New Study Shows Raised Glutathione Levels Help Balance Immune System

Researchers from Germany and the US have found that N-acetylcysteine (NAC) can boost the natural antioxidant system of the body.

The body carries many antioxidant defense systems, but inside cells a small protein called glutathione is crucial. Glutathione is essential for the function of immune cells, which protect us from viral and bacterial infections. In people with immune deficiency, glutathione levels fall well below the normal levels in blood and immune cells. Restoring glutathione levels to those found in healthy people is likely to help immune deficient patients.

Two studies have recently been published with research backing up the claims that NAC helps fight disease, one in the European Journal of Clinical Investigation, from Stig Froland in Oslo, Norway, and the other by Leonore and Leonard Herzenberg, a husband and wife team from Stanford, California. The results of their work showed that glutathione levels could indeed be restored in AIDS patients and that this may improve the outlook for these patients.

Herzenberg and colleagues conducted a clinical trial in which 31 HIV-infected patients were given daily doses of N-acetylcysteine (NAC) — a glutathione precursor — and 30 others were given a benign sugar pill. According to the study published in the October 1 issue of the European Journal of Clinical Investigation, those taking NAC had increased the amount of glutathione in their bodies to near-normal levels at the end of the two-month trial.

“The importance here is that glutathione is a central component of all cells, and glutathione deficiency is associated with poor prognosis in many, many diseases,” said Herzenberg. “What we’ve proven is that giving people NAC replenishes the glutathione stores.”

The authors of the report concluded that “NAC offers useful adjunct therapy to increase protection against oxidative stress, improve immune system function and increase detoxification of acetaminophen and other drugs. These findings suggest NAC therapy could be valuable in other clinical situations in which there is GSH deficiency.”

This finding is important because another investigator, Wulf Droge recently reported in the Journal of Molecular Medicine that administration of NAC not only increases glutathione but also improves immune cell function. In particular the function of a key component of the immune system, the T-lymphocytes, improved dramatically.

“It is important to realize that these results are the culmination of over 10 years of research.” states Frank Staal, an immunologist from Rotterdam, The Netherlands, who worked in this field for many years. “The groups of Droge and Herzenberg were the first to demonstrate that glutathione is low in AIDS and that this defect contributes to poor immune cell function.”

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