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Glutathione: New Hope for Parkinson's Disease?

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A new therapy for Parkinson's disease is making inroads in some clinics and alternative healing centres. Pioneered by Florida neurologist Dr. David Perlmutter, the new treatment involves administering high doses of the potent antioxidant glutathione, intravenously.

A new therapy for Parkinson’s disease is making inroads in some clinics and alternative healing centres. Pioneered by Florida neurologist Dr. David Perlmutter, the new treatment involves administering high doses of the potent antioxidant glutathione, intravenously.

In Parkinson’s disease, the area of the brain that produces the neurotransmitter dopamine - the substantia nigra - gradually degenerates. Researchers have speculated that one cause of the disorder’s devastating symptoms - slow and decreased movement, resting tremor, shuffling gait, muscular rigidity, and postural instability - might be damage from destructive oxygen molecules known as free radicals, chemicals formed by normal biological processes and exposure to environmental toxins. To oppose such oxidative injury, some Parkinson’s specialists think antioxidants may be an effective therapy.

In Dr. Perlmutter’s research, glutathione levels were measured primarily in the substantia nigra in Parkinson’s patients and in control groups. Glutathione levels were reduced approximately 40 percent in the patients with Parkinson’s compared with normal patients. Furthermore, the degree of reduction in glutathione seems to parallel the severity of the disease. In a separate study, glutathione levels were compared between early and advanced cases. Serum glutathione levels were significantly lower in cases of advanced Parkinson’s. Patients were given glutathione intravenously twice daily for one month. All of the patients in the study group improved significantly after the therapy, noting a 42-per-cent decline in disability. All patients showed marked quickening of gait and noticeably improved balance. Mood and coordination also got better.

Glutathione is not a Health Canada-approved pharmaceutical but instead is classified as a dietary supplement. Drug companies, which do the bulk of clinical trials on new medications, are consequently unable to patent glutathione (and thus anticipate profits to support the initial research), explaining why there have been so few trials on its use for Parkinson’s so far.

For most patients, Dr. Perlmutter recommends 1400 mg glutathione mixed with saline and given intravenously (over the course of 10 to 20 minutes) three times a week. At his clinic, the herb Milk thistle (Silybum marianum), believed to increase glutathione retention, is added to the regimen, along with the amino acid N-acetyl cysteine, another nutritional therapy that actually enhances the body’s own production of glutathione.

So far, IV administration has been the only effective way to give sufficient dosages of glutathione. The problem with an oral dosage is that the delicate glutathione molecule is damaged during digestion and it may be difficult to get an adequate amount into the bloodstream.

The most enthusiastic testimonials are not considered reliable scientific evidence, so most Parkinson’s experts are withholding judgment on glutathione therapy until more convincing evidence is clearly proved. Nevertheless, it is available in Canada at natural health stores.

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