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An active ingredient in broccoli (and other cruciferous vegetables) known as sulforaphane has recently shown promise in the area of autistic spectrum disorders (ASD).

In a study recently (Oct 2014) published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, from scientists at Mass General for Children and Johns Hopkins University, involving 40 teen boys and young men with moderate to severe autism, demonstrated improvements in several areas in those individuals receiving sulforaphane on a daily basis, compared to placebo.

Autistic spectrum disorders continue to be a demographic that is on the rise. Affecting males more than females, recent statistics put the rates at approximately 1 in 60 boys in North America. While consensus on the underlying causes of autism appears to be multifactorial, there have been clinical reports of autistic individuals having an improvement in symptoms when a fever is present. After the fever resolves, the original symptoms return. In 1992, a research group discovered that sulforaphane has some ability to improve the body’s natural defenses against oxidative stress, inflammation and DNA damage. In addition, the chemical later turned out to improve the body’s heat-shock response — a cascade of events used to protect cells from the stress caused by high temperatures, including those experienced when people have a fever. Because fevers like sulforaphane initiate the body’s heat-shock response, researchers wondered if sulforaphane could cause the same temporary improvement in autism that fevers do. This recent study was designed to find out.

Twenty-six subjects were randomly selected to receive 9 to 27 milligrams of sulforaphane daily, based on their weight, and 14 received placebos. Behavioral assessments were again completed at 4, 10 and 18 weeks while treatment continued. A final assessment was completed for most participants four weeks after the treatment had stopped. Most of those who responded to sulforaphane showed significant improvements by the first measurement at four weeks and continued to improve during the rest of the 18 week treatment. After 18 weeks, the average scores of those who received sulforaphane showed decreased bouts of irritability, lethargy, repetitive movements, hyperactivity, and improvements in awareness, communication, motivation and positive mannerisms. Approximately 50 percent of sulforaphane recipients experienced noticeable improvements in social interaction, aberrant behaviors and verbal communication, respectively. Researchers noted that the scores of those who took sulforaphane trended back toward their original values (poorer behaviors as an example) after they stopped taking the nutrient, just like what happens to those who experience improvements during a fever and then regress once the fever subsides.

Researchers also concluded 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.
So, what to do? While other larger scale studies will need to be performed, the use of sulforaphane in those individuals with ASD, in conjunction with a comprehensive treatment protocol, is worth investigating, in my opinion. As a DAN! (defeat autism now) practitioner, I certainly see immune and detoxification challenges in these patients. Anything that can be utilized to improve these scenarios safely is certainly a positive.

AOR offers a comprehensive formula called Liver Support, a combination of herbal and amino acid components with 100 mg of broccoli extract rich in sulforaphane.


Kanwaljit Singh, Susan L. Connors, Eric A. Macklin, Kirby D. Smith, Jed W. Fahey, Paul Talalay, and Andrew W. Zimmerman. Sulforaphane treatment of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). PNAS, October 13, 2014 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1416940111


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