Glutathione: The Master Antioxidant

How this mighty molecule helps repair the damage caused by living in the modern world.

How this mighty molecule helps repair the damage caused by living in the modern world


Wouldn’t it be great if there was a nutritional “knight in shining armor” that could battle harmful free radicals, boost immunity, eliminate toxins, and repair the damage caused by living in the modern world? A growing number of studies show that glutathione can do all of these tasks and more. Yet this critical nutrient isn’t even on the radar for most Americans. What’s worse, many of us have woefully low levels—and that could be setting us up for a variety of future health problems.

The most powerful antioxidant made by the body, glutathione is a small molecule made up of three amino acids—cysteine, glycine, and glutamine—that’s found in every cell in the body. Under optimal circumstances, the body produces all of the glutathione it needs. But a poor diet, chronic illness, exposure to environmental toxins, and the use of some medications can deplete glutathione stores. Age can also undermine the amount of glutathione your body makes. In fact, glutathione levels start to head south around the age of 45 and decline quickly after age 60. This is one reason why chronic illness is more prevalent as we get older.

Glutathione has been called the “mother of all antioxidants” by Mark Hyman, MD, founder of the UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Mass. That isn’t surprising since glutathione protects cells from the free radicals created by cigarette smoke, environmental toxins, fried foods, and even as a by-product of normal metabolism.

The problem is that these misbehaving molecules randomly take electrons from the molecules that make up our DNA, proteins, and other cellular building blocks. According to Lise Alschuler, ND, co-author of The Definitive Guide to Cancer, the resulting damage (known as oxidative damage) has been implicated in a number of chronic health problems, including dementia, cancer, and asthma.

Since free radicals are a part of everyday living, glutathione also plays a crucial role in maintaining a balance between oxidation and anti-oxidation. This, in turn, regulates many of the cell’s vital functions, including DNA production and repair, protein synthesis, and enzyme regulation.

1. Boosts Immune Response

Glutathione is also essential for a healthy immune system. In fact, low levels are linked to many serious diseases like cancer, heart disease, and even AIDS. However, studies suggest that boosting glutathione levels can enhance the immune response by optimizing macrophage function. Macrophages are white blood cells that gobble up infectious invaders. Glutathione also protects other disease-fighting cells called lymphocytes from oxidative damage and premature cell death. A strong immune response requires a healthy army of ‘killer’ lymphocytes to be able to destroy undesirable cells, including cancer cells.

2. Neutralizes Toxins

Glutathione is found in particularly high amounts in the liver, kidneys, lungs, and digestive tract—areas in the body that are most vulnerable to everyday toxins. Along with quenching the free radicals in the liver, glutathione also plays a critical role in Phase II detoxification, the second part of the body’s two-step detoxification process. During Phase I, a toxin is reduced to smaller fragments. These fragments then progress to Phase II, where they are bound to specific molecules like glutathione. This process creates a new non-toxic molecule that can be excreted in the urine or stool. “Glutathione allows the safe elimination of these compounds,” says Alschuler.

Glutathione also combines with pollutants like those in cigarette smoke and auto exhaust in the lungs so they can be safely excreted. In the digestive tract, it neutralizes toxins before they can be absorbed.

3. Fights Photoaging

Emerging research suggests that glutathione can help you look younger by reducing wrinkles and other signs of photoaging. One recent study involved 60 people who were given either a drink containing 104.5 mg of glutathione or a placebo every day for four weeks. By the end of the study, those taking the glutathione saw a marked improvement in the number and severity of their wrinkles. The researchers also found improved dermal blood circulation—a sign that the skin was receiving better blood flow and more nutrients. Another study by Taiwanese scientists found that taking 500 mg of glutathione every day actually lightened the skin by affecting the skin melanin index. This finding may eventually help cosmetic manufacturers create a natural solution to the facial hyperpigmentation that creates age spots.


While many foods are excellent sources of glutathione, including asparagus, avocados, squash, cauliflower, broccoli, potatoes, spinach, tomatoes, and walnuts, many Americans don’t regularly include these foods in their diets. As a result, glutathione deficiency is quite common. It’s smart to consider a glutathione supplement. Look for a supplement that provides a 250 mg daily dose of reduced glutathione. You can bolster your glutathione levels even more by including glutathione-rich foods in your diet and with glutathione precursors like n-acetyl-cysteine, selenium, and alpha lipoic acid.

However, “Don’t rely exclusively on glutathione precursors to meet all of your needs,” notes Alschuler.

Good Buys


Solgar l-glutathione offers antioxidant and detox support in a reduced form for optimal absorption. Capsules are vegetarian and vegan friendly.

the vitamin shoppe glutathione provides 250 mg of reduced l-glutathione per serving. Capsules are free of allergens including yeast, corn, wheat, gluten, and soy.

jarrow formulas glutathione reduced 500 Each dose gives you 500 mg reduced pharmaceutical-grade glutathione. Take 1 capsule per day with a meal.

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