Glutathione And Cancer - What Do I Need To Know To Protect My Health?

glutathione and cancer

What is glutathione and cancer? Chances are you were searching for these two terms, and more specifically you want to know how glutathione relates to cancer. The role of glutathione and cancer has been well documented. First let's start with the definition of cancer.

Cancer is defined as a group of diseases characterized by unrestricted growth of cells in general tissue or a specific organ.

You are probably familiar with glutathione at this point, but if you would like a quick refresher, click


Cancer is one of the deadliest diseases known to mankind today, second only to cardiovascular disease.

There are more than 100 types currently identified, and they are all at varying levels of aggression. Many are treatable or even curable, depending on the stage at which they are found.

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It is estimated that one out of three Americans will eventually die from cancer. The most common cancers for men are cancers of the prostate, lung and colorectal cancer.

Following that are bladder cancer and lymphoma. The most common cancers for women are breast, then lung, and colorectal cancer. Closely following are uterine cancer, and ovarian cancer.

To minimize the risk for glutathione and cancer, American Cancer Society recommends maintaining an appropriate body weight , eating a variety of daily fruits and vegetables, high-fiber foods, and limiting saturated fats, alcohol, and salt-cured, smoked, and nitrate-preserved foods. This is taking a preventive approach, and is gaining popularity today.

Glutathione and Cancer- Reaction or Prevention?

Much of the treatment today is reactive, meaning, nothing is done until the cancer is diagnosed, then the sudden emphasis is on curing it. More and more people today are realizing that taking a proactive approach to cancer, to prevent it before it occurs, is the wise choice.

It is now generally recognized that attention to three factors can do much to prevent cancer before it starts.

These are adequate nutrition through proper diet, avoiding and ridding of carcinogens or cancer-causing substances, and reinforcing the body’s immune system.

Normally, healthy cells replicate in order to grow, heal damaged tissues, or replace normally lost cells. Sometimes, though, this ability to regulate growth goes out of whack, and they can multiply without control, resulting in what eventually is found to be cancerous tissue.

Sometimes the cells replicate to the point where the cancer has spread beyond the primary site, referred to as metastasis. Often there are cancerous cells growing inside a person without them even being aware of it until there are symptoms that something is wrong. There is growing evidence that cancer starts out as a genetic mutation in our DNA. Learn more about DNA mutation here.

Why the lack of self-regulation? There are many factors thought to be behind this, including environmental carcinogens, radiation, genetic makeup, poor diet, viruses, and strength of the immune system.

Glutathione and Cancer: DNA Mutation

Cancer begins with a mutation or abnormal change in the DNA or genetic material of the cell. This re-programming can result in uncontrolled growth. One theory being considered now is that when free radicals form, or oxidative stress occurs, in the cell nucleus, the DNA may be damaged.

Another theory suggests that a weakened immune system caused by poor diet and/or cigarette smoke is not able to tackle the problem at its earliest stages, allowing free radical damage to rage on, with the resulting damaged cells multiplying and replicating over and over until cancer is identified at the site.

One of the most important ways that we can consider is to minimize this risk as much as possible by raising our glutathione levels.

There are three main areas where glutathione and cancer has a role for use in both cancer prevention and treatment:

Prevention - Through antioxidation, detoxification, and strengthened immune response.

Therapeutic Treatments - Anti-Tumor methodologies and treatment and prevention of wasting disease.

In Combination with Chemotherapy and Radiotherapy to make them more effective and reduce or eliminate side effects at the same time.

We will now consider these one at a time.

Glutathione and Cancer Prevention:

Glutathione and Cancer: Antioxidation:

If we were able to prevent the damage to the cell DNA and nucleus in the first place, we could stop the process of damaged cell replication in it’s tracks. Because glutathione (GSH) is the cell’s major antioxidant, it can mop up free radicals on the cellular level as soon as they form.

This would prevent the ensuing damage that leads to cancer. Additionally, GSH recycles and makes more effective all other antioxidants, like Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and Selenium. And the best part is, if that wasn’t enough protective help, we have also found that glutathione can actually help repair damaged and mutated DNA!

There is a study published by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute that points to the role of a properly functioning glutathione enzyme system can ward off cancer. It focused on a particular GSH enzyme, GSTM 1.

It was found that approximately half of all people inherit defective copies of the gene that makes this enzyme, so their ability to produce this protective enzyme was damaged. They found that 25% of all bladder cancers in this study occurred in those missing this enzyme. Further, they found that heavy smokers missing this gene were 6 times more likely to develop bladder cancer. For more information on this and other studies, please see Chapter 5 of the book "Glutathione- Your Key To Health" by Dr. Jimmy Gutman.

Note this article published in Anticancer Research regarding glutathione's preventive role in cancer:

" The Glutathione (GSH) Antioxidant System is foremost among the cellular protective mechanisms. Depletion of this small molecule is a common consequence of increased formation of reactive oxygen species during increased cellular activities. This phenomenon can occur in the lymphocytes during the development of the immune response and in the muscular cells during strenuous exercise. It is not surprising that so much research has been done, and is still being done on this small tripeptide molecule. Bio-active whey protein concentrate has been shown to represent an effective and safe cysteine donor for GSH replenishment during GSH depletion in immune deficiency states."

Source: Anticancer Research 20: 4785-4792, 2000

Glutathione and Cancer: Detoxification:

Glutathione plays a specific role in the detoxification of many well known cancer causing substances and cell damaging substances in our environment.

Basically, GSH binds to these toxic substances, through a process called chelation, or direct conjugation. It renders them harmless, just like a guard would remove a loaded shotgun from an armed invader. Then the toxin can be safely removed from the body, in the form of waste.

Your liver and kidneys are your body’s main organs of detoxification, and it is no surprise that the highest concentrations of glutathione are found in these organs. Raise your glutathione, disarm a few armed men, and you give your liver and kidneys a hug. They will thank you later.

Glutathione and Cancer: Strengthened Immune Response:

One of glutathione’s effects on the human immune system is to modulate or control the growth of the soldiers or “good guys” in your body that destroy the “bad guys”.

By strengthening the good army, your body can win the war when challenged, and you can remain healthy. Those that are immuno- suppressed, meaning their immune system is weak, are more prone to cancer. There is a form of treatment being investigated called immunotherapy,which is an attempt to strengthen the immune system to fight off the cancer.

Glutathione and Cancer: Therapeutic Treatments:

Anti-tumor Methodologies: Surgically removing the tumor can sometimes be done if it has not spread and it is accessible. When it is not able to removed, often radiation and chemotherapy are used. These treatments inflict damage on both the healthy and cancerous cells. Because of this, new research is being aimed at limiting the damage to normal cells by these conventional treatments.

Treatment of Wasting Disease: Many cancer treatments can lead to loss of weight, appetite, energy and strength. As a result, the role of good nutrition cannot be over emphasized here. Much of this has been studied and found to be the result of glutathione depletion from the treatment itself. More tests have been done to see if the possibility of raising GSH levels may slow or halt this degeneration.

Glutathione and Cancer: In Combination with Chemotherapy and Radiotherapy:

Enhancing Their Effectiveness, and Reducing or Eliminating Side Effects:

Chemotherapy is a controlled poisoning of the cells, and with radiation, the cancerous area is targeted and bombarded with radiation. It is clear that high GSH levels protect cells, and low levels leave them vulnerable. What is interesting to note, though, is that human cancer cells generally have high GSH levels. Normally, glutathione levels are tightly regulated by the cell, but in cancer, these levels are exceeded. Again, something has gone terribly wrong here.

glutathione and cancer

Interestingly, when the building blocks of glutathione are introduced into the system of a cancer patient, it raises GSH in normal healthy cells but triggers the opposite reaction in cancer cells, effectively shutting down their GSH production.

This is known as negative feedback inhibition, and it is a technical term meaning your healthy cells get stronger, and your cancer cells get weaker. This enhances the effectiveness of the chemotherapy or radiation treatment.

At the same time, it reduces or eliminates side effects since your healthy cells are not as vulnerable to damage. You are less damaged as a result, and you feel much better than you would have without glutathione’s help.

Both chemotherapy and radiotherapy lead to great increases in free radical formation, and a build- up of toxic metabolites. Many side effects are related to this, so through glutathione's antioxidant and detoxification properties, many unpleasant side effects such as depression, vomiting, hair loss, shortness of breath, and neurotoxicity may be avoided.

There are more ongoing studies looking into this phenomenon. In the meantime, cancer specialists are still somewhat concerned that elevating GSH non-selectively might in some cases diminish the advantages of chemotherapy.

Of course, any therapy using glutathione and cancer should be an integral part of the whole cancer treatment. Cancer patients should never initiate this on their own and should always seek out the advice of their treating physician. Please refer to our Medical Disclaimer here.

In conclusion, what is glutathione and cancer? More to the point, how can glutathione assist with the prevention and treatment of cancer?

There are many different kinds of cancers, and many well studied causes, but most have as a common denominator weakened antioxidant defenses.

In addition to this, many treatments place an additional load on the immune system of the patient. Competent medical care needs to be sought along with attention to good nutrition on the part of the patient.

For these reasons, raising glutathione levels will assist the patient in that they will be boosting their antioxidant defenses, building and repairing DNA, and detoxifying from cancer causing and cell damaging substances.

Along with traditional chemotherapy and radiotherapy, raising glutathione levels may reduce damage to healthy cells, and unpleasant side effects may be reduced or eliminated.

Dr. Jimmy Gutman is the world's most published author on the subject of glutathione. His current bestseller is entitled "Glutathione - Your Key To Health."


For specific information on published medical studies referred to here, as it relates to glutathione and cancer research, click here.

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