Glutathione for lightening—go or no go?

Published July 6, 2021, 3:13 PM

by Dr. Kaycee Reyes

Made of amino acids glutamine, glycine, and cysteine and produced in the liver, is it really effective?

Glutathione is, first and foremost, an antioxidant.

If you’re a Filipino, you must have heard of (or even tried!) glutathione. It came into the mainstream for its supposed skin lightening properties. Countless brands have been offering glutathione products since it came into the mainstream—from candies, pills, to drinks. With mixed results from those who have tried it, the question remains: Are they really effective?

Glutathione is, first and foremost, an antioxidant. Made of amino acids glutamine, glycine, and cysteine, it is produced in the liver. Its main role is to eliminate toxins, combat free radicals, repair and restore tissue, assist in chemical processes in the body and support the immune system. Glutathione levels decline with age, and low levels are linked to easier susceptibility to illnesses and disease. At the same time, GSH levels also go down with stress, when one has a poor diet or lifestyle, or is immuno-compromised with existing conditions such as Parkinson’s, cancer, or HIV/AIDS.

Glutathione’s effectivity in skin lightening, however, remains controversial. Its lightening properties are said to happen as a result of consumption in large amounts that inhibit the melanin-producing tyrosinase. So far, only two studies have evaluated its efficacy. One was a randomized, double-blind, two-arm, placebo-controlled study conducted among 60 healthy medical Thai students with orally-administered glutathione or a placebo (Arjinpathana et Al, 2012). The results showed significantly reduced melanin indices. Another was an open-label study by a Filipino (Handog rt al. 2016) that used glutathione containing lozenges among 30 Filipino women that also reported improvement in the skin melanin index.

In terms of safety, oral glutathione dietary supplements have been granted the status of “generally recognized as safe,” consistent with Section 201(s) of the federal food, drug and cosmetic act of the United States Food and Drug Administration. As of this writing, there is no restriction on its availability in the US, the Philippines, and Japan.

While high-dose glutathione in oral form is not technically possible, it may still deliver and boost its levels as a lot of them contain additional nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin E, and alpha-lipoic acid, among others. In terms of dosage and duration, the effectivity of oral glutathione is time-dependent (recommended to take for a minimum of six months) and dose-dependent (better to take 1,000mg/day), according to a study by Richie, et al (2014).

Of course, glutathione-boosting food is available as well. This can be found in cruciferous vegetables rich in sulfur, citrus fruits rich in vitamin C, protein-rich food such as tofu and meat, and glutathione-rich food such as asparagus, walnuts, avocados, and spinach. Moreover, alpha-lipoic acid and whey protein may also aid in glutathione production.

Glutathione is a widely-popular antioxidant that offers a lot of health benefits and may promote whitening properties. Available in food and supplement form, you can boost your levels by taking either or both. A combination of a healthy diet and lifestyle promotes healthy glutathione levels as well.

 
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