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Mental and Behavioral Well-Being

Article Abstracts
Oct 12, 2020

Mental and Behavioral Well-Being

Research Reveals Vegetable Molecule Might Improve Autism Symptoms

Article Abstracts
Mar 03, 2024

Vegetables have long been known to promote good health, but a study led by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital for Children (MGHfC) and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine has found evidence that certain types of vegetables can improve the symptoms of autism spectrum disorders. A report published in PNAS Early Edition found that foods such as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage contain a molecule called sulforaphane. The study found that when sulforaphane was taken daily for four weeks, some participants showed improvement in both behavioral and communication assessments.

Co-corresponding author of the report, Dr. Andrew Zimmerman, previously published a study on the effects of fever on autism in 2007. Zimmerman found that those with autism sometimes experience improvement in social interaction and language skills when they have a fever. Upon further observation, Zimmerman concluded that fever activated the cellular stress response and protective cellular mechanisms usually held in reserve were turned on.

Zimmerman teamed up with Dr. Paul Talalay, who first isolated sulforaphane in the 1990s. In 2010, they set out to discover if sulforaphane could improve autism symptoms. Forty-four young men, ages 13 to 27, who had been diagnosed with moderate to severe autism spectrum disorder were enrolled in the 18-week study. Participants were randomly given a daily dose of either a placebo or sulforaphane that had been extracted from broccoli sprouts. Standardized measurements of behavior and social interaction were taken at the outset of the study as well as at 4-, 10-, and 18-week evaluations, with additional assessments of 22 participants four weeks after the close of the study.

Researchers concluded that 26 participants receiving sulforaphane showed improvement and had better assessments than the 14 who received the placebo. Using the Aberrant Behavior Checklist and Social Responsiveness Scale, those who received sulforaphane decreased 34% and 17% respectively, indicating improvement in irritability, lethargy, repetitive movements, hyperactivity, communication, motivation, and mannerisms. Using the Clinical Global Impression scale, 46% of sulforaphane recipients exhibited marked improvement in social interaction, 54% in aberrant behaviors, and 42% in verbal communication.

About a third of study participants showed no improvement while taking sulforaphane. Larger studies are needed to investigate exactly how sulforaphane affects the body on a cellular level.


David Perlmutter MD. (2014, October 16). Sulforaphane improves autism symptoms.

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