Glutathione – Perhaps the Key in My Recovery from Chronic Lyme and Multiple Tick-Borne Illnesses

I wrote this last Winter and hadn't realized I didn't publish it. It basically identifies increasing Glutathione production via diet and exercise and certain nutritional supplements as the likely reason I recovered from multiple Tick-Borne illnesses. I want to share it in case some people might find it helpful to their own healing journey. Low Gutathione production is not just a problem for people with Lyme, most disease processes and simply aging poorly are linked to this issue. Included in this article are links to the supplements that I still use today, without which I quickly begin to feel unwell.

In May/June of 2013 I began to recover fairly quickly from a 7.5 year harrowing battle with chronic illness triggered by Acute Neurological Lyme (Borrelia burgdorferi and Borrelia Hermsii) and other tick-borne diseases including Ehrlichiosis and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

A bit of back history about my illness. Towards the end of 2005 my health began to go haywire. At first I felt weak and out of breath. After a few months and a few blood tests that the doctors said were normal,  I began having a series of flus, high fevers, night sweats and spotted rashes. After another couple of months I began to feel gnawing bone and joint pain my neck, shoulders, arms, and jaw. After a negative Lyme test and another month or so I developed heart block, couldn’t lift my arms, couldn’t chew food my field, and my field of vision began to include what looked like static on a TV screen and auras. In August of 2006 spinal tap confirmed Lyme Meningitis and acute Ehrlichiosis and I began one month of IV antibiotics (Rocephin).[i]  The Rocephin helped me recover from what seemed the brink of death. The medical establishment and insurance companies seemed to be quite sure that that this course of treatment was sufficient to eradicate Acute Neurological Lyme and Ehrlichiosis; but within a few weeks after stopping all of my symptoms began to worsen again. At that point I began seeing a supposedly Lyme-Literate doctor who put me on an herbal protocol that did not help at all. Then I went to see a nationally known Lyme-Literate doctor who said I had been ‘grossly undertreated’ and put me on an extended course of various oral antibiotics, which after only mild improvement over 9 months, I stopped. Long story short, I went off and on IV, oral and herbal antibiotics for 7.5 years and though antibiotics helped get me out of certain crises, I still was mostly incapacitated with headaches, fatigue, joint pain, brain-fog, ‘post-exertion malaise’ – i.e.  feeling flulike symptoms including fever, headaches, neuralgia, nausea and exhaustion after ‘exerting’ myself which meant pretty much anything, running an errand, taking a walk, driving, cleaning the kitchen, talking to people or standing up for too long.

Now I consider that chapter of chronic illness (which my life borderline unbearable for all of that time) over. I have rebuilt my strength and endurance to work and play in the world in ways I could not a few years ago. I feel happily physically fit. But I am still aware that I have to be careful, like maintaining health is a bit of a precarious balancing act, knowing that my body is hypersensitive to toxins and toxic stress of any kind and that if I don’t maintain a pretty specific regimen of diet, supplements and exercise, my health pretty quickly starts to devolve towards fatigue and achiness.

People have naturally been curious what finally worked for me. My typical answer is that it seems to have been a combo of things I began to add to my diet around May/June 2013 after which I no longer felt ill. I have listed those things in other posts on this blog and will list them again in this post but with the added key which I have recently learned, that everything I did (and still do) it turns out, naturally increases Glutathione in the body.

Dr. Horowitz, a renowned Lyme-literate doctor explains,

‘Neurotoxins produced by the Borrelia spirochete, or Lyme disease bacterium, also interact with heavy metals in our cells" …"All these chemicals in our bodies cause inflammation, and glutathione seems to act like a sponge that pulls them out.’ [ii]

So increasing Glutathione may well be the key to why I have recovered.

What is Glutathione? I will list some of the information I have found on this subject: (from

  • It is your Body’s own Master Antioxidant
  • It is an Immune System Booster and Balancer
  • It enhances Detoxification of toxins, pollutants, chemicals, etc.
  • It regenerates mitochondria at the cellular level, giving you Energy.
  • It has an Anti-Aging Effect on your cells.
‘Very simply, you have oxidative stress going on in your body all the time, and antioxidants fight oxidative stress. The balance between your oxidative stress and antioxidants in your body may be one of the key indicators of your overall health today. … What happens when your body doesn't make its own glutathione? Without it, your liver would fail from accumulation of toxins, your cells would die from oxidative stress, and your immune system would leave you vulnerable to bacteria, viruses, and disease.’

According to Wikipedia,

‘Oxidative stress reflects an imbalance between the systemic manifestation of reactive oxygen species and a biological system's ability to readily detoxify the reactive intermediates or to repair the resulting damage. Disturbances in the normal redox state of cells can cause toxic effects through the production of peroxides and free radicals that damage all components of the cell, including proteins, lipids, and DNA. Oxidative stress from oxidative metabolism causes base damage, as well as strand breaks in DNA. Base damage is mostly indirect and caused by reactive oxygen species (ROS) generated, e.g. O2− (superoxide radical), OH (hydroxyl radical) and H2O2 (hydrogen peroxide). Further, some reactive oxidative species act as cellular messengers in redox signaling. Thus, oxidative stress can cause disruptions in normal mechanisms of cellular signaling.

‘In humans, oxidative stress is thought to be involved in the development of Asperger syndrome, ADHD, cancer, Parkinson's disease, Lafora disease, Alzheimer's disease, atherosclerosis, heart failure, myocardial infarction, fragile X syndrome, Sickle Cell Disease, lichen planus, vitiligo, autism, infection, and chronic fatigue syndrome.’

Glutathione first came on my radar in January of 2012 during a 6-week stint at an IV clinic getting daily Rocephin drips. A couple of Fibromyalgia patients came in to the clinic every couple of days for IV Glutathione and Lipoic Acid (a glutathione precursor). They pretty much couldn’t function or move in the world without it. I had never heard of glutathione before that.  

After the Rocephin treatment ended, with my permission my doctor gave me IV glutathione and lipoic acid to see if it would help increase my energy. I was excited by the possibility of a dramatic increase in energy and decrease in inflammation and pain, which others on glutathione had reported. The effect it actually had on me however, was the opposite. It made my brain feel fried me wondering if the glutathione would leave me with some brain damage. For weeks afterwards I was dizzy, light-sensitive, feverish, extremely weak, tired and generally wasted. In short, I felt like this experiment had reversed all of the progress I had made on Rocephin. I was just as weak and exhausted as the day I had begun my treatment (i.e. having great difficulty walking up a few stairs or up a mild incline). The glutathione/lipoic acid seemed to set me back months. I did not know at the time (and apparently neither did my doctor) that glutathione can cause a Jarisch-Herxheimer response (aka ‘herx’). Phoenix Rising website[iii] reports:

‘If glutathione is then brought up rapidly, the mobilization of toxins can produce a Jarisch Herxheimer reaction, which is an exacerbation of symptoms that can make a person feel very unpleasant.’

Unpleasant doesn’t begin to describe how the glutathione IV made me feel, and naturally I had no inclination to pursue increasing glutathione as a protocol at that time.

According to my blood tests, I hadn’t been producing normal levels of immunoglobulin for a couple of years and my doctor suggested I take IV immunoglobulin to give my immune system and hopefully my energy levels a boost. I intuitively did not want to go that route (given that it is made from human blood). I wanted to try to increase my globulin levels and boost my immune system naturally if possible. At the time I came across a video that suggested the immune system has to respond to the bio-toxins in animal products,[iv] and from then on I became a vegan and cut out gluten as another potential immune system stressor as well. I also cut out as much sugar as humanly possible (including from fruit sources) because of sugar’s role in impairing the immune system and increasing oxidative stress.

The only supplements I remember taking that next year were lecithin (upon my doctor’s suggestion) and dried mushroom capsules after reading that they were one way to improve immune system functioning. Apparently many of the mushrooms I took, including Reishi, Maitake, Shiitake, Cordyceps, help the immune system by increasing glutathione enzymes in the body. I added fresh (uncooked) sage, oregano, basil and garlic to my diet, also for their immune boosting properties. I'm now reading that:

One of sage's anti-oxidants, carnosic acid, can even cross the blood brain barrier to halt free radical damage in the brain. The same anti-oxidant increases our own production of glutathione, an important anti-aging anti-oxidant - which improves circulation to the brain by dilating the cerebral middle arteries. Glutathione is actually used to treat all sorts of brain diseases, from autism to Alzheimer's. Having good blood flow to the brain is important, and low blood flow to the brain can acerbate, and even cause, other problems of the brain.
Sage also has anti-fungal, anti-viral and antibacterial properties. Plus, it's high in iron and has been found to effectively relieve mild to moderate anxiety states. In addition, in a 2010 analysis of over 3100 foods, sage had one of the highest anti-oxidant contents.[v]

Basil leaf extract was very effective in elevating antioxidant enzyme response by increasing significantly the hepatic glutathione reductase (GR) … superoxide dismutase (SOD) … and catalase activities. Reduced glutathione (GSH), the major intracellular antioxidant, showed a significant elevation in the liver and also in all the extrahepatic organs …. In the forestomach, kidney and lung, glutathione S-transferase and DT-diaphorase levels were augmented significantly….[vi]

Garlic is a useful adjunct to detoxification, because it conserves antioxidant levels, particularly glutathione, protects  against liver damage from acetaminophen, and can increase the intestinal activity levels of  detoxification enzymes (in particular quinine reductase and glutathione transferase) used by the body to eliminate toxins.[vii]

Apparently Oregano also increases GSH in the liver.

A year of no antibiotics and no doctors later, I felt somewhat better but was not out of the chronic illness/chronic fatigue woods by any stretch. I still felt hobbled. In May of 2013 I returned to a Lyme literate doctor who discussed putting me back on antibiotics and I said that was not the route I wanted to go. I felt like I needed to operate on the assumption that I was not fighting an infection anymore and that something else was seriously out of whack in my body. He said okay and put me on a Methylation protocol which he told me he had seen some success with in terms of increasing energy levels. I do not remember him explain anything about glutathione at the time; or if he did, it just went in one ear and out the other.    

‘Although the natural components of this protocol have no known side effects, when we do, indeed improve the body’s ability to methylate and make more glutathione, this may lead to a detoxification reaction which can range from mild to severe.’  - Dr. Neil Nathan ‘What Is the Methylation Protocol?’, Gordon Medical Associates. (Dr. Nathan's book is: Healing Is Possible: New Hope for Chronic Fatigue, Fibromyalgia, Persistent Pain, and Other Chronic Illnesses).

This protocol included Phosphatidyl Serine, L-5 Methyltetrahydrofolate, Sublingual activated B12, and Vitamin D3.

Dr. Nathan (fortunately my doctor at that time) also suggested I take coconut oil mixed with MCT oil (a coconut oil derivative) to help rebuild my nervous system as there was some evidence that this combo helped people reverse neurological disorders including dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. It turns out that Virgin Coconut Oil increases ‘activities of catalase, superoxide dismutase, glutathione peroxidase and glutathione reductase in tissues’   …. At least in rats according to a comparative study published in 2013.[viii]

‘Catalase is an antioxidant enzyme that, like superoxide dismutase (SOD) and glutathione peroxidase, is produced naturally within the body. Catalase works closely with superoxide dismutase to prevent free radical damage to the body.’[ix]

All of these enzymes minimize oxidative stress in the body and therefore disease.

Around that time I had also begun eating (and juicing) raw onions in addition to raw garlic, because I read of their anti-inflammatory and immune-system boosting benefits. I did not know at the time that the high sulfur content in onions and garlic naturally boosted glutathione production.

‘The methylation cycle is directly joined with the transsulfuration pathway’ or that Transsulfuration is how we make glutathione.’ [x]  

‘Oxyradicals are involved in multiple mutational events and can contribute to the conversion of healthy cells to cancer cells. Glutathione (GSH) and the GSH-replenishing enzymes keep the antioxidant status of normal cells at a level where they can avert oxyradical-derived mutations. When we talk about sulfur pathways and sulfur sufficiency we are at the same time touching on glutathione because glutathione is a sulfur enzyme.  … Garlic also contains selenium, which is crucial for glutathione enzymes.’ [xi]

My vegan diet included daily servings of sulfur rich vegetables including broccoli, kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts. I also began taking daily Vitamin D3 for its positive effect on the immune system which I am now learning also increases glutathione levels:

Accumulating data have provided evidence that vitamin D is involved in brain function. Vitamin D can inhibit the synthesis of inducible nitric oxide synthase and increase glutathione levels, suggesting a role for the hormone in brain detoxification. The study shows that vitamin D helps remove mercury from your body safely by radically increasing the amount of intracellular glutathione.[xii]

At the same time I began to take high dose Vitamin C (in lipospheric form) upon the recommendation of a friend with Lyme who said it helped her. Am now learning that Vitamin C increases natural Glutathione levels in the cells/body.[xiii]

The Lipospheric Vitamin C (2-3 gm per day) created a noticeable increase in my energy levels. Then a few weeks later, due to a UTI, I added turmeric to my diet. Turmeric, also unbeknownst to me at the time, also naturally raises Glutathione levels in the body.[xiv] [xv] After reading about the anti-inflammatory and other healing powers of Turmeric, I continued to take it long after the UTI cleared up, adding Bioperin or black pepper and eating it with coconut oil to increase its bioavailability and capacity to cross the blood brain barrier[xvi].

Within a couple of weeks of taking these last two Glutathione boosters, I began to be able to exercise without ‘post-exertion malaise’. It turns out that exercise also naturally increases glutathione production in the body. Rebounding is apparently considered by some to be ideal for that purpose in that it creates less oxidative stress in the body than many more rigorous types of exercise.

Since then I have continued implementing just about everything I did circa May/June 2013 that seemed to put me in the new chapter of rehabbing from years of debilitating chronic illness and weakness. I did have to stop taking Lipo-C after 6 months it created some IBS. Apparently I took too much for too long.

In 2014, after returning from a 4-month trip to India, I began making my own spicy chai tea whose ingredients (ginger[xvii], star anise[xviii], cardamom, cinnamon[xix], cloves[xx] and black pepper and black tea) all apparently help to increase Glutathione/anti-oxidant levels. Another fascinating example of my body naturally gravitating towards exactly what it needs.

I am now healthy enough to exercise more rigorously (including mountain biking up the steep hills around my house) and I find that regular intense workouts are an extremely important part of my well-being. I find without these rigorous workouts I begin to feel achier, more tired and simply less well.  Dr. Michael Gregor of explains that while rigorous exercise might initially cause increased oxidative stress and DNA damage in cells, it actually reverse damage and improve anti-oxidant defenses in the recovery process (i.e. what doesn’t kill you really does make you stronger):

‘In a recent study, researchers from Oregon State University looked at the level of DNA damage in athletes. Six days after a race, athletes didn’t just go back to the baseline level of DNA damage, but had significantly less, presumably because they had revved up their antioxidant defenses. So, maybe exercise-induced oxidative damage is beneficial, similar to vaccination. By freaking out the body a little, we might induce a response that’s favorable in the long run. This concept, that low levels of a damaging entity can up-regulate protective mechanisms, is known as hormesis.’[xxi]

All this time, I’ve told people that I don’t know what actually ‘fixed’ me or helped me turn the corner and move past tick-borne CFS and back into physical fitness. I’ve reported that it seems to have been a conspiracy of multiple factors which included the dietary and supplements above, as well as a strong will to rebuild my strength and endurance, as well as a long-over due to my home state Virginia which was quite therapeutic and good for my soul. It is now fascinating to think that it all seems to boil down to naturally increasing glutathione production in my body and avoiding as much as possible things that increase oxidative stress. Sources of oxidative stress, according to include:
  • Toxic chemical compounds and pollutants in your body
  • Hydrogenated fats
  • All kinds of pollution, including air, water, and food
  • Oils that have been heated to very high temperatures
  • Cigarette smoke, directly inhaled or secondhand
  • Dehydration
  • Too much sugar
  • Too much animal protein in your diet
  • Geophysical stress like living near power lines or waste dumps
  • Microbial imbalance, including bacterial, fungal and viral infections
  • Preservatives in your food
  • Drugs (over the counter and prescription)
  • Artificial food colorings and flavorings
  • Plastics and phthalates
  • Chemical cleaning supplies
  • Chlorinated water that you drink, shower in or swim in
  • Alcohol
  • Pesticides in your food
  • Radiation exposure
  • Psychological and emotional stress
Since my 20s at least I have been hypersensitive to environmental toxins and stress of any kind and have exhibited some auto-immune challenges; but since contracting multiple tick-born illnesses this sensitivity has been much more acute. I feel so grateful that I finally gravitated (stumbled) towards pretty much all the right glutathione-upping foods, supplements and exercise that up-lifted me out of the chronic illness hell-realm.

Genetic Mutations and glutathione deficiency?

Age is definitely a factor in reduced glutathione production in the body. According to ‘glutathione production in cells declines naturally at an average rate of 10% per decade after age 20’.

 But apparently there are also certain genetic factors associated with glutathione deficiency.

‘According to Dr. Paul Anderson of Anderson Medical Specialty Associates, people with mutations in these genes will “always need more precursor support.’[xxii]

This entire line of inquiry began after having an adverse reaction to a gut-health supplement called Restore and learning from the company that this reaction was possibly due to ‘bacterial overgrowth’ which ‘can cause a change at the human cell DNA level at the site at which glutathione (the body's most abundant antioxidant) is produced.  As such, the individual cannot mount a normal antioxidant response that balances a healthy recovery of the immune system.’[xxiii]

Immune Health Science further clarifies the issue of Glutathione deficiency and genetic challenges:

Glutathione deficiency can be brought on by gene mutations or missing genes GSTT1, GSTM1, GSTM2, GSTP1, MTHFR C677T homozygous and others. These genes regulate the production and activity of glutathione enzymes and affect metabolism of cysteine, folate and B vitamins – these enzymes and glutathione cofactors regulate how much glutathione the body is able to produce.[xxiv]

It is seeming likely to me at this point, considering the delicate balancing act by which I stay relatively healthy, that I am one of those people that ‘need more precursor support’ in terms of glutathione production. Last summer my energy and health dipped quite a bit and I began taking the Methylation protocol again, wondering if perhaps it was something I needed to continue doing long term (I had stopped after a year and a half of improvement). Re-implementing this protocol helped noticeably. So I will continue taking my natural glutathione precursors and perhaps add a few (including nondenatured, native whey protein). Apparently meat and raw eggs increase glutathione but I am not feeling moved at this point to add these to my diet, as I’m still convinced that cutting out meat and eggs helped me recover and animal-based diet seems to cause more harm than good. (See Dr. Gregor’s video and notes on ‘The Inflammatory Meat Molecule Neu5Gc’

Stress, Trauma and Glutathione Depletion

In an informative article titled ‘Is Glutathione Depletion an Important Part of the Pathogenesis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?’ Richard Van Konynenburg writes:

‘It appears that the CFS patients who were studied had undergone a variety of factors and conditions that are known to deplete glutathione.’[xxv]

From what I am learning as I explore this subject, it seems to be clear that emotional and physical trauma and stress at any age, but especially in more formative years, is one of the prime factors in glutathione depletion and immune system dysfunction. Lyme-Literate Dr. Dietrich Klinghardt MD has been on the forefront of acknowledging this health-glitch. At a 2012 Autism conference Klinghardt sited Dr. Richard Deth’s research on Autism and methylation, conveying:

‘[A] Huge amount of literature that shows trauma in the womb or at birth changes that way DNA is methylated. Most common cause is early trauma or trans-generational trauma.’[xxvi]  

Dr. Deth is a faculty member at Nova Southeastern University, and his NSU biosketch describes his area of expertise which sheds light on methylation dysfunction:

'He is a molecular neuroscientist with a research interest in a number of brain disorders, including autism. His laboratory has a particular focus on the molecular mechanisms underlying neurodevelopment and changes that occur during aging, as well as the mechanisms which provide the capacity for attention and learning. This work involves an appreciation of unique metabolic features of neurons, especially factors influencing levels of the antioxidant glutathione (GSH) and its influence over methylation reactions, including DNA methylation. Methylation of DNA is a fundamental event in epigenetic regulation of gene expression, which drives development and allows adaptive responses to oxidation across the lifespan. … His ongoing research incudes studies of the effects of neurotoxic substances on antioxidant and methylation status and autism-related changes in antioxidant and methylation status, as well as vitamin B12 levels in post mortem brain tissues. These same factors are involved in other a number of neurological and neuroimmune conditions.'[xxvii]

Bacterial or viral illnesses and any oxidative stress further deplete glutathione. Simply put, our bodies deal with oxidative stress and toxins primarily via the anti-oxidant glutathione and people with depleted glutathione levels are less able to handle oxidative stress, toxic stress and stress and toxins of any kind really.

Looking back on my life and health, which has been deeply impacted by various childhood, young adult and adult traumas, I’m pretty sure I fell into the depleted range long before I developed Acute Neurological Lyme plus co-infections. The multiple infections simply made it worse, sending me deep into CFS land.

For me this is all quite illuminating and helps me to better understand how exactly releasing/healing trauma is crucial to the healing process. Up until now, that advice has just seemed like good and wise advice and there reason I started Yoga in my 20's, but I haven’t really understood the science behind it. Despite making quite a bit of progress spiritually and mentally, it still remains quite a challenge alter the seemingly set dysfunctional patterns of the physical and vital being.

I also want to note an article here that I recently came upon titled ‘No Sex Required: Body Cells Transfer Genetic Info Directly Into Sperm Cells, Amazing Study Finds’ that I am imagining will help people begin to understand how diet and environmental factors can alter genes and genetic information and response.[xxviii] The author, Sayer Ji, writes:

 A revolutionary new study reveals that the core tenet of classical genetics is patently false, and by implication: what we do in this life — our diet, our mindset, our chemical exposures — can directly impact the DNA and health of future generations.

Hopefully, just as genes can mutate in dysfunctional ways, they can also repair and improve themselves based on NEW INPUT and NEW PATTERNS (exosomes vs inborn chromosomes).

An interesting note for healthy people:

Healthy people may not notice instantaneous results when boosting glutathione levels. However, they will notice improvement in energy levels, mind clarity, improved sleep and mood, and will see fewer colds. Those who do power workouts several times a week will see faster recovery times, reduced muscle soreness and improved athletic performance (The Effect Of Supplementation With A Cysteine Donor On Muscular Performance. Lands LC, J Appl Physiol.Oct;87(4) :1381-5 (1999).[xxix]

[i] My doctors later found IGG markers for Borrelia Hermsii and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever which I wasn’t tested for in 2006.

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