(October 2014) A recent clinical trial supports the use of broccoli extract for improving behavioral/social symptoms of autism. The study, conducted at Johns Hopkins and Mass General, was published in the prestigious journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Nearly half the patients, who took the extract for 18 weeks showed substantial improvements on a number of behavioral scales, compared to placebo, including social interaction, aberrant behavior, and verbal communication.
Broccoli (especially sprouts) is abundant in many cancer-fighting nutrients, including beta-carotene, indole, and a powerful immune enhancer called sulforaphane. Extracts high in sulforaphane protect against oxidative damage, and impart other anti-inflammatory effects. Sulforaphane may reduce the risk of many cancers, diabetes, atherosclerosis, respiratory, visual, cardiovascular and neurological disorders.
The cost of broccoli extract is prohibitive for most, but it’s worth experimenting with for a few months. If the patient responds positively, then it would make sense to continue therapy. The positive effects were seen to wear off in a few weeks.
Alternatively, broccoli sprouts can be purchased, or grown at home. Broccoli seeds are more expensive than other sprouting seeds due to their medicinal value. Many folks find sprouting a hassle, but it’s worth the time. It’s like being a gardener, except on a small scale for just a few days. The process aligns you closer to life’s magic and mystery.
The best way to eat broccoli is in the raw. Unfortunately, cooking inactivates much of sulforaphane, the active principle. More precisely, heat destroys an enzyme (myrosinase) that converts the chemical to its active form. Steaming broccoli for a few minutes retains more enzyme activity than boiling or microwaving for one minute, which destroys most of the activity. When cooked, broccoli should be eaten with a raw radish, which provides myrosinase to activate sulforaphane. Besides radishes, pungent foods like arugula, mustard and wasabi, or raw cruciferous veggies like coleslaw, all contain myrosinase, and can improve broccoli’s benefits. Foods like radishes are highly alkaline-forming, and provide antioxidant punch, as well as anti-cancer activity.
Other cruciferous veggies, like cauliflower, kale, and Brussel sprouts should also be considered, but raw broccoli sprouts have by far the highest levels of sulforaphane.
This is hopeful news, knowing something may help improve autism, and knowing how it works. When the mechanism is understood, there’s a chance to expand upon these discoveries. People with autism may be afflicted with higher oxidative stress, and anti-inflammatory agents like broccoli could be the ticket. We also know that broccoli is synergistic with tomato sauce, which is loaded with the potent anti-oxidant lycopene. The synergy stems from several anti-cancer, anti-aging nutrients with diverse mechanisms that combine to protect against stress and disease.
Certainly, high quality broccoli extract has the best chance of helping those with autism. But preparing broccoli properly, and eating it regularly with foods like radishes and tomatoes may provide similar benefits.