Grabbing a venti latte to get over an occasional energy slump is fine. But if you chug so much caffeine the neighborhood barista knows your name (and can spell it right on the cup), you’re trying to fix a bullet hole with a Band-Aid, bub.
Chronic lack of energy can stem from a crappy diet, an overabundance of stress, and too little exercise. Adopting healthier habits can help you feel refreshed and bursting with energy. But if you’re looking for an extra energy boost, consider glutathione (GSH).
Dubbed the “master antioxidant,” GSH is found in every cell of your body and can provide a steady flow of sustained energy to power you through the day.
Problem is, aging (GSH levels start to decline around your 25th birthday) and dealing with the trials of everyday life can deplete your stores, and leave you more comatose than conscious.
Here’s everything you need to know about how your body produces energy—and how glutathione can help you get more of it.
What Does Glutathione Do?
As an antioxidant, glutathione’s main job is to fight free radicals which can damage your cells.
“Free radicals are unstable and highly reactive molecules generated from natural metabolic processes and external toxins like smoking, pollution, and ultraviolet light,” says Jim Staheli, D.O., Medical Director at both Hone Health and Broad Health.
Not all free radicals are evil. For example, your body uses them to kill pathogens and regulate cell growth. But too many of them can overwhelm your natural antioxidant defenses and lead to oxidative stress, says Staheli.
Oxidative stress has been linked to chronic disorders including autoimmune disease, cancer, cardiovascular disease, lung disease, diabetes, fibromyalgia, dementia, and Alzheimer’s, Staheli says. You may also feel fatigue with low GSH levels, he adds.
Glutathione can raise your energy levels by fighting oxidative stress. But that’s not all, says Nayan Patel, Pharm.D., author of The Glutathione Revolution. Getting enough GSH also restores your body’s ability to repair itself and create energy.
“It removes the sluggishness, like taking a wet blanket off your body,” he says (1).
- Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant that fights free radicals and oxidative stress.
- Oxidative stress can contribute to fatigue and low energy levels.
- GSH helps restore your body’s ability to repair itself and create energy.
Does Glutathione Give You Energy?
Not directly. But glutathione is vital to energy production. Here’s why:
Mitochondria—which, if you remember from middle school biology, are the powerhouses of your cells—convert nutrients from food into a molecule called adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, an organic compound that provides energy for the body, says Patel.
Free radicals are also generated in the mitochondria during the production of ATP.
If they aren’t neutralized, they may damage your mitochondria’s DNA, which may lead to aging, low energy, and fatigue, says Staheli.
That’s where the glutathione in mitochondria (mGSH)—a form of glutathione that (you guessed it) exists in your mitochondria—comes in. It scavenges free radicals to protect the mitochondria from potential damage and dysfunction.
Here are three specific instances where glutathione gives mitochondria a boost to keep energy going strong.
Detoxifies Your Liver
Your liver holds the highest concentration of GSH in your body. There, its main function is to clean out toxins that clog the organ, says Patel. Your liver converts fat into energy and also regulates glucose, ensuring your body has a steady stream of energy, he adds.
Toxic chemicals are primarily metabolized in your liver (2). If you’re exposed to too many toxins, including heavy metals and solvents, they can accumulate in your liver, slow down its function, and make you sluggish, Patel says.
Glutathione assists your mitochondria and cleans out these toxins and other waste, he says.
Dr. Patel likens this to a car’s engine.
For your car (your body) to operate at full capacity, you need a clean engine (your liver). If your engine is covered in grease and grime (solvents and heavy metals), it’s not as efficient and your car’s performance suffers. With some help from a degreaser and a scrub brush (glutathione), you clear away gunk so your engine runs smoothly.
“If your body is clean, your mitochondria can do its job and produce more energy,” says Patel.
Fights Oxidative Stress
Remember when we said oxidative stress was linked to disease, aging, and fatigue? The link is (surprise!) mitochondria.
Oxidative stress hinders your mitochondria’s ability to produce ATP, says Staheli. And, in simple terms, the less ATP you have, the lower your energy.
Through metabolic processes, the breakdown of ATP can play a role in inflammation (3).
“Excessive metabolization of ATP to ADP may determine the course of inflammation; this in turn can lead to fatigue,” says Staheli.
“Inflammation can also damage mitochondrial DNA, making you even more tired,” he adds.
Here, the glutathione in mitochondria (mGSH) can be a triple threat.
“mGSH neutralizes free radicals, decreases inflammation, and protects your mitochondrial DNA so your mitochondria can work uninterrupted to churn out energy,” Staheli says.
What Does It Feel Like If Your Glutathione Levels are Low?
In a word: run down.
“With low GSH levels, you may feel fatigue, physically weak or experience mental fog,” says Staheli. “The effect may be subtle. You may struggle to complete a workout, feel sore after exercise or experience a disruption in your sleep cycle,” he adds.
Forget fatigue and unfinished workouts. Are you ready to improve your energy with glutathione?
Other Benefits of Glutathione
Glutathione is not an energy-boosting one trick pony. Researchers have linked glutathione to other benefits including:
Better Brain Health
Low glutathione levels have been tied to neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease (4).
One small study found 30 days of IV GSH supplementation improved symptoms of people with early, untreated Parkinson’s disease for 2 to 4 months post-treatment (5).
Another study—a review published in 2019 in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease— found people with Alzheimer’s had lower glutathione levels in their hippocampus–the brain’s memory center. The researchers suggest glutathione may be a key supplement to enhance brain health (6).
Glutathione is involved in the removal of substances from the body, including both natural by-products of metabolic processes, and also toxic, even carcinogenic, substances like some poisons and persistent organic pollutants (POPS), such as pesticides (7).
“Working in conjunction with your liver, glutathione helps in the detoxification of harmful metabolites,”, Staheli says.
An Enhanced Immune System
Because of its powerful antioxidant properties, glutathione may promote stronger immunity and fine-tune your immune system (8). One clinical trial found subjects who supplemented with glutathione had higher levels of natural killer (NK) cells and lymphocytes–two types of cells that fight off infections (9).
A study published in 2019 in the journal Biochemistry found glutathione may be able to stop DNA-damaging free radicals before they cause cell damage (10). Beat-up DNA accelerates your risk of diseases like Parkinson’s disease, atherosclerosis, heart attack, and cancer, and can speed up your aging process (11).
Ways to Increase Glutathione
Eat glutathione-rich foods
Glutathione-supporting foods can lift your GSH levels and ramp up your energy.
Add these glutathione-rich foods to your shopping list: brassica vegetables (such as Brussels sprouts, kale, cauliflower, and cabbage). Toss in some eats high in vitamin C (citrus fruits, kiwis, strawberries, and bell peppers), which is important for glutathione levels (12). Whey protein, which is high in amino acids that are important to glutathione synthesis, is another to top your list.
According to preliminary data, moderate exercise increases glutathione levels, according to a study published in 2020 in The Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) (13). Aim for a mix of weight training and cardio; research suggests this combination may boost glutathione better than doing just one or the other (14).
Get enough sleep
When you sleep, your body has a lower free radical load. There is less impact on your mitochondria due to a decrease in oxidative stress, says Staheli.
“Because your body is constantly producing glutathione–and less is required while you sleep–your GSH stores increase in preparation for the next day,” Staheli says. “Restful sleep and adequate levels of GSH help you wake up feeling refreshed,” he adds.
After you indulge with adult bevs, GSH will help clear out toxins from your liver.
“The more you drink alcohol, the greater the demand is on your GSH stores,” Staheli says. “This leads to more free radical activity and potential cell damage,” he adds.
In other words: drinking less booze may help protect your GSH levels and contribute to lowering the risk of free radical takeover.
Supplementing with Glutathione
Certain glutathione supplements can boost your energy levels, but some forms are better than others for sustained energy.
- IV Drip: “Almost 100 percent of GSH can be absorbed into your body but the effects are short term,” says Staheli. “This form of delivery is very effective if you’re sick, or hungover,” he adds.
- Oral Supplements: Only about 15-30% is absorbed, Staheli says. “Your intestinal enzymes degrade most of the GSH so absorption is not as strong as an IV drip or injection,” he adds.
- Topical Cream/Spray: “The effectiveness of this delivery system can be variable–with added sub-nano technology, absorption can be high and very beneficial,” Staheli says.
- Injections: “Glutathione injections are a very effective way to supplement GSH with nearly 100% absorption,” Staheli says. “Injections are more effective than oral agents and more convenient than IV’s,” he adds.
Supplementing with glutathione keeps your GSH stores high. Are you tired of being tired?
Who Should Supplement with Glutathione?
GSH supplements may help, according to Dr. Patel, if:
- You’re over the age of 25 and noticing fatigue setting in (remember, GSH levels start to decline around 25)
- You’re chronically fatigued
- You’re exercising less, or are exhausted after a workout
- You’re dealing with chronic stress
To get the most bang from GSH supplements, incorporate healthy habits. “You should focus on your diet, incorporate resistance training 3 times a week, meditate once a day to reduce stress, and get about 8 hours of sleep a night,” says Patel.
How Does Glutathione Make You Feel?
Your energy levels should increase within a couple of weeks of starting glutathione supplements, Patel says.
Dr. Patel worked with a nurse who had extreme fatigue and struggled to make it through her work day. After two weeks of GSH supplementation, her energy levels shot up, her work output improved, and she could handle a longer shift.
Athletes and active individuals typically find they have better workouts and recovery after a few weeks with GSH, says Patel.
The Bottom Line
Glutathione is an antioxidant that’s critical to energy production. You won’t feel an immediate burst of energy with GSH, but a constant flow can help battle fatigue by helping to curb inflammation, detoxify the liver, and fight oxidative stress.
“Higher levels of glutathione help people fall asleep easier, sleep more soundly and wake up refreshed by protecting the brain against excessive stimulation and neurotoxicity,” Staheli says.
The glutathione in mitochondria reduces inflammation which can damage mitochondrial DNA, adding to your fatigue. And glutathione is a potent weapon against oxidative stress. And it improves liver function, which also helps fight fatigue, says Patel.