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What is glutathione used for?

Medically reviewed by Leigh Ann Anderson, PharmD. Last updated on Aug 3, 2022.

Official answer

by Drugs.com

Studies have looked at glutathione supplementation for various uses, including: anti-aging, autism, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, as a topical depigmenting (skin whitening) agent, to enhance athletic performance, for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, lead exposure, otitis media (ear infection), and for heart disease.

Glutathione is the most common antioxidant made in the human body. Antioxidants may help to prevent cells from damage due to chemical toxins found both inside and outside the body. Free radicals damage cells through a chemical process known as oxidation.

A depletion of glutathione has been associated with:

  • immune system diseases such as HIV / AIDS
  • neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
  • lung (pulmonary) diseases like asthma and COPD
  • certain heart risk factors, such as high blood pressure, heart attack, and high cholesterol
  • chronic exposure to chemical toxins, alcohol, high levels of acetaminophen, and certain heavy metals (like cadmium)
  • aging and age-related diseases like macular degeneration, cataracts and glaucoma
  • liver (hepatic) disease
  • cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease that damages the lungs, digestive tract and other organs

Clinical trial data regarding the effectiveness of glutathione treatment is conflicting or lacking for most medical conditions. Always talk to your doctor first before you use any non-prescription dietary supplement.

What is glutathione?

Glutathione is an antioxidant made in all human cell and helps to prevent cell damage due to oxidizing free radicals. It is made in the liver using the amino acids L-glutamate, cysteine and glycine. High levels of glutathione exists in the cell, at the same concentrations as glucose (blood sugar), potassium and cholesterol. It is also naturally present in many foods (see below).

Glutathione is used as a cofactor to help block oxidative stress by inhibiting free radical formation in the body. Free radicals are molecules that are made when you are exposed to toxins like tobacco smoke or radiation. Free radicals have been proposed to be involved in various diseases such as heart disease and cancer.

In addition to inhibiting oxidation due to free radicals, it also helps with tissue repair and protein manufacturing needed by the body. However, when glutathione itself is exposed to oxidative stress, such as with toxic chemicals, levels of glutathione in the body can decline. Disease, poor diet, aging and excess stress can also deplete your glutathione levels and may contribute to poor health.

N-acetylcysteine (NAC), a precursor to glutathione, has been used to raise its levels. NAC is often used as antidote in acetaminophen (Tylenol) overdose. Call 911 for emergency medical help for any overdose situation.

What are common names for glutathione?

Common names for glutathione include:

  • Gamma-Glutamylcysteinylglycine
  • Gamma-L-Glutamyl-L-Cysteinylglycine
  • Glutathion
  • Glutathionum
  • GSH
  • L-Glutathion
  • L-Glutathione

Where can I buy glutathione in the US?

Glutathione is available in the US as a non-prescription, over-the-counter (OTC) dietary oral supplements in various strengths, including 250 mg, 500 mg, and 1000 mg oral capsules. It is often found in pharmacies, grocery stores and other retail shops. It can also be bought online, but be careful of rogue Internet sites that may be promoting fraudulent or tainted products.

Manufacturers often promote glutathione supplements as a “free-radical neutralizer”, to “support liver, brain and immune system function”, and to “reduce brain fog and improve mental clarity”. However, it is important to remember that statements made by OTC manufacturers have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and that these products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Glutathione supplements are often used by patients with chronic health conditions such as HIV, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and cancer, but evidence to prove any benefit is lacking. The reliable absorption of oral formulations is controversial and studies have been split on its effectiveness. Formulations of liposomal glutathione may be more effective, but further research is needed.

In addition to oral supplements, it has also been researched as a nasal spray, intravenously, topically and in inhaled (nebulized) form.

Should I take glutathione?

A glutathione supplement may be beneficial in patients low in this antioxidant, such as patients with cystic fibrosis, AIDS, Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease, but you should make this decision only in conjunction with your doctor.

Always check with your healthcare provider before using any over-the-counter dietary supplement like glutathione.

If you are being treated for cancer, do not take glutathione without first talking to your doctor.

Be cautious when purchasing supplements online due to the risk of fake or unsafe products.

Is glutathione safe?

  • No serious side effects were reported in one study of healthy volunteers taking oral glutathione 500 mg twice a day for 4 weeks.
  • Intravenous (IV) glutathione has been associated with reversible, severe liver toxicity at a dose of 1,200 mg per day over one month. However, a small study of 1,400 mg IV 3 times per week for 4 weeks was found to be well-tolerated.
  • Nebulized (inhaled) glutathione has been linked with bronchial spasm, cough and shortness of breath in one study.

Which countries sell glutathione?

In addition to the US, glutathione may be available in the following countries:

  • China
  • Georgia
  • Hong Kong
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Paraguay
  • Philippines
  • Russian Federation
  • South Korea

Foreign names of glutathione may include: glutathionum (Latin) and Glutathion (German).

Products may not always be reliable or available in foreign countries. Some products may have been discontinued by foreign manufacturers, and this list may be incomplete.

Does food contain glutathione?

Yes, glutathione can be found naturally in many cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and brussels sprouts. Avocados, potatoes, carrots, asparagus, spinach, squash and okra also contain this antioxidant. Onions, garlic and fruits like watermelon also carry glutathione.

Plant-based foods are the best sources of antioxidants. Research has suggested that nutritional interventions, such as consumption of foods high in antioxidants can have positive clinical benefits on your immune system, protect cells from free radicals, and lower the risk of some diseases like heart disease and cancer.

Antioxidants, in general, can also be found in vitamins C, E, and carotenoids (beta-carotene) found in orange, red and yellow vegetables like carrots, pumpkins, peppers, squash, tomatoes and in salmon. Supplemental cysteine in the form of whey, alcohol-free beer and almonds have also been reported to increase glutathione levels. Even meditation (which may lower stress) has been suggested to raise glutathione.

This is not all the information you need to know about glutathione for safe and effective use and does not take the place of your doctor’s directions. Review the full glutathione information and discuss its use with your health care provider before you take it. This information should not be used to decide whether or not to take this product.

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