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Research has shown that some individuals on the autism spectrum have low levels of glutathione, which “plays important roles in brain development and ongoing protection of brain cells.”73 Glutathione does not only protect each individual cell, but “also the tissues of the arteries, brain, heart, immune cells, kidneys, lenses of the eyes, liver, lungs, and skim against oxidant damage.”74 Glutathione is classified as a tripeptide amino acid that has “strong antioxidant properties and is a component of many bodily processes including DNA and protein synthesis, immune system functioning and enzyme activation.”17 90% of glutathione is found in its antioxidant form, and in times of illness glutathione levels will plummet, a sign of oxidative stress.35 There are several options available to individuals wishing to increase glutathione levels. Oral glutathione may improve levels in the gut, but only 10% is absorbed, making it a poor method for raising glutathione levels in the body.3 Glutathione in IV form is highly effective, but the effects only temporary and can often be difficult to administer, Vitamin C, was also shown to raise glutathione levels in one study, and chelation, which is the removal of toxic metals (mercury), have been shown to improve levels of glutathione production.3

A 2008 study to test the effects of Protandim, an antioxidant supplement, was found to increase glutathione content by 2-4 folds and “elevated the glutathione content of cells, a marker for the cellular defense against oxidative stress.”75 The study concluded that this “observation is of therapeutic significance because glutathione deficiency contributes to oxidative stress and plays an important role in the pathogenesis of many diseases.”75

A study, scheduled for completion in December in 2012, was created based on effective treatments of glutathione for two children at the Kosair Children’s Hospital in Louisville, KY. The study will specifically test the efficacy and safety of glutathione, Viatmin C, and Cysteine on the behavior of children with autism. A news segment about the first patients to receive the glutathione therapy at the Kosair Children’s Hospital explains the effects of the treatment in greater detail.

Researchers observed post-mortem brain tissue samples of individuals on the autism spectrum gathered by the Autism Tissue Project to explore the effects of oxidative stress in the cerebellum and temporal complex (Brodmann area 22 (BA22)) against matched, neuro-typical controls. The study determined that glutathione were “significantly decreased” in each region, leading researchers to conclude that decreases in glutathione and increases in oxidative stress “in the autism brain may have functional consequence in terms of a chronic inflammation response…and oxidative protein and DNA damage.” The authors of the study admit that subsequent studies will be necessary to confirm these observations.

*Parents should consult a physician before implementing any dietary intervention for their child.