Even nutrition nerds might need to consult their smartphones when pressed to describe what glutathione is—and why it matters. After all, this unassuming tripeptide doesn’t enjoy the same high profile as, say, curcumin, probiotics, pea protein, or any of the other “trending” nutrients jamming Google’s search engines. But that doesn’t mean it’s not important. Nor does it mean that its profile isn’t rising.
For while glutathione has flown under the radar for years, its ineluctable role in human health, not to mention mounting evidence of its benefits, is finally earning it the attention it deserves. According to Elyse Lovett, marketing manager, Kyowa Hakko USA (New York City), glutathione awareness rose from 7% in 2015 to 9% a year later, as measured by the 2016 Gallup Study on Nutrient Knowledge & Consumption. And as for the academy’s role, the number of glutathione-related items found in PubMed’s database rose from a mere 469 in 1976 to 5,826 in 2016.
So why does glutathione deserve attention? Because it really is—as it’s often called—the “mother of all antioxidants.” Comprising the amino acids cysteine, glycine, and glutamine, glutathione, or GSH, is found in every cell of the body, which produces it endogenously. Its location within the cells optimally situates it for protecting cellular structures against oxidation, which it does by siccing its thiol (-SH) groups on free radicals wherever they attack.
But that’s not all that glutathione does. As an antioxidant, glutathione helps maintain active stores of other key free-radical fighters, like vitamins C and E. It participates in the synthesis of DNA, proteins, and prostaglandin hormones. It aids amino acid transport. It’s involved in cell cycling and differentiation. It even helps activate some enzymes. Linked to everything from cancer and heart disease to dementia, cystic fibrosis, and autism, it’s especially important in immune and detoxification functions.
In fact, says Lovett, “I’ve been seeing many more innovative products on the market for detoxification.” Manufacturers, she says, “are noticing the importance of tying overall health with not only the immune system, but with detoxification, too. Some are even going one step further and tying in the antiaging benefits of antioxidants like glutathione.” No wonder the top-three reasons people turn to glutathione these days are its utility as a powerful antioxidant, its appeal as an antiaging nutrient, and its reputation as a detoxifier, she says.
But if our bodies produce glutathione endogenously, why do we need to supplement it at all? The reason lies within: when glutathione guards our cells against oxidation, it nobly sacrifices itself in the process, becoming oxidized to its glutathione disulfide form.
Under ideal circumstances, glutathione disulfide can be reduced back to active glutathione courtesy of the electron donor nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADPH). But contemporary circumstances are rarely ideal. We live in an oxidative environment, with assaults from pollution, poor diet, stress, and even the passage of time all attenuating the body’s ability to maintain sufficient stores of active glutathione. And yet a high cellular ratio of oxidized to reduced glutathione is widely acknowledged as an indicator of oxidative stress and a warning sign of future health problems.
So don’t let glutathione go by the wayside. “There are so many antioxidants out there,” Lovett says. With continued research and in combination with other ingredients, she says, “We’re learning more about the benefits of glutathione and all these nutrients.”
Want to learn more? Keep clicking and gain a whole new appreciation for glutathione, the unsung antioxidant.
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Clean Up Your Act
It’s a dirty world out there. And as Elyse Lovett, marketing manager, Kyowa Hakko USA (New York City), says, glutathione “is one of the key ingredients that belongs in the detox supplement space. It’s getting a ton of buzz lately.” As the body’s master antioxidant, it not only “intercepts and neutralizes toxins in the GI tract before they’re even absorbed,” she says; glutathione also helps eliminate the toxins, chemicals, and potential carcinogens that the body’s already absorbed. As a hydrophilic compound, glutathione also mixes with lipophilic toxins and waste products in the liver—a crucial step in the production of bile.
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Willing and Able
For a long time, an “old myth that glutathione doesn’t get absorbed well when taken orally” remained stubbornly persistent, Lovett says. And to be fair, proteases found throughout the alimentary canal are known to tear apart at this tripeptide. But a 2014 study(1) published in the European Journal of Nutrition showed for the first time that supplementation with Kyowa Hakko’s Setria glutathione effectively increased the body’s glutathione stores.
“The study measured the effect of glutathione supplementation at 250-mg and 1,000-mg doses over a six-month period in 54 healthy adults,” Lovett says, and “findings showed that Setria glutathione levels increased in the blood after one, three, and six months versus baseline at both doses.” Let that old myth about poor bioavailability go the way of the dodo.
1. Richie JP Jr et al., “Randomized controlled trial of oral glutathione supplementation on body stores of glutathione,” European Journal of Nutrition, vol. 54, no. 2 (March 2015): 251-263
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Nitric Oxide Tag Team
Nitric oxide (NO) is a gas, not a supplement. But supplements that allow the body to produce more NO have become wildly popular with bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts because NO not only increases blood flow to the muscles—feeding them the nutrients they need to grow—but possibly speeds recovery time post-exertion. A 2015 study(2) published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that one week of daily oral supplementation with 200 mg of Setria glutathione plus 2 g of L-citrulline enhanced NO levels in 60 healthy, resistance-trained males aged 18 to 30. The study found that the paired glutathione and L-citrulline not only increased levels of NO but kept them elevated for a longer time relative to a placebo “by preventing glutathione’s oxidative reaction when ingested in combination with L-citrulline,” Lovett explains.
2. McKinley-Barnard S et al., “Combined L-citrulline and glutathione supplementation increases the concentration of markers indicative of nitric oxide synthesis,” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Published online June 10, 2015.
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Bright Days Ahead
Now that we know about the damage that sunlight wreaks on our delicate skin, tanning seems so passé. These days, it’s skin lighteners that are attracting attention, with a market that’s expected to hit $23 million by 2020, according to market researcher Global Industry Analysts Inc. And even here, glutathione plays a role.
A recent study(3) published in Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigational Dermatology found that a daily dose of 250 mg of Setria glutathione taken orally may decrease melanin production in subjects with light-brown to brown/olive skin. This is lower than the 500-mg dose that an earlier study found effective in brightening skin tone. Further, the current study showed that the Setria may help reduce wrinkles in middle-aged women by boosting skin’s hydration and possibly even improving the skin barrier.
3. Weschawalit S et al., “Glutathione and its antiaging and antimelanogenic effects,” Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology. Published online April 27, 2017.
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