Who hasn’t heard of glutathione by now? You see it literally everywhere – television, billboards, social media, and beauty blogs. Even your favorite celebrities can’t stop gushing about its amazing powers! But glutathione’s wonders go beyond skin deep. In fact, there are plenty of compelling reasons why you should be supplementing with glutathione, specifically liposomal glutathione. Curious? Scroll down the page to know more about this powerful antioxidant!
Table of Contents
But first, what exactly is glutathione?
Well, it’s more than a beauty product, that’s for sure. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, 3 amino acids make up glutathione. These are glycine, cysteine, and glutamic acid.
As the main antioxidant in the body, glutathione is present in all tissues, with particularly high concentrations in the liver (1). This signifies glutathione’s crucial role in the liver’s detoxifying function (2).
As an antioxidant, it can fight free radicals (more on this below) and draw out toxins in the body, such as mercury and other heavy metals (3). This is basically detoxification in a nutshell.
Here’s another interesting indicator of glutathione’s importance. It is found in roughly the same concentration as these 3 life-sustaining nutrients – cholesterol, glucose, and potassium (4).
The body’s production of glutathione naturally goes down over time.
Why do we have low glutathione levels?
To maintain good health, we need to have ample stores of glutathione in the body. Obviously easier said than done. It’s an uphill battle, especially when you grow older. The body’s production of glutathione naturally goes down over time.
Other culprits behind low glutathione levels include stress, infection, illness, and exposure to toxic chemicals (5). Supplementing with a daily dose of glutathione (specifically liposomal glutathione – you’ll find out why in a bit) is therefore an excellent idea.
The two states of glutathione
There are 2 forms of glutathione (4):
- Reduced glutathione (GSH) – also known as L-glutathione. This is the stable and active form required for good health. Once it does its job of repairing oxidative damage, e.g. free radicals, then it oxidizes and turns into GSSG.
- Oxidized glutathione (GSSG) – also known as glutathione disulfide. This is the inactive form of glutathione. The enzyme glutathione reductase regenerates GSSG back into the active form GSH.
Glutathione and the mitochondria
I’m sure you’re aware that we eat food to sustain and power our bodies. But did you know that all this energy production happens at the cellular level?
You see, every single cell in our body has its very own “power plant” a.k.a. the mitochondria. Food molecules like glucose, fats, and amino acids are converted into energy inside the mitochondria (6). The resulting energy is what powers our entire body, so we can think, breathe, and move around.
But here’s the problem – the mitochondria’s job actually creates free radicals. Fortunately, glutathione is also present in the mitochondria to neutralize and ‘clean up’ these free radicals. This allows the mitochondria to go about its job.
So, what happens when your GSH levels fall to extremely low levels? Well, it results in cell death. This is another indicator of the importance of glutathione – it literally protects the mitochondria (and therefore the cell) and prevents it from dying (7).
Keeping our mitochondrial GSH levels up is important and essential for our very existence.
What are free radicals?
Ah, ‘glutathione’ and ‘free radicals’ – can you name a more iconic duo? It’s interesting to see how these two words are often lumped together in the same sentence in glutathione products and advertisements. Don’t worry – there’s a perfectly valid reason why.
So, let’s examine what free radicals are. To do this, we’ll need to recall a few basic science lessons. You probably remember some of the terminologies below from high school.
As you’re probably already aware, the human body is extremely complex:
- The main building blocks are called atoms. Now, atoms are made up of 3 subatomic particles known as protons, neutrons, and electrons.
- When atoms combine together, they form molecules.
- And when molecules band together, they form cells.
- Cells then make up the tissues, which then form all the organs in the body.
The root cause of free radicals are missing or unpaired electrons. Electrons are negatively charged particles that NEED to exist in pairs.
But because of certain chemical processes in the body (like metabolism, for instance), an electron will eventually go missing. A previously stable molecule (with paired electrons) now turns into a free radical (with an unpaired electron).
Free radicals are on a mission to find themselves a partner. It doesn’t matter where it grabs a spare electron from as long as it finds one.
Whether we like it or not, free radicals continuously form in the body. It’s no reason to panic though because the entire process is entirely natural!
In fact, free radicals even serve an important purpose in the immune system. They really only become a problem when there are not enough antioxidants to neutralize them (3).
How do antioxidants like glutathione work?
Antioxidants keep free radicals in check by neutralizing them. It donates an electron to a nearby free radical WITHOUT becoming unstable and transforming into a free radical itself (8).
While the body produces antioxidants on its own, it’s not nearly enough to combat and neutralize all the free radicals inside. Therefore, it’s important to eat a healthy diet rich in antioxidant-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables.
Aside from glutathione, some of the best-known antioxidants are vitamins C and E, omega-3 fatty acids, beta-carotene (a precursor for Vitamin A), lycopene, selenium, flavonoids, resveratrol, and other phytonutrients (8).
If you’re not getting enough antioxidants from food, then supplementing with glutathione (specifically liposomal glutathione – find out why in the next section!) is an excellent idea. Otherwise, free radicals may overwhelm your body.
So, what happens when there are far too many free radicals floating around in the body and not enough antioxidants?
Well, this leads to a condition known as oxidative stress. Unfortunately, oxidative stress is bad news. Free radicals aggressively steal electrons from nearby molecules, which triggers a chain reaction. This does not bode well for healthy cells. Losing an electron basically damages the cell, alters lipids and proteins, and changes DNA structure.
Depending on what cells were damaged in the process, oxidative stress can lead to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and more (5).
Where to get your antioxidants, e.g. glutathione, from?
Getting your antioxidants from food is always the #1 option as it’s obviously the way nature intended. But in the hustle and bustle of today’s world, buying fresh, whole foods is not always the cheapest option. Neither is it convenient to prepare healthy meals every day.
Dietary supplements, on the other hand, are a convenient way to get a good dose of antioxidants at an affordable price. In fact, according to CRNUSA, 77% of American adults take dietary supplements – it’s a billion-dollar industry with the numbers expected to go up even more!
The only problem is that supplements aren’t created equal and bioavailability varies from brand to brand, which brings us to our next point.
What’s the best form of glutathione – oral, liposomal, or intravenous?
If you go searching for glutathione products, you’ll find that it comes in many shapes and sizes. Aside from liposomal glutathione, you can buy glutathione pills, tablets, capsules, and even soap and lotion. You can even have it injected straight into your bloodstream!
Let’s take a closer look at the 3 most popular ways of getting more glutathione in your body – oral, liposomal, and intravenous (IV). The topical forms (soap and lotion) are typically used for skin lightening, so we won’t include this in our discussion.
We will be evaluating the oral, liposomal, and intravenous modes of glutathione delivery against these 3 criteria:
Oral glutathione differs from liposomal glutathione in that it does not use liposomes as a means of delivery. It usually comes in a traditional pill, capsule, or tablet form. It’s convenient and easy enough to take.
Out of the 3, oral glutathione is the most affordable. For example, a 2-month supply of 500mg capsules can set you back about $20-$30, which isn’t really bad at all. Despite the price, it’s actually effective at boosting GSH levels (but not as much as liposomal and IV glutathione).
You see, when you swallow the oral glutathione, it is first broken down in the stomach before it makes its way to the bloodstream. The digestive enzymes in your stomach degrade the glutathione and severely limits its absorption rate.
What this essentially means is that not all of the 500mg glutathione you just swallowed actually makes its way to your bloodstream. This makes oral glutathione’s bioavailability less than ideal (9).
So, oral glutathione may be cheap, but you’re not really getting your money’s worth since you don’t benefit from the full dosage.
- Bioavailability: 1/5 (poor absorption rates)
- Price: 4/5 (cheapest option but knocking a point off because you’re not getting your money’s worth)
- Convenience: 5/5 (very easy to take)
Liposomal glutathione is also administered orally, but unlike traditional oral supplements, liposomal glutathione hides the GSH inside vesicles known as liposomes.
So, what exactly is a liposome?
Liposomes are microscopic drug-delivery systems. Think of a microscopic bubble with an ultra-protective barrier, keeping the content within safe.
The barrier is called ‘phosphatidylcholine,’ a substance that forms a major part of our cell membranes. This material allows the body to absorb the liposomes, and in effect, the glutathione hidden within (10).
Liposomes are resistant to digestive enzymes, bile salts, and free radicals, so they can deliver their contents safely without degrading (11).
In terms of bioavailability, liposomal glutathione ranks higher than traditional oral glutathione, which gives you better bang for your buck. Price-wise, it is more expensive than oral GSH but not as expensive as the third option, intravenous glutathione.
Convenience-wise, it can come in both softgel and liquid form. Obviously, softgels are more convenient because you can just pop one in your mouth. With the liquid form, you’d need to grab a teaspoon or dropper to measure out a precise dosage.
- Bioavailability: 4/5 (the liposomes help with absorption rates)
- Price: 4/5 (it’s slightly more expensive than oral GSH but you are getting your money’s worth)
- Convenience: 4/5 (two options to choose from)
While some people are brave enough to buy vials of GSH and inject it on themselves, it is best to leave it to the professionals. This will of course ramp up the cost, but at least, you’re in much safer hands than if you do it yourself.
Since the GSH goes straight into the bloodstream, absorption rates are ‘expected’ to be much higher than either oral GSH or liposomal GSH (12). It skips all the digestive enzymes and liver metabolism – the GSH is deposited right where you want it.
That being said, the human body is complex, so there’s actually no guarantee your body will absorb all that GSH. Our bodies are pretty adept at knowing its limits – it will absorb what it requires and expel the rest.
Another problem with IV GSH is that it’s largely unregulated with regards to the dosage. Some clinicians may recommend a dose of 600mg, others may go up to twice or even thrice as much!
This may lead to effects such as skin rashes, thyroid, kidney and liver dysfunction, abdominal pain, potentially fatal Stevens-Johnson syndrome, toxic epidermal necrolysis, and lethal complications from infections (13).
So, IV GSH is the priciest option to get your fix of GSH antioxidants. But it doesn’t end there. You will be advised to get GSH injections or IV treatment a few times per week, which can be impractical as a session can take up to 30 minutes to an hour (depending on the dosage).
- Bioavailability: 5/5 (very good absorption rates)
- Price: 1/5 (costly)
- Convenience: 1/5 (not very convenient at all)
So, what’s the best form of glutathione in terms of bioavailability, price, and convenience?
Money doesn’t grow on trees, so depending on your financial capacity and your antioxidant needs, we suggest the following course of action:
- If you want the best value for your money, liposomal glutathione is the way to go. It’s well-absorbed by the body, it’s priced competitively, and it’s relatively convenient. You’re getting a pretty good dose of glutathione at a really good price!
- If you can afford several IV GSH sessions without batting an eyelash, then go for IV GSH. It’s a surefire way of getting the most amount of GSH directly into your body.
- If you’re on a strictly limited budget, oral GSH is your best bet of getting some GSH in you.
What to look for in the best liposomal glutathione supplement?
A quick search online will yield hundreds of liposomal glutathione products. To help narrow down your search, here are a few pointers on what you should be looking for in a liposomal glutathione supplement.
The size of the liposomes
The smaller the liposome, the better the absorption rate. Our Intelligent Labs Liposomal Glutathione supplement uses liposomes that are, on average, only 200 microns wide.
Where is glutathione sourced from
Avoid brands that use cheaper-sourced glutathione. Instead, look for a product that uses premium Setria Glutathione as it’s the gold standard for glutathione supplements. It’s clinically proven to raise blood glutathione levels, help increase the body’s GSH stores, and increase natural killer cell activity (14).
Liquid vs softgel form
Either form offers better absorption rates than traditional oral glutathione. The softgel form may be more convenient than liquid, but you cannot quickly adjust your dosage with this form. Liquid liposomal glutathione, on the other hand, gives you maximum control. For instance, if one serving is 500mg, you can take half (250mg) at the beginning and gradually adjust the dose as your body gets used to the supplement. You cannot do this with softgels.
Most liposomal GSH products use a 500mg serving. However, the Setria study actually used 1000mg/day which didn’t lead to any adverse outcomes – quite the opposite, in fact (14)! After the study concluded, the researchers also found that it did not affect the body’s natural GSH production, which is a good thing.
As you’ve learned in the previous section, liposomal glutathione gives you excellent value for your money compared to oral GSH and IV GSH. However, prices can vary widely in this type of GSH product. That said, our Intelligent Labs Liposomal Glutathione is priced very competitively for thirty 500mg servings (1-month supply).
Earlier in this article, we mentioned that GSH has a sulfur component. As such, GSH supplements have a distinct, interesting taste. Some people can’t stomach the taste, while others quickly chase it down with some water or juice.
While taste is not the reason most people buy supplements, it can make a difference between wanting to take it or throwing the entire bottle in the trash.
To make our own liposomal glutathione more palatable, we’ve added natural strawberry flavor and stevia, a zero-carb and zero-calorie sweetener, so go ahead and check it out here!
What are the health benefits of taking liposomal glutathione?
Here are some of the benefits you will reap by supplementing with this powerful antioxidant:
Benefit #1: Fight oxidative stress
So, oxidative stress is the result of having way too much free radicals in the body and not enough antioxidants to neutralize them. It can damage your cells and even your DNA, which can lead to a bunch of diseases. But by supplementing with liposomal glutathione, you’re getting a healthy dose of antioxidants to help reduce oxidative stress and allow your body to start healing (4).
Benefit #2: Reduce inflammation
Inflammation is an important immune system response. However, when the inflammation becomes chronic, it’s bad news. Now, oxidative stress can lead to chronic inflammation (and subsequently chronic diseases). If GSH can fight oxidative stress, then it will also inhibit and reduce inflammation (15). For instance, lung diseases that result from inflammation can be treated by increasing GSH levels in the body (16).
Benefit #3: Regenerate other antioxidants
As the body’s master antioxidant, sufficient GSH levels can help regenerate vitamins C and E – both potent antioxidants – that can help fight off oxidative stress (4). With more than one type of antioxidant actively fighting free radicals, your body has a much better chance of succeeding and whipping you back into good health!
Benefit #4: Protection from toxic materials and pollutants
In addition to being a master antioxidant, GSH is also a master detoxifier. Now, the main detoxifying organ in the body is the liver and GSH is found in huge quantities there.
GSH will bind metals, toxins, and other pollutants (including alcohol). It will then transform these xenobiotics (it just means substances that are foreign to the body) into water-soluble compounds that can then be transported out of cells and then excreted from the body (17).
GSH has also been used to treat chronic liver diseases (such as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease) and acute poisoning. This is usually administered via IV injection for maximum absorption (18).
Benefit #5: Get more energy
Remember how GSH protects the mitochondria, a.k.a. the powerhouse of individual cells?
Well, by supplementing with liposomal glutathione, you’re also ensuring the mitochondria is able to withstand constant attacks from oxidizing substances called ‘Reactive Oxygen Species’ or ROS. If the ROS overpowers the mitochondria, it can lead to cell death. And if it goes on unabated, it can lead to the progression of disease (19).
Fortunately, liposomal glutathione can help the mitochondria avoid that fate. And in the process, you get more energy to help you get through the day!
Benefit #6: Improve mental and brain health
We’ve mentioned earlier that people with chronic stress have low GSH levels. Apparently, the same thing is true for people suffering from anxiety and depression (20), schizophrenia (21), bipolar disorder (22) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (12).
The good news is that by supplementing with GSH, you can restore your GSH levels to normal and reduce your GSSG levels (the inactive form of glutathione). If you’re suffering from any of the conditions above, then you may soon start feeling better.
Benefit #7: Improve your immunity
GSH improves your health from the cellular level, so it’s not surprising to know that supplementing with it can improve your health in so many ways. In addition to the benefits already listed in this section, GSH can also help improve your overall immunity (16). Your body can fight off free radicals and minimize the effects of oxidative stress.
Benefit #8: Younger-looking skin
Glutathione is marketed as a beauty product in many countries, especially in Asia. The target? Women who are hoping to have luminous, porcelain skin with a lighter complexion. But does it really work as an anti-aging substance?
According to a 2017 Thai study done on 60 women, oral GSH given to subjects at a dose of 250mg/day for 12 weeks resulted to positive changes on the patients’ skin (less wrinkles and improved skin elasticity) (23).
The same outcome was also experienced on a study done on 30 Filipino women where 90% of the subjects experienced moderate skin lightening (less melanin pigmentation). The women were given 500mg of a buccal lozenge daily for 8 weeks (24).
However, a literature review published on the DPC Journal advised to take these results with a grain of salt due to limitations, such as the small sample size and lack of follow up. While the researchers pointed out the relative safety of oral and topical GSH, they discouraged using IV GSH for beauty reasons due to possible health risks (13).
The right dosage – how much liposomal GSH should you take?
The right dosage will depend on what your end goal is. According to Medscape, a website intended for medical professionals, the recommended dose range for oral GSH is 50-600mg per day.
Most liposomal glutathione products fall within this range, with most brands suggesting a 500mg serving per day. So, if you want to have healthy antioxidant levels in your body, then 500mg (equivalent to 5ml) of liposomal GSH will suffice.
Again, this is where liquid formulas of liposomal glutathione have an advantage over softgel formulas. You can start at a low dose (250mg) during the first few days of supplementing and adjust accordingly as your body gets used to the GSH.
The patients on the Setria glutathione study were given 1000mg/day with no adverse effects (14). We recommend, however, that you seek advice from your doctor if you wish to go beyond the suggested 500mg dose.
How to take liposomal glutathione?
Liposomal GSH in softgel form is obviously easy to take – just pop one in your mouth and you’re done.
As for liquid formulas, you can use a teaspoon (which is about 5ml) or a dropper. You can swallow directly (this is possible with our strawberry-flavored liposomal glutathione as it masks the sulfuric taste of regular GSH) or you can add it to water or juice.
How long should you supplement? Is there a time limit?
You can supplement for as long as you need to. GSH is generally a very safe supplement, with many clinical trials observing no serious adverse reactions in their patients (23). This means that if you’re suffering from conditions that are borne out of oxidative stress, then long-term supplementation at the recommended standard dose shouldn’t be a problem.
It’s a different story, however, when supplementing at a high dose for prolonged periods.
According to a study published in the IJDVL journal, some potential adverse effects include the development of hypopigmented patches, lightening of hair color, depletion of liver glutathione levels, exacerbation of peptic ulcers, and increased susceptibility to melanoma (12).
Are there any side effects?
As mentioned above, many studies have shown that GSH is a safe supplement with low toxicity and rare adverse effects.
An example would be a 4-week study on 40 volunteers in Washington. The volunteers were given 500mg of oral GSH twice a day. The researchers reported that no serious side effects occurred. But a small number (8 people) reported mild side effects such as flatulence, loose stools, flushing, and 1 individual reportedly gained weight (9).
Can you take this supplement if you’re pregnant?
Remember how antioxidants fight against oxidative stress? Well, oxidative stress also happens during pregnancy, but it’s not a bad thing since it’s necessary for placental development and normal cell function.
There’s an expected increase in oxidative stress, but it should be stable in a healthy pregnancy. Otherwise, uncontrolled oxidative stress can lead to pregnancy complications like preeclampsia (25).
So, while glutathione and antioxidants, in general, can have a positive health impact, the official advice is to consult with your physician before taking any dietary supplements; this includes liposomal glutathione.
What about breastfeeding moms? Is liposomal GSH safe for them?
Glutathione from a nursing mother’s milk is beneficial to a newborn, especially during the first month when the infant is not yet able to synthesize or make GSH on its own. After the first month, GSH is still present in the milk but at a significantly lower level (26).
That being said, breastfeeding keeps your baby healthy. It supplies all the nutrients your baby needs and protects against infection and disease. Just be aware that anything you put in your mouth can leak to your breastmilk, this includes any supplements you take.
Similar to pregnant women, the official advice is to speak with your physician if you’re thinking of supplementing with glutathione.
Congrats – you made it to the end of this article. By now, glutathione’s importance to the human body should be very apparent to you. But as you’ve learned, supplementing with traditional oral glutathione is just not going to cut it with its dismal absorption rates. IV glutathione is impractical for a lot of reasons. So, really, the best way to get your glutathione levels up is through liposomal glutathione – it’s highly absorbable and won’t break your bank account!