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What can glutathione do for your mitochondria?

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What can glutathione do for your mitochondria?
Key learnings:
  • What are mitochondria, and what do they do for me?
  • The risks of poor mitochondrial health
  • How glutathione ensures mitochondria can perform their jobs
  • Supporting your glutathione production naturally helps mitochondria


They are our energy factories, the ‘powerhouses of the cell’. They work tirelessly to produce our energy currency (ATP), but sometimes they can become exhausted and fail. Take a look into the importance of the mitochondria, and what you can do to help them help you.

The mitochondria power your entire body

Mitochondria are tiny organelles within the cells of our body, and they are responsible for the production of 90% of the chemical energy our cells need to survive (1). It is not surprising then that mitochondria are widely thought of as the powerhouse of the cell; they use nutrients from the foods we eat to create energy in the form of ATP (adenosine triphosphate) - an astonishing amount of ATP every day as, even at rest, your mitochondria will manufacture your body weight in ATP (2).


The production of ATP is a three-phase process, involving various different nutrients. For example, the first phase — β-Oxidation of fats (beta-oxidation) — involves three different nutrients: FAD (riboflavin), NADG (niacin), and CoQ10 (coenzyme Q10). Mitochondria undergo the β-Oxidation of fats, citric acid cycle, and ETC (electron transport chain) in order to create the vast amount of ATP our bodies require every minute.

However, one component of ATP production that is being looked at increasingly in conjunction with mitochondrial health is glutathione (2). Glutathione, an antioxidant created from cysteine, glutamate and glycine during the production of ATP, is often found to be lacking within the cells, contributing to mitochondrial dysfunction. This inefficiency can lead to countless ailments within the body, the most drastic being mitochondrial disease. Because the mitochondria are such vital actors in our body’s daily functions, their detriment can have a drastic impact on our overall health.


Mitochondrial functions and chronic disease

Recently, the nutritional science and medical communities have become ever more aware that optimal mitochondrial function is vital to create a solid foundation for bodily functions. Not only that, but a decline in mitochondrial health has been shown in connection to the development of several common chronic illnesses, such as:

  • Alzheimer’s
  • Autism
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Dementia
  • Diabetes
  • Parkinson’s (2)

A common sign of poor mitochondrial function is diminished energy metabolism leading to chronic fatigue. However, mitochondrial disease can manifest in numerous ways, affecting nearly every part of the body, including the brain, nerves, muscles, kidneys, heart, and liver (3).

Beyond energy production, mitochondria are also in charge of building, breaking down, and recycling the building blocks of the cells, such as amino acids and other nutrients. They are also involved in the manufacturing of hemoglobin, detoxifying the liver, and breaking down the fat, protein, and carbohydrates we consume. Cells affected by mitochondrial disease can be injured and may even die as a result, which leaves the body unable to fully perform these vital tasks. (4)


The relationship between glutathione and mitochondrial health

Although glutathione is commonly recognized for its role in making ATP, it is also a “master antioxidant” charged with protecting and maintaining the health of the mitochondria, as it also recycles other antioxidants needed for optimal mitochondrial performance (5).

Science has established the importance of glutathione through examining several characteristics of its presence within cells. First, glutathione is found in surprisingly high amounts within most cells, but it also requires a large metabolic effort to produce. Generally, the body does not spend unnecessary energy, therefore meaning that glutathione must be an absolutely vital component of every cell. Second, researchers observed that glutathione in its oxidized state is actually toxic to the cells and can induce the cell’s death (apoptosis); the presence of oxidized glutathione forces the cell to expel it and produce the useful form of glutathione. This is why it is vital for those choosing to supplement directly with glutathione to understand that oxidized glutathione can actually have the opposite effect (6).

However, one of the clearest indications of glutathione importance is that its levels are directly linked to our general state of health. Glutathione can be exhausted by intense exercise, stress, poor sleep habits, smoking, and a poor diet. Low levels of glutathione are harmful because they impair the body’s ability to build essential antioxidant enzymes, regenerate levels of vitamins C and E, neutralize free radicals, expel mercury and other toxins from within cells, and preserve that vital mitochondrial function. Simply, when glutathione levels drop, the body is less able to protect itself from illness, filter out toxins, or create energy (6).


How can supporting glutathione production help your mitochondria?

Mitochondria create the energy that we require to execute our daily tasks. This, along with a whole host of other mitochondrial responsibilities, are supported by the body’s supply of the essential antioxidant and building block, glutathione. There are two strategies that spring to mind when talking about promoting an increase in glutathione levels, in order to combat mitochondrial damage:

Taking a glutathione supplement would appear logical, but research has shown that supplements may not be the most effective way to increase your nutrient levels, especially concerning glutathione, because they require your body to absorb the nutrient through your intestinal tract. The danger with this method is that glutathione itself is not easily absorbed by cells, and it often remains in the body unabsorbed. This means oxidation occurs much quicker, creating an excess of oxidized glutathione and inadvertently inducing age-related deterioration at a faster rate because of the increased presence of free radicals. (7)

The Journal of Food Science and Technology recommends increasing glutathione by providing your body with the building blocks to manufacture its own glutathione. Undenatured whey protein has been shown to be one of the most effective ways of providing your body with the tools to build its own glutathione. This is more effective than adding a molecular supplement, as it allows your body to make use of the nutrients you give it in a natural way rather than providing it with the pre-built nutrient. Not only does this improve nutrient absorption, but allowing your body to create its own glutathione encourages all of the other natural processes happening within the mitochondria, such as the effective production of ATP (7).

Native whey is an undenatured, natural alternative to ultra-processed, ineffective commercial proteins. Undenatured native whey specifically has high levels of cysteine, which along with glutamate and glycine is essential to the production of glutathione. Focusing on adding food supplements rich in essential amino acids and other nutrients, like undenatured native whey, may support your glutathione production, protecting your mitochondria from oxidative stress damage. (7)



  1. Mitochondrial Biology Unit (2019). What are Mitochondria? | MRC Mitochondrial Biology Unit. [online] Mrc-mbu.cam.ac.uk.
  2. Pizzorno, J. (2014). Mitochondria-Fundamental to Life and Health. Integrative Medicine (Encinitas, Calif.), 13(2), 8–15.
  3. United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation, 2019, Possible Symptoms, United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation, viewed 7 May 2019 [online]
  4. United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation, 2015, What is Mitochondrial Disease?, United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation, viewed 7 May 2019 [online]
  5. Wu, G., Fang, Y.-Z., Yang, S., Lupton, J. R., & Turner, N. D. (2004). Glutathione metabolism and its implications for health. The Journal of Nutrition, 134(3), 489–492.
  6. Pizzorno, J. (2014). Glutathione! Integrative Medicine (Encinitas, Calif.), 13(1), 8–12.
  7. Patel, S. (2015). Emerging trends in nutraceutical applications of whey protein and its derivatives. Journal of Food Science and Technology, 52(11), 6847.

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