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Understanding Glutathione Deficiency: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Jun 12, 2023
Understanding Glutathione Deficiency: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Glutathione is naturally produced in your liver and nerve cells. This essential antioxidant is made from three amino acids: glycine, L-cysteine, and L-glutamate. Your body protects its glutathione levels, but aging and chronic diseases can cause them to decline.

What can cause a glutathione deficiency?

Factors that affect glutathione levels include:

  • Oxidative stress
  • Toxin accumulation
  • Heavy metal exposure
  • DNA damage
  • Prolonged, excessive alcohol consumption

Glutathione has the power to reduce oxidative stress and neutralize dangerous free radicals. Oxidative stress occurs when there is an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants. This can happen for a variety of reasons. However, most oxidative stress occurs as a result of aging and other stresses on the body from illness or disease.

Exposure to viruses, bacteria, radiation, environmental toxins, and pollution may deplete glutathione levels, resulting in an accumulation of free radicals, which are unstable atoms that can be extremely harmful to the body.

Glutathione regenerates other antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E.1 Glutathione also blocks the production of inflammatory cytokines. It is essential for both innate and adaptive immunity.2 Glutathione has many important health benefits.

foods that are antioxidants

What can increase oxidative stress?

Free radicals are metabolic byproducts that can harm cells. Free radicals alter the form and function of cellular structures by binding to DNA and proteins. Glutathione exists in two forms: oxidized (GSSG) and reduced (GSH). Glutathione in its reduced form donates an electron to inflammation-causing free radicals, neutralizing their effect. Glutathione is said to be oxidized after losing an electron, but it can be recycled back into its reduced form. When your body is under chronic stress, it impairs its ability to recycle oxidized glutathione to reduced glutathione.3

Factors that can increase oxidative stress include the following: 4,5

  • A diet high in processed foods
  • Aging
  • Chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Excessive or prolonged physical activity
  • Exposure to pollution, radiation, and environmental toxins
  • Exposure to heavy metals
  • Infections
  • Poor nutrition
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Smoking
Understanding Glutathione Deficiency: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

What are the symptoms of glutathione deficiency?

Rarely, a serious inherited condition can cause more severe glutathione deficiencies. In most cases, people experience a mild-to-moderate glutathione deficiency that is associated with non-specific symptoms. Symptoms associated with low glutathione levels include:

  • Fatigue
  • Frequent infections
  • Joint and muscle aches
  • Male infertility
  • Skin damage
  • Weight gain
a tired woman suffering from a glutathione deficiency sitting on a couch

What happens when glutathione levels are low?

When glutathione levels are low, there is an increased risk of cellular damage from oxidative stress and inflammation. This can increase your chances of developing a chronic disease.

Your body produces less glutathione as you age, increasing the likelihood of glutathione deficiency. Glutathione declines after menopause are thought to contribute to osteoporosis. 6,7

Glutathione depletion is associated with several medical conditions, including 8,9,10

  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome
  • Aging
  • Asthma
  • Cancer
  • Cataract and glaucoma
  • Chronic liver disease
  • Chronic obstructive lung disease
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Diabetes
  • Heart attacks
  • High blood pressure
  • Immune diseases
  • Increased cholesterol
  • Liver disease
  • Lupus
  • Male and female infertility
  • Mental health disorders
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s diseases, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and Friedreich’s ataxia

How do you check your glutathione levels?

Because glutathione levels fluctuate throughout the day, glutathione testing is not widely used. This makes it difficult to develop a standard. Typically, the normal range of reduced GSH is 3.8 to 5.5 umol/L. In red blood cells (RBCs), the standard range of glutathione levels should be 1,000 to 1,900 umol/L, with 1,000-1,200 umol/L considered low.11

Many people self-diagnose a mild-to-moderate glutathione deficiency based on symptoms such as fatigue, poor sleep, frequent infections, and brain fog.

A doctor answering a question

Is glutathione safe for everyone?

There is not enough research on glutathione dosages, the effects of overdosage, or stopping glutathione. Despite being generally recognized as safe, glutathione may cause side effects. Glutathione injections may lead to the following:12

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Allergic reactions
  • Rash or irritation at the injection site
  • Kidney and liver problems
  • Blood clotting problems: Glutathione injections may interfere with blood clotting, increasing the risk of bleeding and bruising. However, a long-term phase 4 study did not find an increased bleeding risk after using glutathione.

If you supplement with glutathione long-term, ask about having your zinc levels checked. Prolonged glutathione supplement use has been associated with zinc deficiency.13 Oysters are rich in zinc. Red meat, poultry, legumes, nuts, and dairy products are excellent sources of zinc.

Glutathione injections bypass breakdown by the liver. Injections have a half-life of about 10 to 90 minutes. How long glutathione stays in your system depends on many factors, such as your metabolism, route of administration, and how fast your body uses glutathione.14

Conclusion

Recognizing and addressing glutathione deficiency is essential for maintaining optimal health and combating oxidative stress. For individuals seeking effective treatments and wishing to enhance their antioxidant defenses, considering the option to buy glutathione injections could be a significant step towards replenishing this crucial antioxidant. Invigor Medical provides a range of medical products tailored to meet your health needs, offering a practical solution for those looking to mitigate symptoms and support overall wellness. For more information, visit Invigor Medical.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you know if you are deficient in glutathione?

Glutathione deficiency can be challenging to diagnose through symptoms alone, as they may overlap with various health conditions. However, certain signs such as persistent fatigue, increased susceptibility to infections, oxidative stress-related symptoms, and impaired detoxification processes may indicate a potential deficiency. Laboratory tests measuring glutathione levels in the blood or other tissues can provide more definitive information.

What happens when glutathione is low in the body?

When glutathione levels are low in the body, oxidative stress can increase, leading to cellular damage, inflammation, and compromised immune function. Glutathione deficiency has been associated with various health issues, including neurodegenerative diseases, cardiovascular diseases, liver disorders, and aging-related conditions.

What diseases are associated with low glutathione?

Low levels of glutathione have been linked to several health conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, liver diseases, autoimmune disorders, and cancer. Glutathione plays a vital role in protecting cells from oxidative damage and maintaining overall health and wellbeing.

How do you treat glutathione deficiency?

Treatment for glutathione deficiency typically involves addressing underlying factors contributing to the depletion of glutathione levels. This may include optimizing dietary intake of nutrients involved in glutathione synthesis, reducing exposure to toxins and oxidative stressors, and considering supplementation with glutathione precursors or direct glutathione supplementation under medical supervision. Additionally, lifestyle modifications such as regular exercise, stress management, and adequate sleep can support glutathione production and overall health.

Disclaimer
While we strive to always provide accurate, current, and safe advice in all of our articles and guides, it’s important to stress that they are no substitute for medical advice from a doctor or healthcare provider. You should always consult a practicing professional who can diagnose your specific case. The content we’ve included in this guide is merely meant to be informational and does not constitute medical advice.

Understanding Glutathione Deficiency: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Leann Poston, M.D.

Dr. Leann Poston is a licensed physician in the state of Ohio who holds an M.B.A. and an M. Ed. She is a full-time medical communications writer and educator who writes and researches for Invigor Medical. Dr. Poston lives in the Midwest with her family. She enjoys traveling and hiking. She is an avid technology aficionado and loves trying new things.

References

  • Kern JK, Geier DA, Adams JB, Garver CR, Audhya T, Geier MR. A clinical trial of glutathione supplementation in autism spectrum disorders. Med Sci Monit. 2011 Dec;17(12):CR677-82. doi: 10.12659/msm.882125. PMID: 22129897; PMCID: PMC3628138.
  • Ghezzi P. Role of glutathione in immunity and inflammation in the lung. Int J Gen Med. 2011 Jan 25;4:105-13. doi: 10.2147/IJGM.S15618. PMID: 21403800; PMCID: PMC3048347.
  • Marí M, Morales A, Colell A, García-Ruiz C, Fernández-Checa JC. Mitochondrial glutathione, a key survival antioxidant. Antioxid Redox Signal. Nov 2009;11(11):2685-700. doi:10.1089/ars.2009.2695
  • Kanagasabai T, Ardern CI. Inflammation, Oxidative Stress, and Antioxidants Contribute to Selected Sleep Quality and Cardiometabolic Health Relationships: A Cross-Sectional Study. Mediators Inflamm. 2015;2015:824589. doi:10.1155/2015/824589
  • Flora SJ, Mittal M, Mehta A. Heavy metal induced oxidative stress & its possible reversal by chelation therapy. Indian J Med Res. Oct 2008;128(4):501-23.
  • Kolesnikova L, Semenova N, Madaeva I, Suturina L, Solodova E, Grebenkina L, Darenskaya M. Antioxidant status in peri- and postmenopausal women. Maturitas. 2015 May;81(1):83-7. doi: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2015.02.264. Epub 2015 Mar 7. PMID: 25824469.
  • Huang Q, Gao B, Wang L, Hu YQ, Lu WG, Yang L, Luo ZJ, Liu J. Protective effects of myricitrin against osteoporosis via reducing reactive oxygen species and bone-resorbing cytokines. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 2014 Nov 1;280(3):550-60. doi: 10.1016/j.taap.2014.08.004. Epub 2014 Aug 15. PMID: 25130202.
  • Minich DM, Brown BI. A Review of Dietary (Phyto)Nutrients for Glutathione Support. Nutrients. 2019;11(9):2073. doi:10.3390/nu11092073
  • Pizzorno J. Glutathione! Integr Med (Encinitas). Feb 2014;13(1):8-12.
  • Labarrere CA, Kassab GS. Glutathione: A Samsonian life-sustaining small molecule that protects against oxidative stress, ageing and damaging inflammation. Front Nutr. 2022;9:1007816. doi:10.3389/fnut.2022.1007816
  • Guilford, T. (2012) What every doctor should know about glutathione.
  • Weschawalit S, Thongthip S, Phutrakool P, Asawanonda P. Glutathione and its antiaging and antimelanogenic effects. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2017;10:147-153
  • Steiger MG, Patzschke A, Holz C et al. Impact of glutathione metabolism on zinc homeostasis in Saccharomyces cerevisiae, FEMS Yeast Research, Volume 17, Issue 4, June 2017, fox028
  • Hong SY, Gil HW, Yang JO, Lee EY, Kim HK, Kim SH, Chung YH, Hwang SK, Lee ZW. Pharmacokinetics of glutathione and its metabolites in normal subjects. J Korean Med Sci. 2005 Oct;20(5):721-6. doi: 10.3346/jkms.2005.20.5.721. PMID: 16224142; PMCID: PMC2779265.

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