Broccoli: a new kind of “super food”

A clinical trial conducted by scientists from Massachusetts General Hospital for Children and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine has discovered that a chemical derived from broccoli sprouts, previously known for its preventative qualities in regards to cancers, may also have practical application in treating various autism spectrum disorders (ASDs).


The study, which was published in the Journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences during the week of Oct. 13, involved 40 teenage boys and young men between the ages of 13 to 27, all with moderate to severe autism. It was discovered that many of the patients who received a daily dose of sulforaphane, the compounds derived from a broccoli steam, saw huge improvements in behavioural skills, especially in social interactions and verbal communication. It additionally decreased repetitive behaviours among those who participated in the clinical trial.

According to the world’s leading experts on various ASD’s, upwards of 2 per cent of the world’s population is affected by Autism, with a higher number of cases in boys than girls. ASD’s however have proved to be hard to treat due to the various biochemical and molecular abnormalities that tend to be present with those suffering from ASD’s. In fact, most of these are directly correlated with how efficient our cells are at energy generation.

According to Andrew Zimmerman, a professor of paediatric neurology at UMass Memorial Medical Centre who was a leading force in the study on ASD’s, the cells of people afflicted with ASD often have high levels of oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is the building up of by-products from the cell’s use of oxygen, often leading to cancer, chronic diseases and damaging DNA.

“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,” remarked Paul Talalay, M.D., professor of pharmacology and molecular sciences, who has been researching the compound since 1992.

“We are far from being able to declare a victory over autism, but this gives us important insights into what might help,” remarked Zimmerman.

Despite these breakthroughs, various members of the scientific community are highly skeptical of the “broccoli” cure as it has only been tested on a very limited scale and is still in too premature of a stage to be a definitive cure.

According to Dr. Paul Wang, head of medical research for the nonprofit Autism Speaks, the study used too small of a sample size to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that broccoli steams are an effective form of Autism treatment.

“We hope that the authors and other researchers will follow up with larger studies that can address unanswered questions and potential safety issues,” Wang remarked after further calling the study both ”interesting and important.”

It just goes to show that sometimes we can solve a medical problem without having to take a bottle of chemically synthesized pills, but perhaps just by eating our vegetables.

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