Broccoli Sprout Chemicals May Fight Autism
Exciting new research suggests that a potent beneficial chemical compound found in broccoli sprouts may help improve some of the worst symptoms of autism spectrum disorders. Previously identified as a powerful cancer-prevention compound, scientists now believe that sulforaphane may offer a safe, effective treatment for the disorder.
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are neurodevelopmental disorders characterized by repetitive behaviors, poor communication skills, and social deficits. Autism patients fall on a spectrum, with varying degrees of symptoms that may manifest as mild, moderate, or severe. About one to two percent of the global population is now believed to be affected by ASD.
In a recent study conducted by researchers at MassGeneral Hospital and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, 40 teenage boys and young men with moderate to severe symptoms received daily doses of the broccoli chemical, sulforaphane, or an inactive placebo. Within just four weeks, boys receiving sulforaphane experienced significant improvements in behavior, and a reduction in negative symptoms, such as repetitive, ritualistic behaviors.
"We believe that this may be preliminary evidence for the first treatment for autism that improves symptoms by apparently correcting some of the underlying cellular problems," said Paul Talalay, M.D., professor of pharmacology and molecular sciences. People with autism tend to have cells that show high levels of oxidative stress. Scientists speculate that sulforaphane may help correct the cellular imbalance between oxidants and antioxidants.
Within 18 weeks of treatment with varying amounts of daily sulforaphane, more than half of subjects showed signs of significant improvements in communication and aberrant behaviors. Before anyone involved knew who had taken the active compound, parents and clinicians were able to correctly identify which boys had taken sulforaphane, because the boys exhibited remarkable, never-before-seen behaviors, such as looking a person directly in the eye, and shaking hands. When the sulforaphane was withdrawn, behaviors returned gradually to their pre-study values. "It seems like sulforaphane is temporarily helping cells to cope with their handicaps,"Talalay said.
Unfortunately, it would be difficult for a patient to achieve the levels of sulforaphane used in the study by eating broccoli, broccoli sprouts, or other cruciferous vegetables (such as cauliflower, kale, brussels sprouts, etc.) alone. "We are far from being able to declare a victory over autism, but this gives us important insights into what might help," says co-investigator Andrew Zimmerman, M.D.
Nevertheless, I think it’s incredibly exciting that this research validates my fundamental position; that nature’s bounty offers some of the best medicine. It also underscores the importance of a well-balanced, plant-based diet to maintain optimal health.
Kanwaljit Singh, Susan L. Connors, Eric A. Macklin, Kirby D. Smith, Jed W. Fahey, Paul Talalay, and Andrew W. Zimmerman. Sulforaphane treatment of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). PNAS, October 13, 2014 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1416940111