Autism is a developmental disorder that appears in the first three years of life and affects development of social, behavioral, and communication skills. It is estimated that autism affects 1 in 88 children, and is more common in boys (1 in 54) than in girls. One of the many underlying contributors to the development of autism is impaired detoxification functions in the body, or the body’s natural ability to get rid of toxins.

Many integrative medical doctors and physicians currently use a variety of detoxification therapies in children with autism, anecdotally reporting great results. A recent study investigating one such therapy—the use of the antioxidant N-acetylcysteine (NAC)—is helping to build the scientific evidence behind ingredients found to benefit those with autism.

The pilot study, published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, involved 31 children (ages 3 to 12) with autism. Half of the children received NAC (900 mg every day for 4 weeks, then 900 mg twice daily for four weeks, then 900 mg three times daily for another four weeks) and half received placebo for a total of 12 weeks. Those children receiving NAC were found to have lowered irritability and reduced repetitive behaviors when compared to those children taking placebo.

“Today, in 2012, we have no effective medication to treat repetitive behaviors such as hand flapping or any other core features of autism,” stated the lead researcher, Antonio Hardan. The decrease in irritability was not as great as is seen in children taking antipsychotics, “But this is still a potentially valuable tool to have before jumping on these big guns,” noted Harden. He cautions, however, that this is a small pilot study that will need to be replicated in a larger trial, for which they are currently raising funds.

If you have, or someone you know has, a child with autism, talk with your doctor about using NAC. Find an integrative doctor who is familiar with biomedical treatments for autism. These doctors understand that nutrition and biological function play an important role in autism.