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Glutathione for hangovers

Evidence based

Glutathione For Hangovers: Does It Work?

Afterdrink Author Kathy Caldwell
Kathy Caldwell

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Evidence based

Is glutathione good for hangovers? If you’ve landed on this page, chances are you know that glutathione is a powerful antioxidant and wondering if it could help with hangovers.

Glutathione is known as the body’s master antioxidant. It neutralizes “free radicals” that are produced as a by-product of normal metabolism.

In this article, we’re going to take a closer look at what glutathione does in the body and whether it has any role in alcohol metabolism and hangover prevention.

Table of contents

What is Glutathione?

Glutathione is made up of 3 amino acids; Cysteine, Glutamate, and Glycine

All cells in your body are capable of producing glutathione. However, your liver is the major powerhouse for glutathione production.

Glutathiones’ major role is to function as an antioxidant. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals. These are produced as a by-product of metabolism. Overindulgence in food and drink increases the number of free radicals produced.

Think of free-radicals as exhaust fumes. It’s normal for cars to produce fumes as they use up fuel. When you push the car to go faster, it naturally uses up more fuel and produces more fumes.

The problem with free radicals is that they are highly charged particles that react with your cells causing inflammation. And inflammation is the root problem in many disease processes.

There’s a lot of hype around antioxidants like glutathione. The reason is, some research has shown that if you’re able to boost your body’s antioxidant defenses, you could potentially reverse aging by reducing inflammation.(1)

However, it’s important to mention that this area of research remains contentious among the scientific community.

With the basics out the way, let’s get straight into whether glutathione has any benefits for a hangover.

Is Glutathione good for hangovers?

To see whether glutathione is good for hangovers or not, we first need to go over how alcohol affects your body.

Firstly, alcohol is a diuretic which means it makes you lose water. You’re probably familiar with “breaking the seal” and needing to urinate frequently on a night out. It’s not just because you’re drinking more fluids. For every glass of wine you drink, you lose an extra 120mls of water. Add this up over a course of a night out and it leads to dehydration.

Inflammation is another major cause of a hangover. Your liver breaks down alcohol to produce toxic by-products such as acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is breaks down to form free radicals that react with your cells causing inflammation. Remember we explained earlier how periods of overindulgence can produce more free radicals? well, this is what explains part of why alcohol causes a hangover.

Finally, alcohol significantly reduces your sleep quality. It does so by blocking the REM stage of sleep which is essential for resting your mind. That’s why you may feel tired even if you’ve slept more than your usual number of hours after drinking alcohol.

Clearly, glutathione will have no benefit with regards to hydration or sleep quality. Whether it could help support your body’s antioxidant defenses is where the question lies.

However, there’s one big problem with taking glutathione for hangovers; it’s hardly absorbed from your gut.(3)

When glutathione reaches your stomach, the acid and intestinal enzymes break glutathione down back into cysteine, glutamate, and glycine. Unfortunately, glutathione supplementation has not been shown to increase your glutathione levels.

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Glutathione vs NAC for hangovers

As we mentioned above, the problem with glutathione is that it’s broken down into amino acids in your gut.

To get around this problem, N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) is used instead. As cysteine is one of the key building blocks required to make glutathione, it’s used as a “glutathione booster”.

In fact, hospitals around the world use N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) to increase glutathione levels in acetaminophen overdose. Remember, cysteine is one of the three amino acids that makes up glutathione.

It’s thought that NAC increases glutathione levels in the liver and therefore protects it from the toxic effects of acetaminophen overdose. That said, it’s important to realize that in hospitals, NAC is given as an infusion over a few days at high doses and can’t be compared with supplements purchased from health stores.

So if glutathione isn’t absorbed well, is NAC good for hangovers?

A small study looking at NAC for hangovers showed no improvement in symptoms.(4)

What about Liposomal glutathione?

Liposomal glutathione is a new way of trying to enhance glutathione absorption. It uses liposomes which form spherical shaped fatty structures that encapsulate glutathione.

Some studies have shown that this mode of delivery does increase glutathione levels compared to standard supplementation.(5)

Whether liposomal glutathione is good for hangovers hasn’t been researched either.

Is Glutathione involved in alcohol metabolism

Glutathione is not directly involved with the metabolism of alcohol. As an antioxidant, it “scavenges” the free radicals which are produced as a by-product of alcohol metabolism instead.

Studies in mice have shown that glutathione levels drop after giving them alcohol. Older mice recover from this drop more slowly which may, in part, explain why hangovers are worse with age.(2)

Glutathione side effects

Side effects of taking glutathione supplements include:

  • abdominal pain
  • bloating
  • Breathing difficulty due to bronchial constriction
  • allergic reactions

If you’re taking any regular medication it’s always best to discuss with your physician first before starting a new supplement as they can sometimes interact.

Anything else to consider?

Hangovers are a sign from your body that you’ve had too much alcohol for your body to handle. Trying to “cure” your hangover with glutathione or any other supplement is the wrong approach.

Eating before drinking alcohol, keeping well hydrated and most importantly, reducing your alcohol is all you need to do to prevent the worst hangovers.

Another tip is to avoid darker colored drinks like whiskey, bourbon and red wine. That’s because these drinks have much higher concentrations of congeners which make hangovers worse. You can read more about this in our article about congeners.

Glutathione for hangovers – the verdict

That brings us to the end of our look into glutathione for hangovers. Glutathione is not involved in alcohol metabolism but rather a powerful antioxidant that neutralizes free radicals.

Standard glutathione supplements are poorly absorbed from the gut. NAC may indirectly increase glutathione levels and liposomal glutathione may be absorbed better from the gut.

At the time of writing, there are no good research studies that have shown glutathione, NAC, or liposomal glutathione to be effective for hangovers. So, a lot more research needs to be done to say whether it works or not.

Therefore, it is as yet unproven whether glutathione has any benefits for hangover symptoms.

If you’re interested in other amino acids, minerals and vitamins which could have benefits for a hangover, check out our article on the best vitamins for a hangover.

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