Glutathione: The Great Fixer

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Glutathione in Lyme disease by Marty Ross MD image

Glutathione is a very strong antioxidant found in everyone's cells. It is used to

  • lower cellular waste products called oxidation agents and free radicals,
  • repair cell damage, and
  • remove toxins.

In chronic Lyme disease and coinfections I use it to

  • support liver detoxification,
  • repair an inflamed liver,
  • decrease or stop herxheimer reactions,
  • repair injured nerves, and
  • improve severe cognition (thinking) dysfunction.

Liver Detoxification

Glutathione is the master detoxification agent. The liver is the organ that removes fat-based toxins, and it contains the greatest concentration of glutathione found throughout the body. There are two general steps it uses to remove toxins. These are called Phase I and Phase II detox. Glutathione is used in both of these steps. Through liver detoxification fat-based toxins are transformed in to water-based toxins. These are then moved through the gall bladder and bile system in to the intestines where they are then pooped out.

When liver detoxification is impaired, the problem is usually more of a Phase II detox issue than a Phase I. This is a problem because Phase I changes toxins into even greater toxic substances before they are made into water-based toxins in Phase II. Many mistakenly use the herb milk thistle to protect the liver and to support detox. The problem with this is milk thistle mainly supports Phase I detox. If Phase II detox is blocked then milk thistle leads to even greater toxin production. So this is where glutathione comes in. It supports both Phase I and Phase II detox. It can be used by itself to improve liver detox. Or it can be combined with milk thistle and other herbs.

Herxheimer Die-off Reactions

When Lyme germs are killed they release toxins, free radicals, and oxidizing agents. Free radicals and oxidizing agents are made inside of all cells. They are waste products created in cell metabolism and cell chemical reactions. These chemicals damage cell membranes and even the DNA in our genes. Obviously this is a problem, but in Lyme disease the greater problem is that oxidizing agents and free radicals trigger more production of inflammation chemicals called cytokines. In addition, toxins also trigger excess cytokine production.

The release of excess cytokines caused by the killing of Lyme germs is called a Herxheimer die-off reaction. For this I often use glutathione. For more information about this and the steps you can take to limit it see Herxheimer Die-off Reaction: Inflammation Run Amok on this site.

So glutathione is helpful in Herxheimer die-off reactions for two reasons. First it helps the liver remove toxins released from inside of the dead lyme germs so they do not trigger cytokine production. Second glutathione is a powerful anti-oxidant. Anti-oxidants decrease oxidizing agents and free-radicals which decreases cytokines too.

Nerve and Brain Repair

Glutathione is found in every cell of our body. By lowering oxidizing agents and free radicals, it allows for normal cell repair functions to occur. In this way it is the master repair agent of a cell. Excess cell damage and decreased cell function can occur from Lyme germs and other stressors. Under assault there is greater cell production of oxidizing agents and free radicals. Ultimately these damage the cell power factories called mitochondria. Without power cells can not heal. And without adequate glutathione mitochondria cannot heal as free radicals and oxidizing agents continue to bombard these cell power plants.

The problem in chronic infection states like Lyme is the cell glutathione levels eventually become too low trying to keep up with mitochondria and cell injury caused by Lyme germs and the coinfections. This is particularly a problem in nerve cells.

Filling up a cell's glutathione gas tank can help nerve cells repair and recover. In my experience I have seen marked improvements in thinking and neuropathy (nerve damage) when I use glutathione with my patients. For more information on this see My Brain Isn't Working .... I Think.

Liver Repair

Certain antibiotics, infections including the Lyme germ, and toxins can inflame the liver. As I describe above, glutathione is the master repair agent for all cells in the body. This includes liver cells as well. Liver inflammation is measured using two liver enzymes called ALT and AST. I will allow these to increase up to 2 times the upper limit of normal. But if they get higher than this, I have my patients take glutathione. This works to lower the enzymes about 90% of the time. I have my patients then remain on the glutathione while they take the medicines that may increase liver inflammation.

Do It Yourself

You can increase glutathione in two ways without any physician assistance. The first is to take oral glutathione. For those that cannot tolerate this due to taste or allergies, then use the building blocks for glutathione called glutathione precursors. Of these the oral glutathione is the strongest.

Liposomal Glutathione. Take 500 mg 1 or 2 times a day.  Glutathione is mixed with fats called phospholipids This increases the abosorption of glutathione. This is known as liposomal glutathione. Without these fats, the glutathione is mostly destroyed in the gut.

Glutathione Precursors. Use a combination supplement that includes N-Acetyl Cysteine 200mg, Alpha Lipoic Acid 200mg, and Glutamic Acid 200mg. Take 1 capsule of this combination 3 times a day. These are building blocks used inside of cells to construct glutathione.

Do It With Physician Assistance

There are two other ways to take Glutathione. Both of these are stronger than using the supplements above because they go directly into the bloodstream.

Glutathione by Nebulizer. A nebulizer is a machine that you can find over the counter in any pharmacy. It converts liquid glutathione into a fine mist that a person breaths in. The lungs have great blood flow and the glutathione is easliy absorbed into the bloodstream this way. I use it in three different strengths and have it mixed up by a compounding pharmacy. It requires a prescription.

It comes as 60mg/ml, 100mg/ml and 200mg/ml. I have my patients nebulize 2ml of either of these strenghts 2 times a day. This substance can be irritating at first creating a burning sensation in the lungs, This is why I sometimes start at the 100mg or 60mg dose, but my preference and most effective dose is the 200mg/ml.

Glutathione by IV. This is administered in an integrative medicine physician's office. I recommend Glutathione IV 1200mg to 2500mg 2 times a week for a minimum of four treatments. If it helps but there are still improvements with the last treatment, consider weakly treatments until improvements plateau. People often feel more tired after the first treatment.

I reserve IV Glutathione for people who are having severe Herxheimer die-off reactions or severe neurologic Lyme that is not improving with the supplements I recommend above.


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