Glutathione (GSH) is an important. Glutathione is a substance made in the body that is capable of preventing damage to important cellular components caused by reactive oxygen species (ROS) such as free radicals, peroxides, lipid peroxides, and heavy metals.

Glutathione is not an essential nutrient for humans, since it can be synthesized in the body from the amino acids L-cysteine, L-glutamic acid, and glycine.

Glutathione plays a key role in the liver in detoxification reactions and in regulating the thiol-disulfide status of the cell. Glutathione synthesis is regulated mainly by the availability of precursor cysteine and the concentration of glutathione itself which feeds back to regulate its own synthesis. Degradation of hepatic glutathione is principally regulated by the efflux of reduced and oxidized glutathione into both sinusoidal plasma and bile.

Glutathione has multiple functions:

  • It is one of the major endogenous antioxidants produced by the cells, participating directly in the neutralization of free radicals and reactive oxygen compounds, as well as maintaining exogenous antioxidants such as vitamins C and vitamin E in their reduced (active) forms.
  • Glutathione helps to regulate the nitric oxide cycle which is critical for life
  • Glutathione is needed in metabolic and biochemical reactions such as DNA synthesis and repair, protein synthesis, prostaglandin synthesis, amino acid transport, and enzyme activation. Systems that are effected by glutathione include: the immune system, the nervous system, the gastrointestinal system, and the lungs
  • Glutathione is needed in iron metabolism.
  • Glutathione is necessary in phase II liver detoxification. The glutathione conjugation pathway detoxifies metals, bacteria, fungal, viral and most toxicants.
  • GSH levels regulate redox changes to nuclear proteins necessary for the initiation of cell differentiation.
  • Differences in GSH levels also determine the expressed mode of cell death, being either apoptosis or cell necrosis. Low levels result in the systematic breakage of the cell whereas excessively low levels result in rapid cell death

Liver Detoxification

While all animal cells are capable of synthesizing glutathione, glutathione synthesis in the liver has been shown to be essential. Glutathione is the body’s chief detoxifier. Glutathione is created through methylation. Dr. S. Jill James has shown that 90% of children on the autism spectrum as well as their parents have impaired methylation.

“Glutathione is the major antioxidant present in cells and is responsible for detoxification and elimination of environmental toxins. Its active form is reduced 80% in kids with autism”.

~ Dr. S. Jill James, PhD
Arkansas Childrens Research Institute

Dr. Jill James has received an NIH (National Institute of Health) grant for her research on autism spectrum disorder. Impaired methylation and reduced levels of glutathione put children with ASD at greater risk from environmental toxicity from substances like heavy metals, pesticides, PCBs and other harmful chemicals.

“This pattern is consistent with an inability to detoxify poisons, especially heavy metals such as mercury or lead.  That is because glutathione normally binds to heavy metals and allows the body to detoxify them”.

~ Dr. S. Jill James, PhD

Research shows that children with ASD and ADHD have impaired detoxification pathways. Children who are developing neurotypically are able to remove toxins like heavy metals, pesticides and chemicals more effectively from the body. A developing child, for example, will use up two molecules of glutathione to get rid of one molecule of mercury.  Children with autism have less glutathione so it gets depleted more quickly, especially when there is a higher degree of environmental insult. Proximity to toxic landfills has consistently been associated with elevated rates of autism and developmental delay.



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