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HIV-AIDS & Glutathione

Source: Theodore Hersh, MD, MACG
Professor of Medicine, Emeritus, Emory University 

No Copyright Infringement Intended

The medical literature has shown that individuals who are HIV seropositive and AIDS patients have low levels of glutathione compared with uninfected controls. Yes, an HIV carrier and an AIDS patient can simply replete their cells and body stores with glutathione and maintain their antioxidant defense system to help prevent or delay the replication of the virus and also to decrease the development of opportunistic infections.


Glutathione is the body’s most important antioxidant and detoxificant and is present in almost every cell and body fluid as protectant. Glutathione, primarily made in the liver, is composed of three amino acids, including cysteine which provides the active sulphur group. Cysteine also functions as an antioxidant.

Scientists have abbreviated glutathione in its active antioxidant role as “GSH”. In our era of expediency and borrowing from dehydroepiandrosterone’s “DHEA” experience, glutathione shall henceforth be known as “GSH”.

As an antioxidant, GSH provides the vital defensive functions of neutralizing the injurious oxygen and other free radical species. This condition called “oxidative stress” occurs when the GSH defense mechanisms are decreased or impaired and when toxic oxygen free radicals overwhelm and overcome the cells’ and tissues’ antioxidant defenses.


Oxidative stress, which causes cell injury and cell death, commonly complicates infections, such as HIV-AIDS, and inflammatory conditions.


GSH has also been shown to protect DNA from undergoing mutations, hence reducing the risks of developing various types of cancers.


GSH also protects the body by preventing or decreasing the oxidation of blood lipids and thereby reducing the risks of arteriosclerosis, including coronary heart disease and strokes.

Particularly important to immunologic function is the observation that CD-4 T lymphocytes may also be very low GSH content. A consequence of low GSH accounts for the invasion and growth of opportunistic micro-organism, a reason for frequent pulmonary and gastrointestinal infections in patients with AIDS.


Poor dietary intake, malnutrition, and diarrhea with malabsorption further depress GSH content in cells and also impair immunity.

HIV positive subjects and those with AIDS may also have low levels of other vital antioxidants in the GSH cycle, namely vitamins A, C and E, and of other important micro-nutrients such as selenium, magnesium, zinc and copper. Selenium plays a crucial role as an antioxidant, as an anticarcinogen and as a co-factor of the enzyme glutathione peroxidase.


GSH taken by mouth is then absorbed by the small intestine, where it is locally protective and is then transported to the rest of the body. GSH stores may also be increased by providing cysteine, particularly as the N-acetyl-L-cysteine derivative. Giving GSH and cysteine orally does replete and maintain tissue levels of GSH and promotes the body’s antioxidant defense system.

It is important to supplement GSH to those that are HIV positive or have AIDS.


Investigators at Stanford University have linked low levels of GSH as predictors of poor survival in HIV positive subjects.


In a double blind study, the researchers showed that by increasing GSH levels in affected individuals, there was 70 percent three year survival rate compared to a 25% survival rate for those patients with low GSH levels. Moreover, the depressed immunologic function of the CD-4 T-lymphocytes and their low GSH levels in HIV carriers may accelerate the progression of the disease by allowing futher replication of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus.


Likewise, low protective antioxidant levels, including low GSH, facilitate opportunistic infection in AIDS.

Thus, an adjunct to management of HIV – seropositive subjects as well as an adjunct to therapy to those with AIDS is the oral administration of GSH to replete and maintain the body’s main antioxidant levels.


But, GSH does not work alone! In the process of neutralizing the toxic free radicals, GSH itself is oxidized. The other antioxidants in the cell’s glutathione cycle need to donate a hydrogen to reduce the oxidized form back to GSH. The GSH cycle requires the other antioxidant partners, including Vitamins C and E and selenium, to function effectively and continuously to maintain cellular antioxidant defenses in combating toxic oxygen and other free radicals.

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