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An interesting study in children with autism was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) journal. Researchers tested the effects of a daily dose of sulforaphane, a chemical derived from broccoli sprouts, on children with autism. They found that many of the children receiving sulforaphane experienced significant improvements in social interaction and verbal communication, as well as decreases in repetitive, ritualistic behaviors when compared to those children who received placebo.

“We believe that this may be preliminary evidence for the first treatment for autism that improves symptoms by apparently correcting some of the underlying cellular problems,” noted Paul Talalay, MD, one of the researchers.

Sulforaphane works by helping to improve the body’s natural defense against oxidative stress, inflammation, and DNA damage, as well as improve the body’s heat shock response, which is activated when the body temperature raises. Many children with autism experience improvements in their condition when they have a fever, a time when the body’s heat shock response is activated. That prompted the researchers to test the effects of sulforaphane in autistic children.

The children received between 9 and 27 milligrams of sulforaphane daily, and their behavior was assessed at the beginning of the study, again at four, 10, and 18 weeks while treatment continued, and once more four weeks after the treatment stopped. After 18 weeks, about half of the sulforaphane recipients experienced noticeable improvements in social interaction, behavior, and verbal communication.

“It seems like sulforaphane is temporarily helping cells to cope with their handicaps,” noted Talalay.

Unfortunately, obtaining enough sulforaphane just by eating broccoli would be very difficult, given the varying amounts of the chemical in different varieties of broccoli, and due to varying ability of individuals to convert precursors in broccoli into active sulforaphane.

Sulforaphane is available as a dietary supplement, however. If you find this study interesting, talk with your physician about whether it might be of benefit.