Broccoli and autism? When I saw the headline that the chemical sulforaphane found in broccoli, cauliflower and other cruciferous veggies may reduce the symptoms of ASD, I was somewhat incredulous. When I read the study, my initial reaction was “I need to go out and buy sulforaphane supplements.” However, I wanted to research this study first.
I discovered these interesting facts:
- Scientists at MassGeneral Hospital for Children and John Hopkins University School of Medicine gave 40 young men (13-27 years of age) with moderate to severe ASD the phytochemical sulforaphane or a placebo for 18 weeks
- Sulforaphane, which showed negligible toxicity was selected because it upregulates genes that protect aerobic cells against oxidative stress, inflammation and DNA-damage. Studies have shown that the cells of individuals with ASD often have high levels of oxidative stress, the buildup of harmful, unintended byproducts from the cells’ use of oxygen, which can cause inflammation, damage DNA and lead to other chronic diseases.
- Researchers found that many of those taking sulforaphane substantially improved in social interaction, verbal communication and decreased in aberrant behaviors.
- This study was inspired by a 2007 study that indicated when children with ASD had a fever their social interaction became enhanced. Dr. Andrew Zimmerman (part of the 2007 study and the current study’s author) said there were several chemicals that stimulated changes in children with autism’s behavior during fever.
- Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, although rich in sulforaphane do not contain enough of the chemical to see similar behavioral results.
- The authors cautioned against starting sulforaphane supplements. This trial was very small to assure safety and there was also a potential side effect: 2 of the 29 boys taking the supplement had seizures although they had a history of seizures in the past.
- The brand used in the study was a patented, pharmaceutical grade product that is not available for purchase over the counter.
- If parents decide to try a sulforaphane supplement, they are strongly encouraged to work closely with a physician to monitor possible reactions.
I was very interested to read about the 2007 study, as Ryan’s behavior always improved when he had a fever. More eye contact, more language and significant decreases in repetitive behaviors. Then when he was healthy again the same issues reoccurred. I often raised the question, “why is this?” Now I understand why.
The researchers note that they don’t want to imply that sulforaphane is a cure for autism. The study offers preliminary evidence that there may be an equal or better supplement that could treat autism by improving symptoms caused by underlying cellular problems.
I’m not running out to get the supplement, but I do plan to share this research with Ryan’s physician. What are your thoughts?