A study published in the October 2014 journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, indicated promise in easing social interaction and verbal problems as well as decreasing ritualistic, repetitive behaviors in moderate to severe autistic males who took a daily dose of sulforaphane. Sulforaphane is derived from broccoli sprouts.
The study was a joint effort between scientists at Mass General Hospital for Children and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Forty autistic males between the ages of 13 and 27 took part in the study. Before the start of the trial, the autism patients’ caregivers and physicians filled out three behavior assessments: The Aberrant Behavior Checklist (ABC), the Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS) and the Clinical Global Impressions-Improvement Scale (CGI-I). The assessments measure “sensory sensitivities, ability to relate to others, verbal communication skills, social interactions, and other behaviors related to autism.”
Twenty-six of the autism participants were randomly selected to receive 9 to 27 milligrams (based on participant weight) of sulforaphane daily and 14 participants received a placebo. Behavioral assessments were completed at 4, 10 and 18 weeks while the study participants continued to take the sulforaphane or the placebo. A final assessment was completed 4 weeks after the treatment ended.
After 18 weeks of treatment, the average score of those who received sulforaphane decreased 34% on the ABC and 17% on the SRS. According to the CGI-I scale, 46% of the sulforaphane recipients experienced noticeable improvements in social interaction, 54% improved in aberrant behaviors and 42% improved in verbal communication. The scores of the participants trended back to the original scores after stopping the sulforaphane.
One of the professors in the study, Paul Talalay, M.D., a professor of pharmacology and molecular sciences, and his research group have been researching sulforaphane for over 20 years. He cautions that sulforaphane precursors in “different varieties of broccoli are highly variable” and that the “capacity of individuals to convert these precursors to active sulforaphane also varies greatly.” He notes that it would be “very difficult to achieve the levels of sulforaphane used in the study by eating large amounts of broccoli or other cruciferous vegetables.”
The sulforaphane-rich broccoli sprouts extract has not been made into a commercial product; therefore, it is not readily available to those with autism. However, “broccoli sprouts and seeds rich in glucosinolates have been licensed by Johns Hopkins to Brassica Protection Products, LLC.” Antony Talalay, son of Dr. Talalay is CEO of the company.