A compound found in broccoli may help autism symptoms

Baltimore, MD –  A new study shows that sulforaphane, a compound found in broccoli may help treat the symptoms of autism. The study was conducted at John’s Hopkins University by Paul Talalay, head of the Laboratory for Molecular Pharmacology at the University and pediatric neurologist Andrew Zimmerman.

The 18-week study consisted of about 40 male teens and adults on the spectrum whose symptoms raged from moderate to severe. They treated 25 out of the 40 participant with the vegetable compound and 15 with a placebo. While a third who took sulforaphane didn’t improve, the two thirds that did improved dramatically. Four weeks into the study symptoms were already lessening at an amazing rate and it took four weeks for the symptoms to return once the study was completed.

The studies findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, which Talalay is a member.

When Forbes, who first reported on this amazing broccoli breakthrough, met with Talalay he commented that the results were shocking:

“If you tell someone you’re treating autism with broccoli, they would think you are off your rocker.”

The study came about after Talalay, who is in his 80s, started to study cancer prevention in the late 1980s. Studies at the time where showing that food preservatives BHA and BHT where preventing cancer in animals and Talalay wanted to know why.

According to his research he found that cells have evolved to protect themselves from radiation, carcinogenic chemicals, and damage animals incur from free radicals, the by products of our breathing. These free radicals damage our cell’s DNA.

BHT and BHA prevent this damage by strengthening the production of enzymes that protect cells. Talalay wanted to know how vegetables fit into this equation and asked his assistants to buy numerous kinds, the best of which where broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage. The star cruciferous vegetable was broccoli with it’s armer acting sulforaphane. Talalay and his team published an article on the subject in 1992.

Meanwhile Andrew Zimmerman was studying fevers in children with autism. In many parental anecdotes the symptoms of autism seemed to lesson during fevers. Some parents said their children relaxed more and where better able to communicate. Zimmerman had to know why.

His findings, along with others research, showed that people on the spectrum may have more damage from free radicals and he wondered if the damage was a cause of autism, or a symptom. This lead him to Johns Hopkins where he and a colleague studied heat shock proteins, something that armer up cells during fevers. When he became aware of Talalay’s work he knew they had to collaborate.

Zimmerman and Talalay are both excited about what their study indicates but they caution that the study needs to be replicated many times over before it becomes fact.

Contributed by Audrey L. Hollingshead