Can Broccoli Help Treat Behavioral Symptoms of Autism?

by Samantha Albala

A new preliminary study conducted at John Hopkins University investigated how chemical compounds in broccoli, particularly broccoli sprouts, can improve behavioral symptoms of those with moderate to severe autism. The chemical called sulforaphane, is converted from glucoraphanin through the bacteria in our bodies when we eat the sprouts. The researchers turned glucoraphanin into sulforaphane and converted them into capsules so they could control the doses for those involved in the trial based on their weight. They tested 40 men and boys ages 13-26 in hopes that they behavioral autistic symptoms would improve. Some of these behavioral symptoms are involuntary repetitive tics, irritability, and communications issues.

Why might this chemical work? In the early 1990s researchers found that there is a reduction in behavioral symptoms when an autistic person has a fever. The chemical, sulforphane creates a “heat shock effect” which tricks the brain into thinking the body temperature has risen. Thirteen of the patients that were given the capsules and not the placebo did actually experience an improvement in their behaviors, and were able to look people in the eye and shake another person’s hand for the first time. Nearly half of all of the 40 participants responded to the treatment, had significant improvement in social interaction, verbal communications, and abnormal behaviors. However, four weeks after the trial stopped the patients’ symptoms started returning to the pre-treatment levels.

One of the doctors in the trial Dr. Zimmerman stated, “We are far from being able to declare victory over autism, but this gives us important insights into what might help.” The study author, Dr. Paul Talalay also commented, “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”

Although this could be a big breakthrough in improving comfort levels for people with autism, the momentum needs to be maintained for more research, trials, and willing participants. Knowing that these capsules can help some dramatically, if the treatment is maintained, is a big first step to understanding the effects of autism on the body. Those who have autism, or who are close to someone with autism, know that improving tics and communication could be a great thing!

Of course, there will always be health benefits to broccoli, so it is still a great thing for all of us to enjoy the non-capsule stuff in the mean time. 

To read even more awesome stuff about this study and the research on oxidative stress visit John Hopkins, Live Science, and Autism Speaks

Photos c/o Live Science and tumblr user isopropoxy

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