Mother always said to eat your veggies, particularly your broccoli. Well, science has shown there’s some validity to mom’s claims. Sulforaphane – found in broccoli sprouts and other vegetables – has shown promise for improving some behavioral symptoms of autism. This is according to the results of a small clinical trial led by researchers from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, MD, and Massachusetts General Hospital for Children.

The researcher’s findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Autism is a developmental condition characterized by social, emotional and communication problems, along with repetitive and routine behaviors. The condition usually manifests before the age of 3 years, and the disorder is five times more prevalent in boys than girls.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says autism is the fastest growing disability in the United States, with an increase of 289.5% in the past 12 years. More than 3.5 million Americans live with the condition.

Presently, there are no medications capable of treating the core symptoms of the disorder. However, this study found that sulforaphane can reduce certain behavioral symptoms by targeting underlying cellular problems. The chemical boosts the body’s heat-shock response.
Sulforaphane is found in a number of vegetables including broccoli, broccoli sprouts, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower. The chemical was previous reported for its potential ability to protect against skin cancer.

The researchers noted that around half of parents of children with autism say their child’s behavioral symptoms significantly improve when they have a fever. Sulforaphane alters the way cells react to fever, in essence helping to improve the effect of autism by allowing the cells to behave as if a fever were present. This enables those with autism to engage socially with less anxiety and discomfort.

The 18 week study among 40 young men and teens between 13 and 27 showed remarkable results in 4 weeks, with significant changes in behavior. At 18 weeks, a 34% improvement was seen as measured by the Aberrant Behavior Checklist, and 17% on the Social Responsiveness Scale. Assessments using the Clinical Global Impression scale revealed that 46% of participants who received sulforaphane showed noticeable improvements in social interaction, 54% showed improvements in aberrant behaviors – such as irritability, awareness, repetitive movements, hyperactivity and motivation – while 42% showed verbal communication improvement.

The researchers were quick to note that one-third (33%) of participants saw no improvement using Sulforaphane. The chemical also has other cancer-fighting properties, proving that Mom was right – Eat your veggies!