Treating Autism with Broccoli?

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Broccoli is good for you — no seriously, it’s really good for you. That’s the message I take away from this recent research from Johns Hopkins, which indicates that a chemical derived from broccoli sprouts may diminish symptoms in patients with autism.

The chemical sulforaphane has previously been touted for its cancer prevention properties, but Hopkins researchers (along with a team from Boston’s MassGeneral) wanted to see if its beneficial cellular effects could help improve symptoms in people on the autism spectrum. So researchers tested a group of 40 young men with moderate to severe autism, giving some a daily dose of the chemical and others a placebo. The study participants who received the broccoli-derived chemical saw “substantial improvements in their social interaction and verbal communication, along with decreases in repetitive, ritualistic behaviors, compared to those who received a placebo,” according to the Hopkins Hub.

According to Paul Talalay, a Hopkins professor of pharmacology and molecular sciences, researchers see this as early evidence that sulforaphane actually corrects some of the underlying cellular problems that cause autism.

Talalay and his fellow researchers designed the study based on the fact that about half of parents of children on the autistic spectrum report that their children’s symptoms improve noticeably when their child has a fever. The researchers wondered if sulforaphane’s ability to initiate the body’s heat-shock response could have a similar beneficial effect on autistic behaviors.

But that’s not necessarily a reason to roast some broccoli for dinner tonight; Talalay notes that ingesting the amount of sulforaphane study participants took would require eating massive amounts of cruciferous vegetables.

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