A chemical found in broccoli may point the way to a cure for autism. Scientists at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine found that sulforaphane, a chemical found in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, such as cabbage and Brussels sprouts, improved the classic symptoms of autism in teens and young men.
"We believe that this may be preliminary evidence for the first treatment of autism that improves symptoms by apparently correcting some of the underlying cellular problems," said Paul Talalay, M.D., professor of pharmacology and molecular sciences.
"Autism is a developmental disorder that occurs in approximately one out of every 70 children," Ray Sahelian, M.D. a nationally recognized expert on supplements and author of Mind Boosters, told Newsmax Health. The main signs and symptoms include difficulty in communication and interactions with other people, and unbreakable routines or repetitive behaviors.
The Johns Hopkins study included males age 13 to 27 with moderate to severe autism. Before the placebo-controlled, randomized trial began, caregivers and doctors filled out forms that measured verbal communication skills, social interactions, and other behaviors related to autism. The subjects were then given either a daily dose of sulforaphane in the form of broccoli sprout extract or a placebo. After four weeks, most of the subjects taking sulforaphane showed substantial improvements in classic symptoms such as repetitive, ritualistic behaviors and social interaction, when compared with participants who took a placebo. They continued to improve throughout the 18-week study and a final assessment was taken after treatment had stopped.
Although most of the participants taking the broccoli extract showed substantial improvements while taking it, they gradually reverted to their original status after discontinuing the supplement. "It seems like sulforaphane is temporarily helping cells to cope with their handicaps," said Dr. Talalay.
Autism is usually diagnosed when a child is a toddler, and experts advise parents to begin treatment as early as possible. "It seems that most autism treatments work better the younger they are started," says Dr. Sahelian. "Most likely, sulforaphane would work even better in young children."
Sulforaphane is available online and in health food stores. The dosages used in the study ranged, according to body weight, from 9 milligrams to 27 milligrams daily. Dr. Sahelian suggests starting out with smaller doses. "I would suggest trying a third of the dosage the researchers used."
Dr. Sahelian suggests the following three substances may also be helpful in treating autism, but he notes that dosages of each should be reduced when using more than one:
• Carnosine. "Children with autism given carnosine showed statistically significant improvements on several tests including an improvement in vocabulary and recognizing a picture," said Dr. Sahelian. He suggests a small dose for young children — perhaps only a tenth of the 500 milligram recommendation for adults.
• Fish oils. "Childhood autism may be linked to a deficiency of fatty acids found in fish oils," says Dr. Sahelian. Several studies have pointed to an improvement in hyperactivity in autistic children given a daily supplement of 1.5 grams of omega-3 fatty acids.
• Probiotics. "Bacteria living in the intestines and colon may affect symptoms of autism," Dr. Sahelian said. "Children with autism have abnormal and less-diverse communities of gut bacteria." An animal study from the California Institute of Technology found that feeding mice healthy bacteria reduced autism-like behaviors. Yogurt, miso soup, and fermented vegetables contain probiotics, and they can also be bought in supplement form.
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