Glutathione: New Supplement on the Block
Cure-All or Snake Oil?
July 30, 2001 -- Who wouldn't like to get their hands on a
naturally occurring substance that acts as an antioxidant, an immune system
booster, and a detoxifier? Something that can help your body repair damage
caused by stress, pollution, radiation, infection, drugs, poor diet, aging, injury, trauma, and
A handful of researchers are saying the antioxidant glutathione
can do all that and maybe more. But can you believe such sweeping claims?
What's the evidence to back them up? Here are what three experts have to
What Is Glutathione?
"Glutathione is a very interesting, very small molecule
that's [produced by the body and] found in every cell," says Gustavo
Bounous, MD, director of research and development at Immunotec and a retired
professor of surgery at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. "It's the
[body's] most important antioxidant because it's within the cell."
Antioxidants -- the most well known of which are vitamins C and E -- are
important for good health because they neutralize free radicals, which can
build up in cells and cause damage. Because glutathione exists within the
cells, it is in a prime position to neutralize free radicals. It also has
potentially widespread health benefits because it can be found in all types of
cells, including the cells of the immune system, whose job is to fight
Glutathione occurs naturally in many foods, and people who eat
well probably have enough in their diets, says Dean Jones, PhD, professor of
biochemistry and director of nutritional health sciences at Emory University in
Atlanta. Those with diets high in fresh fruits and vegetables and
freshly prepared meats are most likely just fine. On the other hand, those with
poor diets may get too little.
What Does Glutathione Do?
The strong antioxidant effect of glutathione helps keep cells
running smoothly. Bounous and another glutathione expert, Jeremy Appleton, ND,
say it also helps the liver remove chemicals that are foreign to the body, such
as drugs and pollutants.
Appleton is chairman of the department of nutrition at the
National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Ore., and senior science
editor for Healthnotes, a database on complementary and alternative medicine
available at newspaper stands and health food stores.
Evidence for the important role that glutathione plays in
health comes from studies in people who are severely ill.
"If you look in a hospital situation at people who have
cancer, AIDS, or other very serious disease, almost invariably they are
depleted in glutathione," says Appleton. "The reasons for this are not
completely understood, but we do know that glutathione is extremely important
for maintaining intracellular health."