Glutathione

Your cells contain glutathione, which is a substance made from three amino acids: cysteine, glutamate, and glycine.

Glutathione acts as an important antioxidant in your body. That means it helps combat free radicals. These are molecules that can damage your body's cells.

Glutathione plays a role in many chemical reactions in your body. It also helps detoxify chemicals, including some that your body creates naturally, as well as pollutants and drugs.

Your supply of glutathione seems to decrease as you get older, possibly because your body can't create as much. Lower glutathione levels appear to go hand-in-hand with poorer health. For instance, lower levels may play a role in many conditions that are more likely to develop in older people.

Your glutathione levels may also decrease during certain health problems, such as:

Why do people take glutathione?

Some people take glutathione:

  • For its antioxidant power
  • As a detoxification agent
  • To attempt to protect themselves from the harmful effects of radiation and chemotherapy for cancer; there is no evidence that glutathione works in this regard.

People also take glutathione to try to treat weakened immune systems or infertility, as well as many other conditions.

In a small study (40 subjects), glutathione administered intravenously was found to improve pain-free walking distance. 

In fact, taking glutathione by mouth does not appear to be an effective way to get it into your body. In one study, giving healthy people 500 milligrams twice a day for a month didn't raise the level of glutathione in their blood.

Some other studies looking at its health effects have used it in injection form or as a treatment inhaled into the lungs.

Certain other supplements may boost your body's production of glutathione, such as:

Can you get glutathione naturally from foods?

Your body doesn't seem to absorb glutathione well from foods. However, certain foods high in amino acids that contain sulfur may help boost your levels. These include:

  • Unprocessed meat
  • Garlic
  • Broccoli
  • Asparagus
  • Avocados
  • Spinach

What are the risks of taking glutathione?

Side effects. Taking glutathione long-term has been linked to lower zinc levels. Inhaled glutathione may also trigger asthma attacks in people who have asthma. Symptoms may include wheezing.

Risks. Avoid taking glutathione if you're sensitive to it. Experts don't know if taking glutathione is safe during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.

Interactions. Tell your doctor about any supplements you're taking, even if they're natural. That way, your doctor can check on any potential side effects or interactions with any medications.

Supplements are not regulated by the FDA.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Carmen Patrick Mohan on June 15, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

AltMedDex Evaluations: "Glutathione."

Allen, J. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, September 2011.

Rakel, D. Integrative Medicine, 3rd edition.

DRUGDEX Evaluations: "Glutathione."

AltCareDex: "Glutathione."

Borges-Santos, M. Nutrition, 2012.

Mayo Clin Proc.: "Effect of glutathione infusion on leg arterial circulation, cutaneous microcirculation, and pain-free walking distance in patients with peripheral obstructive arterial disease: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial."

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