Kwashiorkor is a severe edematous form of malnutrition with high prevalence and lethality in many African countries, and repeatedly has been reported to be associated with oxidative stress. The therapy of kwashiorkor is still ineffective. In this pilot study, we tested the hypothesis that oral application of thiol-containing antioxidants increases glutathione status and is beneficial for the clinical recovery of kwashiorkor patients. The longitudinal clinical intervention study was carried out at St Joseph's Hospital, Jirapa, Ghana. Children with severe kwashiorkor were randomly assigned to either a standard treatment (ST) receiving a therapeutic protocol based on the recommendations of the WHO or to one of three study groups receiving in addition 2 x 600 mg reduced glutathione or 2 x 50 mg alpha-lipoic acid or 2 x 100 mg N-acetylcysteine per day. Patients were followed up clinically and biochemically for 20 days and compared with 37 healthy controls. Both glutathione and alpha-lipoic acid supplementation had positive effects on survival. Also, the blood glutathione concentrations correlated positively with survival rates. Furthermore, the initial skin lesions, glutathione and total protein concentrations were found to be strong predictors of survival. The data strongly suggest that a therapy restoring the antioxidative capacity by applying cysteine equivalents in the form of glutathione and/or alpha-lipoic acid is beneficial for biochemical and clinical recovery of kwashiorkor patients.