What antioxidant is found in every cell in your body and is the one produced most frequently at the cellular level? Here’s a hint: It’s often referred to as the “master antioxidant” due to the multitasking jobs it does fighting oxidation, boosting the immune system and aiding the removal of harmful toxins.
If you didn’t guess glutathione, you’re not alone.
Only 8 percent of consumers are even aware of glutathione according to research by Kyowa Hakko, one of the suppliers of the ingredient to the dietary supplement industry. But as we age our need for glutathione increases, so it’s my guess that this important antioxidant will be on the minds of more people in the years ahead.
Getting to Know Glutathione
You may not know much about glutathione because it is not considered an essential nutrient, meaning we can manufacture it in our bodies. It also may not be on your radar because early studies raised doubts about whether we could absorb it when taken as an oral supplement. But a study published in the European Journal of Nutrition in May 2014 has sparked renewed interest in this antioxidant because it proved glutathione can be absorbed by the body when taken by mouth.
Researchers at Penn State University conducted a 6 month randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial with 48 healthy adults, ages 30-791. Participants were randomly assigned to receive either 250 mg or 1000 mg Setria glutathione per day or a placebo. Levels of glutathione were measured in different blood components and in biomarkers of oxidative stress at the beginning of the study and after 1, 3 and 6 months, then again after a 1-month washout period.
Glutathione levels in the blood were higher when tested at each interval compared to baseline for both doses. A reduction in oxidative stress was also seen in both groups based on decreases in the oxidized to reduced glutathione ratio in whole blood after 6 months. Levels of glutathione then returned to baseline a month after supplementation ended, suggesting long-term oral supplementation with glutathione may be effective in maintaining body stores.
Where to Find Glutathione
Just like most other foods rich in antioxidants, the best sources of glutathione are fresh fruits and vegetables. Freshly prepared meats are also a good source, while dairy foods, grains and highly processed foods are not.
Results from of two studies that measured dietary intakes of glutathione by Americans found a wide range due, in part, to losses that occur during food processing2,3. Based on these studies, it is estimated most Americans get less than 60 mg day from food sources.
The level of glutathione in different tissues of the body also varies widely, so it is difficult to estimate actual requirements, but it is known that our need increases with normal aging, health problems, medication use, excess weight, cigarette smoking, and alcohol abuse. Environmental conditions such as pollution and exposure to other toxins further increase our need for glutathione.
Why Do We Need Glutathione?
While breathing is essential to life, it is also a major cause of aging due to the oxidation of the cells that occurs with every breath. If cells become damaged by oxidation, free radicals are formed that can attack the body and cause disease. That is why antioxidants, like glutathione, are so important. They protect us against the damaging effects of these free radicals, which in turn, helps to promote a healthy immune system.
In addition to fighting free radicals, glutathione helps the kidneys and liver do their job of detoxifying the body by binding to ingested toxins so they can be excreted. And it is found in the lining of the entire gastrointestinal tract where it can neutralize toxins before they are absorbed.
It is impossible to know whether we produce enough glutathione to get the protection it can provide, but we do know our dietary intake can be erratic and many factors of modern life – including normal aging – increase our need. Doses of 3 grams per day of glutathione have been used experimentally with no adverse effects4, but taking 150-250 mg per day of supplemental glutathione appears to be reasonable a way to insure your needs are met.
Disclosure Statement: I was compensated for my time to write this blog by Kyowa Hakko, an international health ingredient manufacturer, but all opinions expressed here are my own.
- Richie JP Jr, et al. Eur J Nutr. 2014 May 5. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 24791752
- Flagg EW et al. Am J Epidemiol. 1994;139(5):453-65
- Jones DP et al. Nutr Cancer. 1992;17:57-75
- Witschi A et al. Eur J Clin Pharmacol. 1992;43(6):667-69