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Let’s talk about Broccoli

Broccoli is so healthy and so easy to obtain and now… new research shows that it may be beneficial to symptoms of autism!

Sulforaphane, a chemical that is abundant in broccoli, was the root of a recent study conducted at Harvard/MassGeneral and Johns Hopkins.  The study is called “Sulforaphane treatment of autism spectrum disorder (ASD)” and was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

They collected young men with moderate to severe ASD to participate in a placebo-controlled, double blind, randomized trial.  The sulforaphane molecule exists in highest concentration in broccoli, out of all the cruciferous vegetables.  The young men were given the phytochemical sulforaphane, derived from the broccoli sprout.  The young men who receved the chemical instead of the placebo showed substantial improvement in their behavior.  A significantly greater number of men who were given the sulforaphane demonstrated improved social interactions, verbal communications, and also showed less abnormal behavior.  When they no longer received the sulforaphane, their behavioral patterns returned.

Sulforaphane is known to reduce oxidative stress, lower antioxidant capacity depress glutathione synthesis, and reduce mitochondrial function and oxidative phosphorylation, reversing chemical reactions in the body that exist in those with autism.

Dr. Paul Talalay of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine answered some questions about their study:

How did you and your colleagues conceive of this study?

Understanding that the idea that broccoli could help with symptoms of autism is obviously far-fetched he says, “We became impressed that many patients diagnosed with autism showed biochemical defects in their ability to protect themselves against oxidative stress and against inflammation.  They also showed some deficiencies in energy generation.  20 years ago, while working on what seemed like a totally unrelated process- prevention of cancer- we obtained from broccoli sulforaphane, a compound that in other systems was highly effective in protecting cells against oxidative damage and to correct other abnormalities associated with autism”.  They realized it might be worth their time to experiment if sulforaphane can ameliorate symptoms of autism.

Dr. Talalay goes on to explain that this was one of the few clinical studies that focused on correcting fundamental biochemical and physiological mechanisms associated with autism.  Most other studies have been designed to correct behavioral problems.

It is possible that other plant and synthetic chemicals can achieve similar results as sulforaphane like boosting the intrinsic genes that protect cells against oxidative stress and inflammation.  Dr. Talalay is hopeful that this study can be replicated and the effects are so significant that they can actually help those with autism.  You can find more information about this study here.