walang #gandagluta: the myths of glutathione (part 1)

The growing awareness of morena beauty and a slight shift of beauty standards is more than enough to make a difference. We need more of it. Or better yet, have a growing belief that whatever skin tone we’re born with is the best and most beautiful trait we can ever have.

Ever since the era of Spanish and American colonization, the Filipino ideals of beauty have relied heavily on white skin. The pressure of achieving Caucasian looks have grown stronger and stronger until papaya soaps no longer sated the yearning, envious Filipino. That paved way for a new whitening revolution: glutathione supplements.

In the recent decades, these glutathione supplements have been sought after for skin whitening. The industry feeding off of colonized dreams turned into a large promise of instant white skin with over-the-counter pills and injections that seep into the bloodstream.

But the miracle drug heavily advertised for the skin isn’t supposed to be meant for the skin. That’s right: glutathione is not meant for any sort of skin whitening whatsoever.

What, then, is glutathione and what is it for?

The Mother of All Antioxidants

Named by Dr. Mark Hyman as the mother of all antioxidants, glutathione is crucial in maintaining healthy levels of oxygen amongst cells. It’s considered to be one of the most important and most powerful antioxidants in the body- and one of the fair few that can be manufactured by cells (specifically liver cells). Because of this, it’s abundant. In fact, it’s the most abundant agent inside the body that is capable of neutralizing free radicals (dangerous buildup of oxygen, ions and environmental wastes) in cells and reduce cellular damage. It even has its own system-the glutathione system– that acts as the body’s first line of defense and aids the liver in getting rid of toxins.

One of the key aspects to glutathione is sulfur, which is a sticky chemical that can easily adhere to the harmful buildup of substances in cells.

In short, your body is a living factory that creates a very powerful molecule to balance oxygen, fight against toxins and maintain the well-being of cells. Maintaining healthy glutathione levels in the body is a good thing to consider in your overall health, but it’s not something to worry about too much.

The antioxidant is known to recycle itself and is also found in animals and plants that have a natural supply of oxygen, so it’s easy to obtain glutathione with the right kind of diet. The natural supply of glutathione decreases over time due to many factors, mainly exercise, age, and stress. However, finding a supplement (capsule, injection, etc.) isn’t considered necessary unless it’s properly diagnosed. This I will get into later.

Because of what it can do, scientists have highly noted the significance of this molecule in the process of detoxification-among other ‘cleansing’ processes in the body- which is why it’s so popular among biochemical researchers as a treatment for a variety of diseases.

To date, some studies have linked glutathione with:

  • Reducing respiratory diseases
  • Reducing cancer cells
  • Improving blood flow
  • Hindering signs of aging
  • Increased overall immunity
  • Treating various neurological diseases (Alzheimer’s, Parkinsons, autism, etc.)
  • Treating Liver diseases
  • Increasing fertility in men
  • Treating diabetes

The list goes on and research has yet to unravel more of glutathione’s potential.

So where does skin whitening come into the picture?

Maybe a Side Effect

Dermatologists and food supplement experts across various regions of Asia, Philippines included, suggest that glutathione accidentally reduces the production of melanin while detoxifying the body. Melanin is the substance that protects the skin from the sun’s UV rays and is the main cause of dark skin color. Therefore, the so-called ‘whitening’ effect is actually just a side effect that naturally happens but isn’t supposed to.

In reality, there isn’t enough clinical evidence to prove that glutathione does whiten skin. A few cases may prove against this, but a market’s testimonials and a clinic’s patients are very different statistics. The promise of achieving a rosy white glow with butterfly shots is all but bleak and dangerous. Moreover, the body is in constant need of melanin because the sun’s heat can slowly kill you. Despite the potential of glutathione in reducing the risk of cancerous cells, there are some toxins outside the body that actually destroy glutathione.

There is no solid guarantee that you’ll have fewer chances of having skin cancer while taking glutathione supplements than the chance that you’d otherwise have without taking it. Having only a handful of studies to prove its whitening effects does not make glutathione supplements valid to take as medicine without a doctor’s consent, much less have it as over-the-counter pills and accessible butterfly shots.

To deliberately want to destroy what is trying to protect you is a very dangerous task- all in the illusion of beauty.

Read part 2 here.


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  2. Belrose, J. C., Xie, Y., Gierszewski, L. J., MacDonald, J. F., & Jackson, M. F. (2012). Loss of glutathione homeostasis associated with neuronal senescence facilitates TRPM2 channel activation in cultured hippocampal pyramidal neurons.Molecular Brain, 5, 11. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/1756-6606-5-11
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  4. Cooper, A. J. & Kristal, B.S. (1997, August). Multiple Roles of Glutathione in the Central Nervous System. Biological Chemistry. 378(8):793-802. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9377474
  5. Food and Drug Administration Philippines. [http://www.fda.gov.ph]
  6. Golden Orion Hawks International Alliance. (2015, July 28). The Truth about GLUTATHIONE [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ADid8ZuisI
  7. Grosvenor, T. Glutathione Is Produced Naturally In Every Cell Of The Body. Retrieved from http://www.whatisglutathione.org/
  8. Hyman, M. (2011, November 17). Glutathione: The Mother of All Antioxidants. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-mark-hyman/glutathione-the-mother-of_b_530494.html
  9. Klein, R. & Klein, O. Glutathione Side Effects. Immune Health Science. Retrieved from http://www.immunehealthscience.com/glutathione-side-effects.html
  10. Lardizabal-Dado, N. [New Media Publisher]. (2008, July 19). Jessica Soho features Glutathione [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vfkIojCsXi0
  11. Lobo, V., Patil, A., Phatak, A., & Chandra, N. (2010). Free radicals, antioxidants and functional foods: Impact on human health.Pharmacognosy Reviews, 4(8), 118-126. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.4103/0973-7847.70902
  12. G., Frank, K. & Kamal, P. [eds.] (2014, December 2). Glutathione. Examine.com. Retrieved from https://examine.com/supplements/glutathione/
  13. Max International. [almageccom]. (2010, April 12). Why Is Glutathione Critical To Health And Even Life? [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Ln6WCLCw2k
  14. Morris, G., Anderson, G., Dean, O., Berk, M., Galecki, P., Martin-subero, M., & Maes, M. (2014). The glutathione system: A new drug target in neuroimmune disorders. Molecular Neurobiology,50(3), 1059-84. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s12035-014-8705-x
  15. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-717-glutathione.aspx?activeingredientid=717
  16. Rutherford, M. [Martin Rutherford]. (2014, June 4). Benefits Of Glutathione And The Problem With Most Glutathione Supplements [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7UlJxRLZM4M

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