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Could broccoli sprouts be the answer to treating autism? Local researchers are investigating.

Oct 15, 2014 01:50PM ● By Cate Reynolds
By Sarah Hagerty

Results of a small clinical trial suggest that a chemical derived from broccoli sprouts—and best known for claims that it can help prevent certain cancers—may ease classic behavioral symptoms in those with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Improvements were seen within four weeks and generally persisted during treatment duration.

The study, a joint effort by scientists at MassGeneral Hospital for Children and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, involved 40 teenage boys and young men, ages 13 to 27, with moderate to severe autism. The researchers say that many of those who received a daily dose of the chemical sulforaphane “experienced substantial improvements in their social interactions and verbal communications, along with decreases in repetitive, ritualistic behaviors, compared to those who received a 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,” says Paul Talalay, M.D., professor of pharmacology and molecular sciences, who researched these vegetable compounds for the past 25 years. “We are far from being able to declare a victory orver autism, but this gives us important insights into what might help,” says co-investigator Andrew Zimmerman, M.D., now a professor of pediatric neurology at UMass Memorial Medical Center.