Health Articles

Not only for your fairer skin – Glutathione – 10 minutes read

Glutathione, I believe you are no stranger to this. Well, we all know that it is a powerful antioxidant and helps in whitening and marketed as a detoxifier, immune system booster, but do you know the other function of it? Well, let’s find out!

Glutathione is a tripeptide meaning it consists of 3 amino acids (protein building blocks) wrapped around each other namely glycine, cysteine and glutamic acid. It is produced naturally by our liver and neurons (nerve cells) in the central nervous system and involved in various processes in our body including metabolism of toxins and cancer-causing substances, natural creation and repair of DNA, tissue building and repair, making chemical substances and proteins. It also helps with the breakdown of nutrients and the regulation of many biological processes including immune response. Furthermore, glutathione also has the ability to bind itself to drugs making them easier for body to excrete. Other than that, glutathione boosts the utilization and recycling of other antioxidants such as vitamin C, E, alpha-lipoic acid and CoQ10.

Glutathione levels in our body may be reduced by certain factors including poor nutrition, environmental exposure, stress and age. Other than being naturally produced by our body, it is also available as an oral supplement (I guess you knew about this already), topically, inhalant and intravenously (IV). In this article, we are going to talk about the benefits of dietary and oral supplementation of glutathione.

Glutathione Benefits
1. Reduce Oxidative Stress

Well, it is always back to oxidative stress as excessive free radicals damage are the precursor for multiple chronic disease such as diabetes, cancer and so on. Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant which scavenge the excessive free radicals and neutralize oxidative damage. There are studies that indicate glutathione deficiency leads to increased level of oxidative stress and elevated glutathione level raised antioxidant levels and resistance to oxidative stress in cancer cells. Therefore, it can help prevent diseases that result from inflammation caused by oxidative stress.

2. Reduce cell damage in Fatty Liver Disease

Deficiency in antioxidants, including glutathione would exacerbate liver’s cell death. Subsequently, this would lead to fatty liver disease for both who misuse alcohol (alcoholic fatty liver disease) and those who don’t (non-alcoholic fatty liver disease) as well as hepatitis. Glutathione has been shown to improve protein, enzyme, and bilirubin levels in the blood for both type of fatty liver disease patients. Fun Fact: one of the great efficacies of milk thistle for liver health mechanism is that silymarin contained in milk thistle is proven to increase glutathione levels and prevent the loss of glutathione level. Therefore, it helps in promoting liver health!

3. Increase mobility for people with peripheral artery disease

Peripheral artery disease occurs when the peripheral arteries become clogged by plaque and effect on blood circulation. Patient do not receive enough blood supply to muscles especially arms and legs. Patient would often feel numbness, tingling and colds on their hands and feet. Glutathione is able to improve circulation, increase the ability of patient to remain actives.

4. Improve Insulin Sensitivity

Low insulin sensitivity (high insulin resistance) can result in the development of type 2 diabetes due to low production of insulin and the glucose in blood is unable to be used by cell to produce energy. Studies indicate people with insulin resistance tend to have lower glutathione levels especially if they have experienced complications, such as neuropathy or retinopathy. Therefore, it would be wise to increase glutathione level to combat excessive oxidative damage as well as improve insulin sensitivity.

5. Cardiovascular health

Long-term Glutathione supplementation helped reduce vascular stiffness and lowered total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. Glutathione plays a role in preventing heart attack and stroke due to its ability to neutralize lipid peroxidation process which is the major oxidation process that cause complication. Glutathione peroxidase (GPx) is able to inactivate the superoxide free radicals such as hydrogen peroxide, lipid peroxides and peroxynitrites that contribute to lipid peroxidation. Studies has linked cardiac patients who died of heart attacks had much lower glutathione peroxidase levels compare to those who survived.

6. Anti-aging and anti-melanogonic effect

We know, you have been waiting for this. It is well established that glutathione can be transported across the intestinal epithelium after oral supplementation and studies has shown oral supplementation of glutathione can reduce skin pigmentation and demonstrated significant skin lightening efficacy. This is due to Glutathione has regulatory properties on melanogenesis (control your skin pigmentation upon exposure of UV) and antioxidants in general are protective against aging process. Well, since you already knew about that, I wouldn’t bore you with the details. In some of the studies, skin elasticity, skin hydration (trans-epidermal water loss), sun-exposure were also measured and glutathione showed trends of improving all the parameters however, it still needs to be further investigated in larger populations.

7. Detoxifying effect

Glutathione is able to bind and conjugate toxins in our liver and making them easier for excretion. Conjugation is a process in the liver which enzymes such as glutathione help make foreign substances, such as drugs more soluble and easier to excrete by kidneys. Other than that, glutathione can help metabolizing alcohol. When alcohol is processed in our body, it formed acetaldehyde as a carcinogenic by-product. Glutathione contained L-cysteine which can break down acetaldehyde into water and carbon dioxide which are then eliminated in urine. Therefore, when we drink excessively, our glutathione level is lowered.

Generally, detoxification has 3 phases. During Phase 1, detoxification is partially processed by specialized proteins inside mitochondria cytochromes towards various toxins from car exhaust, smoke, dioxin, heavy metals and so on. The down side is, phase 1 process can turn partially processed toxins into even more dangerous intermediate forms free radicals that are not only damaging but can deplete glutathione levels. Phase 2 detoxification, various enzymes act directly on the partially processed toxic substances from phase 1 by binding them with protective compounds. This leads to inactivation of the toxins and is called conjugation. Glutathione is the central figure such that specialized group of enzymes called Glutathione-S-Transferase (GST) attach glutathione to the phase 1 detoxification by-products and neutralizes their toxic potential while simultaneously making them more water-soluble and ready to be eliminated. Phase 3 is the elimination of toxins substances mainly by urine in kidney and bile in liver.

8. Immune

While Vitamin C is getting all the accolades when it comes to immunity, glutathione is the under-recognized support stars for especially immune function. Research shows that active glutathione enhances white blood cells activity such as natural killer (NK) and T-cells, our body’s front-line fighters. Glutathione-enhanced T cells can produce more infection-fighting substances like interleukins-2 and 12 (IL-2, IL-12) and interferon-gamma (IFNγ), both working to control both bacterial and viral infections. Other than that, glutathione has direct antibacterial effect as it helps macrophages to fight bacterial. It can be said that glutathione works to modulate the behaviour of many cells including the cells of the immune system, augmenting the innate and the adaptive immunity as well as conferring protection against microbial, viral and parasitic infections.

Source of Glutathione

Don’t worry, glutathione is relative abundance in our daily foods such as fruits and vegetables. Dairy products, cereals and breads are generally low in glutathione, fruits and vegetables have moderate to high amounts of glutathione and freshly prepared meats are relatively high in glutathione. Other than that, it should be noted that cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage or sulphur rich food like garlic and onions contain a lot of glutathione building blocks – sulphur and it is thought that they could increase glutathione levels. So don’t you worry, as long as you are having variety of fruits and vegetables in your balanced diet, you are getting enough glutathione.

However, in case you don’t, there are always glutathione in supplement form. Oral glutathione supplements are normally L-glutathione and would be digested to three peptide precursors (cysteine, glycine and glutamic acid). It is also available in the form of N-acetylcysteine (NAC) that is cheaper, that may provide the cysteine needed to raise glutathione level in body, however, it comes with higher effective dosage.

Takeaway from Nutritionist

One thing we should note is that oral supplements may not necessarily confer all the health benefits that we received from glutathione that is naturally produced by our body. It has low bioavailability and degraded before it is absorbed into bloodstream.


As an antioxidant, glutathione helps our bodies balance free radicals and stay healthy. It works at the cellular level to prevent inflammation and other cell damage that can make us sick and associated with low levels with several medical conditions. While supplements may be appropriate for some people, they may not be safe for everyone and they could interact with other medications. Therefore, still, prioritize your nutrient from foods, maintain balance diet and healthy lifestyle should be the way.