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Chemical in Broccoli Sprouts May Inform ASD Treatment

By Chelsea E. Toledo, M.A. on October 24, 2014
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Background: No approved pharmacological treatment exists for the core symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), which include impaired communication, difficulties with social interaction, and repetitive behaviors. However, some naturally occurring chemicals have been shown to address biochemical irregularities – such as oxidative stress – that are associated with ASD.


What’s new: On October 13, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a double-blind study investigating the potential of sulforaphane – a chemical present in vegetables like broccoli sprouts, kale, and bok choy – to ameliorate autism symptoms. The researchers gave sulforaphane supplements extracted from broccoli sprouts to 29 young men between the ages of 13 and 27 over a period of 18 weeks, and compared them to a group of 15 men receiving a placebo. After 18 weeks, the group receiving sulforaphane showed significant improvement in their scores on three different behavioral assessments administered by caregivers and physicians, while the control group experienced little change. The researchers then stopped treatment and continued to observe both groups for four additional weeks, noting that their scores returned to the baselines established before treatment began.


Why it’s important: While many clinical studies aim to control ASD-related behaviors directly, this study addressed the suspected underlying biochemical abnormalities instead. Future studies could delve deeper into the possible benefits of sulforaphane – for instance, whether it can provide early treatment for young children with ASD diagnoses or if it might prevent ASD when taken as a prenatal supplement.

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