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Broccoli Compound Reduces Autism Behaviors

Broccoli Compound Reduces Autism Behaviors

Oct 21, 2014


Autism Spectrum Disorder is a disease that affects approximately 1 out of every 68, and occurs mostly in males. It is characterized by an impairment of social communication, as well as repetitive behaviors (such as rocking) and difficulties with language. Up until this point there is no known cure for autism.

Researchers Sing et al at Harvard medical school have found a potential candidate for a new drug—derived from broccoli sprouts. Sulforaphane is a chemical compound found in cruciferous plants such as broccoli and cabbage. It was chosen for the study for several reasons, one of which being low toxicity because it is derived from a food source.

During metabolism, or the transformation of one chemical to another in a living cell, reactive oxygen species such as free radicals are produced. These reactive oxygen species can cause damage known as oxidative stress.  Sulforaphane counteracts this by turning on genes to protect cells from damage. It also turns on genes that protect against DNA damage and neuroinflammation. Oxidative stress, DNA damage and neuroinflammation are all associated with Austism Spectrum Disorder. This is one of the first studies that addresses these problems as a potential pathway for treatment.


In this pilot study 22 male participants were treated for 18 weeks with either sulforaphane or a placebo, and then evaluated by both caregivers and physicians for behavioral changes. A placebo is a non-active compound given to compare with the effectiveness of the drug. They found that irritability, lethargy and hyperactivity were improved among those who were treated with sulforaphane. Repetitive movements, also known as stereotypy, were also reduced. Behavior was measured 4 weeks after stopping treatment, and the participants reverted to their usual behaviors, suggesting that the changes were in fact from treatment with the compound.

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