All parents-to-be nurture the dream of a healthy pregnancy and baby.
But the modern environment and diet is deficient in many factors essential for the health of mother and fetus. One of those factors is antioxidants.
The role of antioxidants like folic acid in preventing birth defects like spina bifida and cleft palate is well known. It is now included in all prenatal vitamin supplements.
But the role of antioxidants like glutathione and Vitamin E in pregnancy is often overlooked.
Antioxidants and glutathione status play an important role in the development and growth of the fetus, maintenance of a healthy pregnancy – and even before pregnancy, in fertility and conception.
Glutathione is the body’s master antioxidant. It helps to regenerate stores of other antioxidants like Vitamin C and E.
It also protects both mother and fetus from the damaging effects of free radicals and oxidative stress.
Many pregnancy complications and birth defects have been linked to oxidative stress, free radical damage and low glutathione levels in the mother and fetus.
The role of glutathione in the development of the foetus and placenta is crucial. Glutathione (GSH) can control cell differentiation, proliferation, and cell death – essential functions in the developing embryo.
In the placenta, glutathione detoxifies pollutants before they reach the developing child. Most substances or factors which cause birth defects (teratogens) are known to exert their embryotoxic effects because they cause oxidative stress.
The human placenta possesses a significant amount of glutathione S-transferase (GST) capable of detoxification or activation of drugs and pharmaceuticals during the critical period of organ development in the fetus.
Some drugs are known to cause birth defects in the growing fetus by generating free radicals, and depleting GSH stores.
In the early embryonic stages, the fetus is sensitive to the toxic and teratogenic effects of chemicals, whereas it is sensitive to carcinogenic effects during late fetal stages.
Carcinogens administered to the mother can be transferred through the placenta and induce cancer in the fetus. Many carcinogens are much more active in the fetus than in adults and they tend to act as abortifacients and teratogens as well.
Environmental and lifestyle factors are known to cause oxidative stress and lower glutathione levels – resulting in birth defects, abortion and miscarriages in pregnancy.
Some of the known teratogens (causing birth defects) in pregnancy include:
o Pesticides and Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)
o Air pollution
o Heavy metals (mercury, cadmium, arsenic)
o Vinyl chloride
o Excess Oxygen (hyperoxia)
o Anti-psychotic and anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs)
o Cigarette smoke
o Alcohol (ethanol) consumption
Maternal health factors that increase free radicals and cause birth defects include:
o Infection and Inflammation
Glutathione and other antioxidants attenuate oxidative stress in pregnant women with inflammation or maternal conditions like diabetes and pre-eclampsia, and in fetuses at risk for developing cystic fibrosis.
Supplementation with glutathione precursors and antioxidants can decrease the incidence of birth defects and protect both mothers and the fetus from the damaging and possibly fatal consequences of pregnancy complications.
Glutathione (GSH ) also prevents or minimizes the oxidative stress that occurs during labor and the birth process.
Perinatal or birth asphyxia/hypoxia (deprivation of oxygen supply to the brain) in preterm deliveries and labor can lead to cerebral palsy, respiratory distress syndrome, irreversible brain injury, and permanent neurological and intellectual handicaps.
Administration of the glutathione precursor, N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC), to the pregnant mother partially prevents oxidative stress during the birth process in premature infants.
Currently, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology advises all pregnant women to take a prenatal vitamin containing antioxidants.
In addition, they advise eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, the best sources of antioxidant protection.
Read a detailed report with references on the role of glutathione in pregnancy
Pregnant women and nursing mothers should avoid the use of supplementary glutathione. Pregnant women must always consult their healthcare provider before initiating any course of supplementation. Women who are pregnant or nursing should discontinue all supplements except as directed by their healthcare providers.