Ask the Pharmacist: Is glutathione absorbed when taken orally?

What is glutathione?

Glutathione is the most abundant anti-oxidant found within the human body. It is a tripeptide composed of three amino acids.

What does glutathione do?

Glutathione has many important roles within our bodies. Some of which include DNA and protein synthesis, gene expression, immune response, and cell death. Deficiency of glutathione contributes to aging as well as many diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cardiovascular disease, AIDS, cancer, liver disease and epilepsy.

How do we get glutathione?

Glutathione is synthesized within the body from amino acids when they are consumed in the form of protein in the diet. Consuming protein is essential for the formation of glutathione.

Can glutathione be used as an ORAL supplement in patients to prevent or treat diseases associated with deficiency?

The use of glutathione in the form of a pill is widely debated. Many health food stores and websites claim that their oral supplements prevent aging and much more. These claims are not based on any scientific evidence, and use of these supplements should be cautioned. They are not going to cause you any harm, but they aren’t going to increase your glutathione levels either.

The reality is that glutathione is not absorbed very well when taken in the oral form. It is largely broken down by enzymes within the intestine. Studies have found that it is not possible to increase the amount of glutathione in your blood by taking it orally. Instead, glutathione must be administered intravenously.

With that being said, it is has been shown that consuming the precursors (amino acids) of glutathione orally will cause the body to increase its production of glutathione. That is, consuming whey protein is one way to increase the amount of glutathione within your body. More studies are needed to determine if consuming a whey protein will affect the course of diseases known to be associated with glutathione deficiency. In the meantime, if you want to increase your glutathione levels, drinking whey protein shakes at the recommended amounts is the best way to do so.

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