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Chemical in Broccoli can Improve Autism Symptoms

Update Date: Oct 13, 2014 03:05 PM EDT

Researchers from MassGeneral Hospital for Children and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine have found another reason why people should eat more vegetables, particularly broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage. According to the team, these types of vegetables contain a chemical called sulforaphane that can temporarily improve autism symptoms.

In this study, the researchers recruited 44 male participants between the ages of 13 and 27 who had moderate to severe autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The sample was randomly divided into two groups. In the first group, 26 participants were treated with a daily dose of sulforaphane that was extracted from broccoli sprouts. The other group acted as the control and was given a placebo. The participants' behavior and level of social interaction were assessed at the start of the study and at weeks four, 10 and 18.

The researchers discovered that the sulforaphane group had average scores that were better than the placebo groups throughout the study period. Overall, 17 out of the 26 patients on sulforaphane exhibited clear signs of improvements in behavior and social interaction while on the treatment. The effects of sulforaphane were noticeable as early as week four.

The team noted that after treatment ended at week 18, the sulforaphane group had improvements in certain symptoms, such as irritability, hyperactivity and communication. The participants on sulforaphane also had improvements in social interaction, aberrant behaviors and verbal communication. At the follow-up during week 22, the researchers found that the majority of these improvements were no longer noticeable.

"The improvements seen on the Social Responsiveness Scale were particularly remarkable, and I've been told this is the first time that any statistically significant improvement on the SRS has been seen for a drug study in autism spectrum disorder," Andrew Zimmerman, MD, a co-corresponding author of the study, said reported in the press release. "But it's important to note that the improvements didn't affect everyone - about one third had no improvement - and the study must be repeated in a larger group of adults and in children, something we're hoping to organize soon,"

He added, "Ultimately we need to get at the biology underlying the effects we have seen and study it at a cellular level. I think that will be done, and I hope it will teach us a lot about this still poorly understood disorder."

The study was published in PNAS.

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