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Does glutathione help Parkinson’s disease

Thursday June 06, 2013

Glutathione (GTH) is a molecule and potent antioxidant found in our cells. Glutathione is produced by our bodies and levels decrease with aging, many diseases and Parkinson’s disease.  The role of glutathione is to eliminate these free radicals; in essence, putting out a fire. It is unclear whether the low glutathione content in the PD substantia nigra is due to impaired production, or because the burden of free-radicals is excessive.

IV glutathione is a popular complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapy for Parkinson’s yet the benefits are not clear, it is costly and side effects do exist.

In 2009, researchers in Florida conducted a study to determine whether IVGTH showed benefit compared to placebo. Over the four weeks of the study, individuals receiving IV glutathione had a mild improvement in symptoms, while those receiving the placebo did not. This benefit was lost when glutathione was stopped. (Hauser RA, et al. 2009). It is important to note that the differences between these two groups were not significant. While the study is small and only provides preliminary data, it is promising non-the-less.

Mechanism of Action

Continued interest in glutathione  explores this molecules anti-oxidant properties.   The loss of glutathione in the substantia nigra precedes PD symptoms by more than a decade, and occurs prior to the formation of Lewy bodies, considered a PD precursor. Just because low glutathione levels correlate with PD severity, doesn’t mean that the loss of glutathione causes the disease. This is highlighted by the fact that glutathione is decreased in many diseases including cancer, vascular disease and other diseases of aging. We have no idea whether glutathione has the potential to retard disease progression, as the study has not yet been done.

Future Research

More information is needed to determine if glutathione is helpful in Parkinson’s disease. Although studies to date showed no statistically significant difference between placebo treatments and  glutathione many questions are still unanswered such as the optimal dose, timing of treatment in relation to disease severity, and duration of treatment. Studies are on going and investigating other ways of delivery such as intra-nasal spray.

Caution about pills

Since GTH is made up of amino acid precursors (similar to proteins),it is broken down in the gut prior to absorption and therefore little is available for use. It is for this reason that treatments focus on intravenous or IV (administered directly into the bloodstream through the vein.

Safety and ADverse Events

  • Expense of treatment
  • Bruising and Infection at IV site
  • Rare cause of liver damage

Monique L. Giroux, MDMonique L. Giroux, MD
Medical Director, Northwest Parkinson's Foundation

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