AMERICAN MEDICAL DOCTOR and pegan diet creator, Mark Hyman, M.D., once said, “glutathione is the mother of all antioxidants, the master detoxifier and maestro of the immune system.”
Well, glutathione is certainly having a moment. But is it really worth that much hype?
“Glutathione has been gaining popularity in recent years due to its numerous health benefits and its role in maintaining overall health and wellness,” says Mary Sabat, M.S., R.D.N., acertified personal trainer. It has been studied extensively and is considered one of the most important antioxidants in the human body.
“With the increasing exposure to environmental toxins and chronic diseases, people are becoming more aware of the benefits of this important molecule,” says Barbara Kovalenko, R.D., a nutrition consultant at Lasta. It’s produced naturally in our bodies, and it’s importance regards to its aid in cellular functions.
Eager to learn more about what this mighty molecule can do for you? Ahead, a deep dive into this powerful antioxidant, some of its potential health benefits, and when to know if you need supplementation.
What Is Glutathione?
Aced high school chemistry? Then you may recall amino acids. Or perhaps you’re all about your essential amino acids supplements. Either way, here’s the scoop:
“Glutathione is a tripeptide molecule made up of three amino acids: cysteine, glutamic acid, and glycine,” says Sabat. “It is found in every cell in the human body, and plays a crucial role in many physiological processes, including detoxification, immune function, and cellular repair.”
Humans naturally create glutathione in their cells. One of its main functions is combating oxidative stress—a condition that is caused by having an imbalance of antioxidants in the body. This condition can cause muscle weakness, fatigue, and is even the pathway to several neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzeimhers. It detoxifies by protecting our bodies from metals and other potential pollutants, according to the National Library of Medicine.
What Health Benefits of Glutathione?
Indeed, it’s a veritable powerhouse of an antioxidant with a wide range of potential perks.
“Glutathione has been linked to numerous health benefits, including reducing inflammation, improving skin health, and even reducing the risk of certain types of cancer,” says Kovalenko. “One study found that people with higher levels of glutathione had a lower risk of heart disease.”
Another study showed that supplementing with glutathione improved symptoms in people with Parkinson’s disease. As Sabat further highlights, glutathione has been linked to a number of health benefits, including reducing oxidative stress, improving immune function, supporting liver health, and reducing inflammation.
“Research has also suggested that glutathione may have anti-aging properties and may play a role in preventing and treating chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease,” she adds.
What Foods Have Glutathione?
If you want to load up with foods rich in glutathione, focus on greens.
“Foods that are high in glutathione include fruits and vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, avocados, and asparagus,” says Kovalenko. The antioxidant is also found in high-quality protein sources such as grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish, and organic eggs.
It’s worth clarifying, Sabat says, that while some foods contain glutathione, it is difficult for the body to absorb it directly from food. Glutathione-containing foods are technically abundant in precursors to the molecule, not the molecule itself, which is made in your body.
“Foods that contain precursors to glutathione, such as sulfur-containing amino acids like cysteine, can help support the body’s natural production of glutathione,” says Sabat. “These foods include garlic, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, and other cruciferous vegetables, as well as eggs, meat, and fish.”
Do You Need A Glutathione Supplement?
As with anything nutrition-related, consult with a registered dietitian or your primary care physician before adding any new supplements to your regimen (or making any significant dietary changes, for that matter).
“Someone may need to take a glutathione supplement if they have a chronic illness or are exposed to high levels of environmental toxins,” says Kovalenko. “Additionally, certain genetic mutations can affect the body’s ability to produce glutathione, which may warrant supplementation.”
Glutathione is also linked to the newly popular NAC, or N-acetyl cysteine supplements. As of late, NAC supplements have become the elixir du jour. Of course, no one supplement is a cure-all, but scientific research is emerging on NAC.
NAC supplements consist of sulfur-containing amino acids, which support the body’s production of glutathione. These are considered the precursor to glutathione mentioned earlier, so they may be a good supplement to take to help glutathione, Sabat says. More scientific research still needs to be done though, so talk to your doctor before trying anything.
Perri is a New York City-born and -based writer; she holds a bachelor’s in psychology from Columbia University and is also a culinary school graduate of the plant-based Natural Gourmet Institute, which is now the Natural Gourmet Center at the Institute of Culinary Education. Her work has appeared in the New York Post, Men’s Journal, Rolling Stone, Oprah Daily, Insider.com, Architectural Digest, Southern Living, and more. She’s probably seen Dave Matthews Band in your hometown, and she’ll never turn down a bloody mary. Learn more at VeganWhenSober.com.
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