of GSH supplements on the human lifespan may take decades to determine.

Diabetes

Diabetes comes with a raft of complications, including kidney problems and nerve damage. GSH supplements could be a promising, non-toxic treatment option for diabetics. In a study of diabetic mice, GSH supplements were shown to improve kidney function and avoid diabetic neuropathy. Further study is needed to confirm the effects in humans.

Heart Disease

GSH appears to reduce blood pressure and the risk of cardiac disease overall. A study published by the American Heart Association showed that glutathione injections widened the participants' blood vessels, reducing the heart’s workload and improving heart health.

Improve Immunity Against Viral Infections

Research from the University of Torino suggests that low levels of GSH may be one of the major causes of the excessive inflammatory response linked to severe COVID-19 symptoms. The results also indicated that increasing GSH levels could reduce the number of symptomatic patients. A similar protective effect was found in a study of influenza patients.

Liver Disease

GSH may help prevent damage to the liver, which in turn may help prevent and treat fatty liver disease. Fatty liver disease is a condition in which fat builds up in the cells of the liver. It can occur due to alcohol misuse or from eating a poor diet and may lead to liver failure. A recent study reported that patients had decreased biomarkers for liver damage after receiving high doses of glutathione IV therapy.

Alzheimer’s Disease

In a study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, researchers tested the effects of glutathione on mice that were genetically modified to develop Alzheimer's disease. After being treated with GSH for ten weeks, the mice performed significantly better on memory tests than mice that received a placebo. Research is ongoing to determine if similar results can be found in humans.

Ovarian Cancer

Glutathione may someday be used to help treat cancer. In a study on the effects of IV glutathione treatment in patients with ovarian cancer, the women were found to have fewer side effects from chemotherapy and better overall survival rates.

Combat Chemotherapy Toxicity

Glutathione acts as a powerful detoxifier, especially for cancer patients. It’s estimated that 60% of chemotherapy patients experience some degree of neurotoxicity, ranging from mild cognitive impairment to dementia. Studies have shown that GSH may have a protective effect on the brain. In the Philippines, the FDA has approved the use of injected GSH to combat neurotoxicity from a certain type of chemotherapy, Cisplatin.

A Caution on Skin Lightening

In the Philippines, glutathione (locally known as “gluta”) is widely used to lighten skin tone. The antioxidant interferes with the production of melanin, a pigment responsible for tanning. In turn, this produces a temporary whitening effect on the skin. But there have been no large-scale studies on the safety of using a glutathione drip or injection for skin lightening.

The Philippine FDA has warned the public against off-label use for skin whitening. It is especially alarming that the beauty industry offers glutathione IV drips and infusions. Only a medical professional should perform IV therapy, at a dosage approved by a doctor.

How to Take Glutathione Effectively

In addition to being produced by the body, GSH supplements can be taken by mouth, intravenously, or topically. When choosing a glutathione supplement, it’s important to note that not all forms of this antioxidant are equal.

Glutathione drip (IV): Most medical research has investigated the use of intravenous glutathione therapy. The dosage of a glutathione drip depends on the condition you are addressing. For example, a higher dose of IV glutathione is recommended for chemotherapy patients. A medical professional can help you assess the correct amount depending on your health concern.

Oral supplements: Studies have indicated that taking glutathione by mouth is not as effective, since it gets broken down by enzymes in the stomach. There’s no standard dosage for oral supplements. More research is needed to determine if the supplements are effective and how much you should take.

Topical glutathione: Glutathione lotions and soaps are for cosmetic purposes only, and do not treat medical conditions.

Is Glutathione Safe?

Current research indicates that you cannot overdose on glutathione, since it's a naturally occurring antioxidant. As always, quality control is of concern. You should choose a health care provider that can guarantee authenticity and a secure cold chain. Any IV therapy poses health risks if it is not safely administered by a healthcare professional. Overall, taking GSH in appropriate amounts from a secure vendor appears to be quite safe.

Are There Glutathione Side Effects?

Reported glutathione side effects include lower levels of zinc. No research has been conducted on pregnant or breastfeeding women. They should avoid using GSH supplements since the risk of glutathione side effects is unknown in this group.

Bottom Line on Glutathione Supplements

The protective and anti-aging effects of glutathione continue to be studied. According to a glutathione expert, Dr. Jeremy Appleton, “Theoretically, there are many very strong arguments in favor of a therapeutic use of glutathione, but….the results have been more of a preliminary nature.” More research is needed to know whether supplements are as effective as the GSH produced naturally in the body.

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