Broccoli and Autism

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • One of the chemicals derived from broccoli sprouts showed significant improvement in autism symptoms, including social interaction, communication and repetitive movements according to a study published online in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in October, 2014. Information about the study is available at John Hopkins Medicine website.


    The chemical, sulforaphane, is found in broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale and Brussels sprouts. The highest concentration is found in broccoli sprouts. In the past, it has linked to reduced rates of cancer. Some studies have also shown it can help reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels. The most recent study looked at the effect of sulforaphane on symptoms of autism.

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    Dr. Paul Talalay, professor of pharmacology and molecular sciences, has studied sulforaphane for over two decades. In the early 1990’s, he discovered that it can boost our body’s natural defense against oxidative stress, inflammation and DNA damage. In later studies, it was found to improve the body’s heat-shock response, which is how we protect ourselves against damage from high temperatures, including running a fever.


    Interestingly, Talalay found that parents of children with autism often reported that their child’s behavior improved when they had a fever and then returned to previous behaviors once the fever was gone. Andrew Zimmerman, one of the researchers in the recent study, tested this and found that symptoms of autism did lessen when a child had a fever. The researchers wanted to determine if sulforaphane would have any effect on autism symptoms.


    The study included 40 children, 26 received anywhere from 9 to 27 milligrams of sulforaphane (based on the weight of the child) and 14 received a placebo. The caregivers and physicians for the children in the study were asked to complete three behavioral assessments, used to measure behaviors such as communication, sensory sensitivities, social interactions and other behaviors commonly seen in children with autism, at the beginning of the study. These tests were repeated after 4, 10 and 18 weeks (the conclusion of the research study.)


    According to the assessments, the children taking the sulforaphane had noticeable improvements in social interaction, verbal communication and aberrant behaviors. The researchers, who did not know which children had received a placebo, had noted significant improvements in 13 of the children prior to analyzing the data, for example, some of the children made eye contact, where they had not done so in the beginning of the study. All of these children had received the sulforaphane. Once the children stopped taking the sulforaphane, however, the gains in social functioning were no longer noticeable.


    Unfortunately, improvement isn’t as easy as feeding your child a lot of broccoli or brussel sprouts. The amount of sulforaphane the children were given was much higher than would be derived from consuming these vegetables alone. According to Talalay, different varieties of broccoli have different amounts of sulforaphane and each child would convert the vegetables to sulforaphane differently. However, extracts from the broccoli sprouts may be available in the future.


Published On: October 14, 2014