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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 burns?

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 say:

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 disease.

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.

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