Glutathione is one of the most important molecules in the body. It is so critical that every cell produces it, and cellular glutathione levels are now considered a predictor of how long someone will live.
More than 100 000 scientific papers explore the properties and effects of this tripeptide, referred to as “the master antioxidant” and comprised of the amino acids cysteine, glutamic acid, and glycine. Glutathione acts as an antioxidant, a free-radical scavenger, and a detoxifying agent, and is found in most mammalian tissue.
Its roles as a cofactor for the enzyme glutathione peroxidase, in the uptake of amino acids, and in the synthesis of leukotrienes also underscore its importance. The liver contains approximately 25% of the body’s glutathione, where it is used in detoxification reactions and supplied to the body through blood and/or bile. (1) Furthermore, glutathione participates in regulation of cellular thiol-disulfide status, the formation and maintenance of disulfide bonds in proteins, and in the transport of amino acids across cell membranes. (1,2)
Glutathione protects cells against oxidative damage by scavenging a wide array of free radicals, including nitric oxide, superoxide anion, and hydroxyl and carbon radicals. Deficiency increases susceptibility to oxidative stress, an effect connected to the pathogenesis of many health problems.(3) Its influence on the development, progression, and prognosis of various diseases has been described in numerous studies. Glutathione deficiency is linked to (4):
- Neurodegenerative disorders
- Pulmonary disease
- Immune diseases
- Cardiovascular disease
- Chronic age-related diseases
- Liver disease
- Cystic fibrosis
- The aging process, itself
Glutathione also works to maximize the performance of other antioxidants, including vitamin C, vitamin E, coenzyme Q10 and alpha-lipoic acid.
Clinical applications for glutathione include:
- Support healthy inflammation response,
- Promote healthy aging, particularly over the age of 40,
- Support for energy production, endurance, and athletic performance,
- Mitigate exposure to mold or mycotoxins, and
- Reduce the toxic effects of mercury and other heavy metals
Glutathione’s central position in the body’s antioxidant defense system cannot be argued. Smooth functioning in every human cell requires its presence. Unfortunately, glutathione levels decrease as we age. Whether that decline is primarily due to production or increased need remains up for debate.
Fortunately, some foods and nutritional supplements can help boost levels. Cysteine seems to be the rate-limiting factor for synthesis in the body.(4) Almonds, nonalcoholic beer, and whey protein serve as good sources. Cysteine can also be supplied through the dietary supplements NAC and SAMe. Direct glutathione supplementation exists in oral, intravenous, topical, nasal, or nebulized forms. Lastly, evidence exists that consistently practicing meditation can increase glutathione in the body.(5)
- Kaplowitz, N. The importance and regulation of hepatic glutathione. Yale J Biol Med. 1981;54(6):497-502.
- National Center for Biotechnology Information. PubChem Compound Database; CID=124886, https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/124886 (accessed Feb. 28, 2019).
- Wu G, Fang YZ, Yang S, Lupton JR, Turner ND. Glutathione metabolism and its implications for health. J Nutr. 2004;134(3):489-92.
- Pizzorno J. Glutathione! Integr Med (Encinitas). 2014;13(1):8-12.
- Sharma H, Datta P, Singh A, et al. Gene expression profiling in practitioners of Sudarshan Kriya. J Psychosom Res. 2008;64(2):213–218.