Oxidative Stress

I stated in a previous post  that I would explain more about oxidative stress and how it pertains to Autism.  I am a huge nerd, so I get really excited about learning new things like this.  It’s actually very fascinating because I’ve always heard of antioxidants, but never had any true idea of what they were until now.  So, let’s see if I can break this down for non-nerds out there.

When we speak of chemical oxidation, it means a loss of electrons.  When this process happens too quickly, it may result in flames, as seen in burning wood.  When oxidation occurs more slowly, it can be seen in food rotting (fruit turning brown) or iron rusting.  Compounds that cause oxidation are called oxidants.  Some oxidants occur naturally as a part of cellular metabolism.  However, pollutants, toxic metals, chemicals, and pesticides can also act as oxidants.  The body has a natural defense system to help quench oxidants called antioxidants (now you see why these are so hyped up by health gurus).  Some common antioxidants are vitamins C, E, and A.  Other nutrients that act as antioxidants include B vitamins, zinc, selenium, magnesium, carnosine and carnitine.  The body also manufactures special molecules to help battle oxidants.  These include glutathione (GSH), metallothionein (MT), melatonin, estrogen, ceruloplasmin, transferrin, and important anti-oxidant enzymes:  glutathione peroxidase (GSHPx),  superoxide dismutase (SOD),  and catalase.

So what is oxidative stress?  Oxidative stress occurs when the level of oxidants in the body exceeds the level of antioxidants.  Basically there are not enough good guys to battle the villains.  There is good data available to suggest that this is often the case in Autistic children, and antioxidant nutrients have been shown to improve autistic behavior.  Double-blind, placebo-controlled trials have shown a reduction of autistic behaviors after treatment with high-dose vitamin C or carnosine.  Other studies demonstrated improvement in autistic behaviors with high-dose vitamin B6 in combination with magnesium.  There are also many parental reports of the benefits from glutathione, a classical antioxidant, as well as carnitine, a mitochondrial booster.

Oxidative stress may well be documented one day as one of the primary factors in Autism, but much more research must be conducted before then.  Meanwhile, many parents opt to go ahead with nutritional supplementation now because it is a fairly safe and easy intervention. Also, addressing lower nutrient levels may improve the child’s general health.  After all, excess oxidative stress is a general health risk, not something that is exclusive to Autism.  Some common compounds found in foods also shouldn’t be ingested by children with Autism. Excitotoxin flavor enhancers and sweeteners (MSG, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, and aspartame) should be absolutely avoided in any population with increased oxidative stress, and these are ingredients in many fast-foods.

I hope that this has given you a better understanding of oxidative stress and why it plays an important role in Autism.  As research continues in this area, I am sure we will continue to learn more about how to reverse oxidative stress in our children.  But for now, I plan to follow in the footsteps of parents before me and increase Skyler’s antioxidant levels through nutritional supplementation.  I have ordered a good multivitamin.  We will also be using methyl-B12 shots to help support methylation (this increases the production of glutathione, the antioxidant listed above), magnesium sulfate (another antioxidant listed above) in the form of Epsom baths and magnesium cream, and cod liver oil (contains high levels of antioxidants).  After Skyler’s test results come back, we will know more about his levels of oxidative stress and how to best manage it.  But either way, he will be healthier as a result of nutritional supplementation.  And that makes mommy happy!

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