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Glutathione for hangovers

Evidence based

Is Glutathione Good For Hangovers?

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 that some research studies suggest if you’re able to boost your body’s antioxidant defenses, you could potentially slow down aging by reducing the inflammatory processes that fuel it.(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.

Cause of hangovers

It’s important to know how alcohol causes hangovers because there are lots of different ways in which alcohol causes damage:

1. Dehydration

Alcohol is a diuretic which means it makes your kidneys flush out water. For example, for every glass of wine you drink, you lose an extra 120mls of water.

2. Inflammation

Your liver breaks down alcohol to produce toxic by-products such as acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde breaks down to form free radicals that react with your cells causing inflammation.

3. Dehydration

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.

Is Glutathione good for hangovers?

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.

To get around this problem, cysteine supplements are often used to indirectly increase glutathione levels. That’s because cysteine is one of the three amino acids that make up the structure of glutathione.

At the time of writing, there’s one small study looking at giving cysteine for hangovers which showed no improvement in symptoms.(4)

In summary, there’s a theoretical theory that cysteine could boost glutathione levels. However, this has not been proven

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. Cysteine 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’s helpful.

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

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