Extract from Broccoli Can Temporarily Alleviate Autism Symptoms

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a condition that affects 1 in 68 persons in the United States. ASD is characterized by deficits in communication, impaired social interaction, and repetitive or obsessive behaviors. Boys are four times more likely than girls to suffer from ASD. The cause(s) of ASD are unknown, although genetic factors and environmental factors both appear to be involved. The level of disability associated with ASD ranges from mild to severe.

At the present time there is no cure for ASD, so treatment is aimed at relieving specific symptoms and improving an affected individual’s function. Interestingly, many parents of autistic children report that ASD symptoms temporarily improve when their children develop a fever. The factors involved in this so-called “fever response” have not yet been identified, although some experts believe that a fever can awaken one or more protective mechanisms within the brain that are otherwise dormant in individuals with ASD. As a result of recent research on broccoli sprout extract conducted at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Lurie Center for Autism, we might be one step closer to understanding why fever can alleviate the symptoms of ASD, which could lead to new treatments.

In a Massachusetts General Hospital clinical trial involving 44 young men with ASD, daily administration of sulforaphane – an extract derived from broccoli sprouts – substantially improved behavior and communication in the young men who received the treatment. Individuals who received only a placebo showed no improvement. When the treatment group stopped taking sulforaphane at the end of the trial, they returned to pre-treatment status, indicating that it was the sulforaphane that reduced the ASD symptoms in these individuals.

Sulforaphane is known to positively impact many of the physiologic abnormalities associated with ASD, such as excessively high oxidative stress, poor mitochondrial function, and inflammation within nerve cells. According to the scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital, sulforaphane probably triggers cellular processes that mimic the fever response in individuals with ASD. Although this research is only preliminary, it provides valuable insight into the underlying mechanisms of a complex disorder.

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