The Master Antioxidant: Glutathione Sources, Benefits, Side Effects, and Treatments


By Justine Stenger,
Nutritionist of BodyBio

Glutathione is known as the Master Antioxidant. With such an eyepopping nickname, you might naturally be wondering just what glutathione is and how it earned such a prodigious designation. In this piece, I’ll cover the basics of glutathione: what it is, the benefits and side effects, and the conditions that glutathione treats.  

What is glutathione? 

Glutathione is the body’s most formidable antioxidant. Antioxidants are essential as they combat free radicals within the body. Many nutrients in the body serve a particular function, and we only really require a finite amount of them. Glutathione, however, has multiple roles within the body and is vital in fighting oxidative stress, mercury, alcohol, and organic pollutants. As the mention of alcohol might have indicated, within the body, glutathione is produced in the liver, which is actually rare among most antioxidants. Three amino acids predominantly make up glutathione: glutamine, glycine, and cysteine. We primarily receive the necessary precursors for your body to produce glutathione from amino acids, sulfur-rich & selenium-rich foods, or through supplementation. 

Glutathione supports the immune system, supercharges our detoxification pathways, produces energy, and helps cells communicate with one another. And as I’ll detail further below, research has tied low glutathione levels with some diseases–including the global pandemic causing COVID-19.

Glutathione sources

Glutathione is found in various sulfur-rich and selenium-rich foods. Additionally, animal protein rich in glutamine, glycine, and cysteine provides us with the precursors to make glutathione. Specific foods to target for glutathione production include organ meats, beef, poultry, wild-caught salmon, sulfur-rich vegetables (kale, broccoli, brussel sprouts, mustard greens, etc.), selenium-rich foods (beef, fish, poultry, and brazil nuts), and foods that naturally contain glutathione (spinach, avocados, asparagus, and okra). 

Of course, Glutathione dietary supplements are available for purchase online through several sources. Other supplements such as N-acetylcysteine (NAC), glutamine, and glycine, provide the necessary precursors needed to increase glutathione levels within the body. 

Glutathione benefits

I’ve briefly touched upon a few of the overarching benefits of glutathione. Let’s drill down a bit further and explain some of the foremost powerful benefits of glutathione: detoxification, mitochondrial function, healthy aging, improved brain health, and immune health support.  

  • Glutathione supports detoxification pathways

As you may already know, the primary function of the liver is to detoxify the body. Holistically the liver is responsible for flushing out toxins, pollutants, and cellular waste. However, when the body detoxifies itself, a byproduct results: free radicals. According to MedicineNet, free radicals are unstable atoms that can damage cells resulting in various illnesses and aging. Regulation and disposing of free radicals is glutathione’s primary job. Glutathione moves these toxic substances through the detoxification process and into elimination pathways via the kidneys, liver (bile), and intestines.

  • Glutathione supports mitochondrial function

Mitochondria are the powerhouses of the cell, producing adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Mitochondria provide individuals with a sense of energy and vitality. When your mitochondria aren’t performing optimally, they produce less energy resulting in individuals feeling sluggish and fatigued. Within the cell, mitochondria can be damaged by free radicals and toxins. Glutathione attacks the free radicals and toxins, which rejuvenates the mitochondria.

  • Glutathione promotes healthy aging

One of the many side effects of aging is that we naturally produce less glutathione. So, we become more susceptible to illnesses, our energy levels decrease, we experience more forgetfulness and neurological degeneration, and some wide-reaching cellular processes begin to break down. 

  • Glutathione supports brain health

The brain functions better when your body can detoxify itself and boost energy levels by bolstering the mitochondria. Glutathione also protects the brain against toxic damage and oxidative stress.

  • Glutathione supports the immune system

Glutathione supports the immune system by facilitating the detoxification and energy production pathways outlined above. Still, research shows that it also can have an effect on specific immune markers, which are proteins that determine our ability to resist harmful agents.

Glutathione Side Effects

The research is mixed, but there are some reported possible side effects of increased glutathione levels. Increased glutathione levels have been linked to lower zinc levels over the long term. If glutathione is directly inhaled, this may trigger asthma attacks for asthmatics. Additionally, there has been some concern that the use of glutathione supplements may increase the likelihood of cramping and bloating. 

Symptoms of Glutathione Deficiency

With today’s ever-demanding schedule resulting in high chronic stress levels, increased toxin exposure, and poor diet, it’s easy for someone to burn through their glutathione quickly. If you’re experiencing any of the following, you may be glutathione deficient: sluggishness, fatigue, brain fog, poor memory, lowered immune function, digestive issues, joint pain/muscle stiffness, and skin issues. Regardless of potential or observed side effects, working with a healthcare professional to optimize glutathione supplementation dosage is always the best practice. 

COVID-19 Glutathione Deficiency

Studies have recently shown that COVID-19 patients have increased levels of oxidative stress (from free radicals, oxidant damage, and overall glutathione deficiency. As of March 2022, research is still being conducted, but COVID-19 patients may benefit from glutathione supplementation. 


What Conditions does Glutathione Treat?

Glutathione is reported to treat or alleviate numerous conditions. We’ll cover a few in detail below: psoriasis, liver damage, the body’s inability to burn fat, peripheral artery disease, Parkinson’s disease, autoimmune diseases, and respiratory diseases. 

  • Glutathione may improve psoriasis

This study conducted by the Washington Dermatology Center indicated that orally ingested whey protein improved psoriasis with or without additional treatment. Glutathione is readily present within whey protein. Researchers stated that further study is needed, but the early signs are encouraging. 

  • Glutathione can reduce liver damage

Glutathione deficiency may contribute to early cell death within the liver. This can lead to fatty liver disease. Increased levels of Glutathione may improve protein, enzyme, and bilirubin levels within the blood of individuals with chronic fatty liver disease.

  • Glutathione supports healthy aging 

As we become older, we have higher levels of inflammation and produce less glutathione. And as such, lower glutathione levels are associated with higher levels of inflammation. High levels of inflammation are a precursor to all disease states. Inadequate levels of glutathione also slow down our metabolism, which results in a higher rate of fat storage, which induces more even inflammation. Individuals who increase the cysteine and glycine sources in their diet have shown improved fat burning capabilities and insulin sensitivity.  

  • Glutathione may increase blood flow in the legs for those with peripheral artery disease

When plaque clogs peripheral arteries, peripheral artery disease can occur. This disease is most common within the legs. Glutathione supplementation has been linked with increased blood flow in the legs resulting in individuals being able to walk further distances at a higher rate of comfort. 

  • Glutathione reduces symptoms of Parkinson’s disease

Parkinson’s disease overtakes the central nervous system and causes numerous effects such as tremors. Although Parkinson’s currently has no cure, glutathione has shown a positive impact on the symptoms of the disease. 

  • Glutathione may help stymie autoimmune diseases

Autoimmune diseases cause chronic inflammation, increasing oxidative stress within the body. Some notable autoimmune diseases are rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease, and lupus. As mentioned above, glutathione works to protect cell mitochondria by eliminating free radicals, which is vital for those with autoimmune diseases as these attack mitochondria.

  • Glutathione may address symptoms of respiratory disease 

As discussed above, N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is one of three amino acids that acts as a precursor to glutathione. NAC provides cysteine, which, in turn, supports your cells’ ability to make glutathione. NAC is currently prescribed as an alternative to medication or adjunct to support healthy lung functioning in individuals who have been diagnosed with asthma and cystic fibrosis.  

A few other things of note on Glutathione Supplementation

When looking for a new glutathione supplement solution, you may encounter liposomal encapsulated glutathione supplements. Below, we’ll briefly cover liposomal encapsulation and the difference between liposomal glutathione and reduced glutathione. 

What is liposomal encapsulation?

Liposomal encapsulation is when supplements are broken down and encapsulated by microscopic liposomes. When a supplement is liposomal encapsulated, it is more readily and efficiently absorbed by your body which results in nutrients being delivered to your cells in a more impactful way. 

Difference Between Liposomal Glutathione and Reduced Glutathione

Reduced glutathione, otherwise known as L-glutathione, is merely the active form of the glutathione molecule, which allows it to perform its many roles detailed throughout this piece. Many glutathione supplements are formulated with L-glutathione so that your body does not have to process it to begin using it. However, this doesn’t ensure that the glutathione reaches your cells in the most efficient manner. A glutathione supplement that isn’t liposomal encapsulated is mainly broken down in the stomach and never fully reaches the cells that need it.

The Potential Health Benefits of Glutathione

Glutathione is the most potent antioxidant in the body, and it bolsters the body’s ability to detoxify, supports brain health, boosts the immune system, and promotes healthy aging. Glutathione supplementation may address autoimmune diseases and respiratory illnesses, aid in recovery from viral infections, improve psoriasis, and help Parkinson’s symptoms. Anyone, as they age, would be wise to educate themselves further on the many benefits of Glutathione supplementation. 

Justine Stenger is a nutritionist that works with BodyBio. She received her degree from the University of Alberta in Nutrition and Physical education. She proceeded to pursue a Holistic Nutrition/Therapeutic Chef certification from Bauman College. Justine has completed her Functional Medicine training through the Institute for Functional Medicine and is a Certified Functional Medicine Health Coach certified through the Institute For Functional Medicine. Justine is an expert in Brain health, MCAS, neurodegenerative decline, and nutritional interventions.

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