Posted on Nov 17, 2014, 6 a.m.
Results of a small clinical trial suggest that a chemical derived from broccoli sprouts may improve the classic behavioral symptoms of autism.
Research carried out at MassGeneral Hospital for Children and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine suggests that sulforaphane, a chemical derived from broccoli sprouts, may be of benefit in the treatment of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Andrew Zimmerman, MD, who is now a professor of pediatric neurology at UMass Memorial Medical Center, and colleagues enlisted 40 teenage boys and young men with moderate to severe autism, aged 13 to 27, to take part in the study. Twenty-six of the subjects were randomly selected to receive, based on their weight, 9 to 27 milligrams of sulforaphane daily, and 14 received placebos. Before the start of the trial, the patients' caregivers and physicians filled out 3 standard behavioral assessments: the Aberrant Behavior Checklist (ABC), the Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS) and the Clinical Global Impressions-Improvement scale (CGI-I). The assessments measure sensory sensitivities, ability to relate to others, verbal communication skills, social interactions and other behaviors related to autism. Behavioral assessments were completed again at 4, 10 and 18-weeks while treatment continued. A final assessment was completed for the majority of participants 4-weeks after the treatment had stopped. Results showed that the majority of those who responded to sulforaphane showed significant improvements by the first measurement at 4-weeks and continued to improve during the rest of the treatment. After 18-weeks of treatment, the average ABC and SRS scores of those who received sulforaphane had decreased 34 and 17%, respectively, with improvements in bouts of irritability, lethargy, repetitive movements, hyperactivity, awareness, communication, motivation and mannerisms. After 18-weeks of treatment, according to the CGI-I scale, 46, 54 and 42% of sulforaphane recipients experienced noticeable improvements in social interaction, aberrant behaviors and verbal communication, respectively. The scores of those who took sulforaphane trended back toward their original values after they stopped taking the chemical. The researchers caution that it would be very difficult to achieve the levels of sulforaphane used in this study by eating large amounts of broccoli or other cruciferous vegetables.
Singh K, Connors SL, Macklin EA, Smith KD, Fahey JW, Talalay P, Zimmerman AW. Sulforaphane treatment of autism spectrum disorder (ASD).PNAS. 2014, October 13. [Epub ahead of print].