Background: Levels of glutathione (GSH) in antigen-presenting cells promote a T-helper type 2 (Th2) cytokine response in mice. We have previously demonstrated that we can increase intracellular GSH levels in healthy young adults using a whey-based oral supplement (HMS90). We hypothesized that such supplementation in children with atopic asthma, a Th2 cytokine disease, would improve lung function and decrease atopy.
Methods: Eleven children (six females, five males; mean+/-standard deviation age, 12.6+/-3.6 years; baseline forced expired volume in 1 sec (FEV1), 82.4+/-15.4%predicted), underwent spirometry, methacholine provocation testing, and blood analysis for serum IgE and lymphocyte GSH before and after 1 month of supplementation (10 g twice daily).
Results: Initially the IgE was 1689+/-1596 microg/l (normal range <or=240 microg/l) and lymphocyte GSH was 1.75+/-0.48 microM (normal range 1.55+/-0.33 microM). IgE significantly decreased to 1379+/-1329 microg/l (P < 0.05) following supplementation. Although no significant changes in lymphocyte GSH or FEV1 were found for the group as a whole, the two patients with significant increases in lymphocyte GSH concentrations were the only two to demonstrate reductions in methacholine provocation doses (provocative concentration causing a 20% fall in FEV1).
Conclusions: These results suggest a modest impact of whey protein supplementation on the cytokine response in atopic asthma. Supplementation for longer periods, or with more potent whey-based supplements, currently under development, may prove more beneficial.