In April 2018, public health employees in Sydney, Australia reported on 7 patients who were probably poisoned by contaminated glutathione they received intravenously. There is no good medical reason to use intravenous glutathione, but it is a popular quack therapy.
Scientists around the world have warned about the dangers of intravenous glutathione.
A 2018 scientific review of glutathione included the following table of documented adverse effects:
- Cutaneous—Ranging from skin rashes to serious and potentially fatal Stevens-Johnson syndrome (SJS) and toxic epidermal necrolysis (TEN).
- Severe abdominal pain in patients receiving twice-weekly IV glutathione
- Thyroid dysfunction
- Kidney dysfunction with potential for development of renal failure
- Liver dysfunction—reported in 32% of the treated subjects in the IV GSH trial by Zubair et al.
- Lethal complications—Air embolism, blood-borne infections and potentially fatal sepsis stemming from incorrect technique of injections by untrained staff, use of unsterile or used needles, and use of counterfeit intravenous glutathione
Fake treatment for a fake disease
Of the 7 patients who received IV glutathione, 5 were being treated for purported Lyme disease. “Chronic Lyme disease” is not a real diagnosis because Lyme disease is easily vanquished with antibiotics. And there is no real Lyme disease transmitted in Australia.
In 2015, scientists listed glutathione among 30 “unorthodox” treatments marketed for Lyme disease but lacking scientific evidence for efficacy.
The scientists found injected glutathione being advertised for “detoxification.” Claims of using supplements to detox are typically scams. Former naturopath Britt Hermes has written and spoken about how she helped create and sell a detox scam. “It is surprisingly easy to sell snake-oil,” Hermes wrote.
The CDC warns against unproven treatments for Lyme disease, which thrive on the internet:
Antibiotics are the only known effective treatment for Lyme disease, but a quick search on the internet will introduce you to other untested remedies that claim to cure Lyme disease or chronic Lyme disease. These products—available online or from some health care providers—may be dangerous, deadly, or simply a waste of money.
In Australia, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has not approved intravenous glutathione as safe or effective for any condition, including Lyme disease.
The report emphasized that there is no evidence that glutathione is effective for Lyme borreliosis.
In Australia, glutathione is listed by the TGA as a safe active ingredient for use in adults as an oral dose , but not as a parenteral preparation. Further, robust high-quality evidence to demonstrate the efficacy of glutathione for immune-compromised persons  or those diagnosed with Lyme borreliosis  does not exist.
In addition to the glutathione, the patients were intravenously dosed with Vitamin C and/or Phosphatidylcholine, which are also not valid treatments for Lyme disease.
At least one of the patients, a 41 year-old woman, also received likely fake diagnoses of coinfections Bartonella and Babesia. In chronic Lyme “support” groups, Bartonella is falsely believed to be a tick-borne disease and Lyme coinfection.
Victims of chronic Lyme quackery become convinced that perfectly normal stretch marks are insidious “bartonella rashes.”
Lyme-Babesia coinfection is uncommon, but co-exposure to both pathogens does not worsen the longterm outcomes. Having the three purported chronic infections of Lyme, Babesia, and Bartonella diagnosed together is a hallmark of chronic Lyme quackery.
About 15 minutes into starting her IV glutathione, the woman started experiencing disturbing symptoms: “fever (39.5 °C), hypotension (BP 79/47), muscle twitches, vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal, neck and back pain.” She went that day to the emergency department, which treated her with antibiotics for possible bacterial septicaemia.
As a result of the hospitalization and/or antibiotics, the woman developed Clostridium difficile associated diarrhoea. C. diff is a dangerous consequence of unnecessary antibiotic treatments associated with chronic Lyme diagnoses.
Of the 7 patients, 5 started experiencing disturbing symptoms within 30 minutes of receiving the IV glutathione. The other 2 patients developed symptoms within 2 hours.
The investigators found unacceptably high levels of endotoxins in vials of glutathione that had not yet been administered. Given the evidence, it’s likely that the patients were poisoned by contaminated IV glutathione.
Johnstone T, et al. Seven cases of probable endotoxin poisoning related to contaminated glutathione infusions. Epidemiol Infect. 2018;146(7):931-934.
Science-Based Medicine: Are skin-lightening glutathione injections safe and effective?
Joe Schwarcz, PhD: Supplements to Increase Glutathione in the Body?
Lantos PM, et al. Unorthodox alternative therapies marketed to treat Lyme disease. Clin Infect Dis. 2015;60(12):1776-82.
New York Times: A New Skin Lightening Procedure Is Short on Evidence
Sonthalia S, et al. Glutathione for skin lightening: a regnant myth or evidence-based verity? Dermatol Pract Concept. 2018;8(1):15-21.
Davids LM, et al. Intravenous glutathione for skin lightening: Inadequate safety data. S Afr Med J. 2016;106(8):782-6.
Lawenda BD, et al. Should supplemental antioxidant administration be avoided during chemotherapy and radiation therapy? J Natl Cancer Inst. 2008;100(11):773-83.
syringe image copyright CC by 4.0 international torange.biz