All parents-to-be want a healthy pregnancy and baby. However, many factors in the modern environment and diet can put mother and fetus at a disadvantage. One of these is a lack of antioxidants.
For example, folic acid is an antioxidant that helps prevent birth defects such as spina bifida and cleft palate. Because of this, all prenatal vitamin supplements now include folic acid.
The role of antioxidants like glutathione and vitamin E in pregnancy is often overlooked, but they are actually very important.
Antioxidants and glutathione status play a crucial role in the development and growth of the fetus, as well as in maintaining a healthy pregnancy.
Glutathione is the body’s master antioxidant, and 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.
Oxidative stress, free radical damage, and low glutathione levels have all been linked to complications during pregnancy and an increased risk of birth defects.
Glutathione plays a crucial role in the development of the fetus and placenta. Glutathione (GSH) can control cell differentiation, proliferation, and cell death – essential functions in the developing embryo.
Glutathione is important in detoxifying pollutants before they have a chance to reach the developing child through the placenta. Most substances or factors that cause birth defects (teratogens) are known to exert their embryo toxic effects because they cause oxidative stress.
The human placenta is known to possess a significant amount of glutathione S-transferase (GST) which is capable of detoxifying or activating drugs and pharmaceuticals during the critical period of organ development in the fetus.
Some drugs have been linked with causing birth defects in a developing fetus due to their potential of creating free radicals and depleting glutathione (GSH) stores.
During the early stages of embryonic development, a fetus is more susceptible to the harmful and potentially deadly effects of chemicals. Additionally, the fetus is more prone to developing cancer during late fetal stages if the mother has been exposed to carcinogens.
Carcinogens that a mother is exposed to can be transferred to the fetus through the placenta and cause cancer. Many carcinogens are more active in a fetus than in adults, and they often result in abortion or birth defects.
Environmental and lifestyle factors that are known to cause oxidative stress and lower glutathione levels can result in birth defects, abortion, and miscarriages during pregnancy.
Some of the known teratogens that can cause birth defects during pregnancy include:o Radiation
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
There are a number of maternal health factors that can increases levels of free radicals and cause birth defects, including:
o Infection and Inflammation
Glutathione and other antioxidants can help reduce oxidative stress in pregnant women with inflammation or other maternal conditions like diabetes and pre-eclampsia. Supplementing with glutathione precursors and antioxidants may help decrease the incidence of birth defects and protect both mothers and fetuses from the damaging consequences of pregnancy complications.
Glutathione may also help prevent or minimize 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 devastating outcomes such as cerebral palsy, respiratory distress syndrome, irreversible brain injury, and permanent neurological and intellectual handicaps.
Fortunately, administration of the glutathione precursor, N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC), to the pregnant mother partially prevents these risks by reducing 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 as part of their effort to reduce these risks.
Consultants always tell expectant mothers to eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, as they are the best sources of antioxidant protection. This is because glutathione, an important antioxidant, plays a crucial role in pregnancy.
Pregnant women and nursing mothers are advised to avoid taking supplementary glutathione as it may not be good for their health. Women who are pregnant or nursing should discontinue all supplements except as directed by their healthcare providers.