Updated on April 7, 2023
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a tricky diagnosis to understand and an even tougher condition to address. Unlike inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), which are relatively well-characterized based on the physiological processes that underpin their symptoms, IBS is a functional bowel disorder. That means it is diagnosed based on an individual’s specific symptomatic complaints. As a result, IBS can manifest differently in every person, with possible symptoms including constipation, diarrhea, bloating, gas, abdominal pain, and various gastrointestinal (GI) complaints in between.
Moreover, the causes of IBS symptoms can vary considerably between individuals, so even if several persons’ symptoms are similar, there’s no guarantee a single therapy will work for all of them. For instance, one individual with IBS might experience chronic constipation because of a food intolerance, while another might have the same symptom because of a microbiome-related problem. This makes IBS a particularly complicated challenge for those who suffer from it and their healthcare providers.
The good news is that recent research has achieved greater insight into possible causes of functional GI symptoms that don’t fall neatly into the category of an established IBD and are therefore diagnosed as IBS. In some cases, the physiological underpinnings overlap, which indicates that some of the therapies used to treat IBD can be just as effective for IBS. One such promising option is glutathione, an antioxidant supplement that helps combat the oxidative stress that plays a role in some cases of IBS.*
An imbalanced inflammatory response in the GI tract is increasingly being recognized as a potential causative factor in IBS. Although the inflammatory response in the GI tract of a patient with IBS might not be as out of balance as it is in IBD patients, even low-grade imbalance can contribute to intestinal damage in the GI tract that leads to gastrointestinal motor dysfunction.
Like so many other aspects of the condition, the reason the GI tract’s inflammatory response becomes imbalanced in individuals with IBS is not fully understood. Some studies suggest the imbalanced inflammatory response results from immune system dysfunction, while others indicate a possible role for the internal microenvironment, with altered microbial composition contributing to the vulnerability of the intestinal lining to harm caused by free radical species. Whatever the source of the imbalance in a particular IBS patient, it is worth exploring the use of therapeutic options that combat oxidative damage induced by inflammatory processes.
Glutathione plays an important antioxidant role in the body. The compound is a tripeptide consisting of cysteine, glycine, and glutamic acid, and it exists in two states: the reduced state (GSH) and the oxidized state (GSSG). When GSH, the naturally more abundant form, encounters free radicals—including singlet oxygen, hydroxyl radicals, and superoxide radicals, all of which have the potential to damage cells and tissues—it can be oxidized to GSSG. However, it is important to note that glutathione’s antioxidant activities are not limited to its direct oxidation; rather, glutathione also acts as a cofactor for several antioxidant enzymes. Without glutathione’s facilitation, these enzymes would be unable to catalyze essential antioxidant processes.
The primary reason practitioners and their patients should be interested in using glutathione in IBS is that research suggests it is effective for helping maintain a normal inflammatory response in the gut, thus beneficially addressing IBD symptoms.* And in cases where the underlying mechanisms of the condition do overlap, a glutathione supplement could be just as beneficial in IBS as it is in IBD.*
When glutathione facilitates antioxidant processes, it minimizes free radical exposure, which can trigger an inflammatory response imbalance.* If an imbalance in inflammatory response is involved in either IBS or IBD, then a glutathione supplement can be an appropriate choice.* Indeed, as far back as 1998, scientists have recognized that intestinal glutathione synthesis is impaired in patients with IBD, and this dysregulation might play a role in the etiology and progression of the condition. Thus, supplementation with glutathione could address this deficiency.*
Although researchers have not yet conducted studies on glutathione for IBD in either animal models or in humans, there is evidence that other antioxidant therapies can address symptoms—possibly by raising levels of glutathione. For instance, in a 2012 study published in the European Journal of Pharmacology, researchers gave mouse models of IBD N-acetylcysteine, a well-known antioxidant. The therapy had a variety of beneficial physiological effects, including the initiation of a rise in glutathione, which might have further contributed to the positive functional effects of the therapy. Researchers have also found that other natural antioxidants, including multiple dietary polyphenols, can beneficially impact the inflammatory response and combat symptoms in mouse models of IBD. Given that glutathione is the most abundant antioxidant in the body, it stands to reason that it would have similar beneficial effects as other naturally derived antioxidant compounds, like curcumin, quercetin, naringenin, and hesperetin.*
Given the complex nature of IBS, it is necessary to be particularly sensitive to the side effects of supplements and pharmaceuticals used to manage it. Individuals with an IBS diagnosis should be particularly skeptical about novel therapeutics that have a long list of potentially adverse impacts. Since IBS is a functional gastrointestinal disorder, practitioners and their patients should be cognizant about how any potential intervention impacts other functional aspects of a patient’s health.
If an adverse effect, or even the inconvenience, of a particular therapy outweighs the benefits for the patient, then it might not be worthwhile to include it in a management strategy. Therefore, it is promising to note that, in the human studies that have examined the use of glutathione for non-GI conditions, the results indicate a positive safety profile for the supplement.* Few side effects have been reported, and those that have been observed are relatively mild. Thus, for practitioners and their patients considering supplementing glutathione for IBS, side effects are not likely to be a major concern.*
Overall, despite the absence of specific research on glutathione for IBS, the broader scholarly literature on the topic suggests it is a worthwhile option to consider. Underpinned by early research on the role of the inflammatory response in IBS and the possible benefits of antioxidant therapy for IBD patients, the possibility of glutathione as an effective supplement for IBS is becoming increasingly prominent.* Although future research in humans and animals will confirm the value of glutathione for IBS and IBD, patients can already work with their practitioner to explore how glutathione supplementation can become part of their therapeutic strategy.
The power of Tesseract supplements lies in enhancing palatability, maximizing bioavailability and absorption, and micro-dosing of multiple nutrients in a single, highly effective capsule. Visit our website for more information about how Tesseract’s products can help support your gastrointestinal health.*
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