Sulforaphane may help improve autism symptoms

Sulforaphane may help improve autism symptoms

Life Extension Update
Credit: Johns Hopkins Medicine

Tuesday, October 21, 2014. A study described in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences uncovered a benefit for sulforaphane, a compound derived from broccoli sprouts and other vegetables, in improving social interaction, verbal communication and behavior in autistic young men. According to the authors of the study, the compound upregulates genes that protect aerobic cells from factors observed in autism spectrum disorder, including oxidative stress, inflammation, and DNA damage.

"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," announced coauthor Paul Talalay, MD, who is a professor of pharmacology and molecular sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

The study included 40 autistic subjects aged 13 to 27 years who received sulforaphane or a placebo for 18 weeks. Behavior and social responsiveness were separately assessed before and after the treatment period, and at four and ten weeks.

By four weeks, behavior had improved among those receiving sulforaphane. At 18 weeks, 46% of the sulforaphane group exhibited progress in social interaction, 54% showed improvement in aberrant behavior and 42% had improved verbal communication. The majority of the improvements diminished when the participants were reassessed a month after treatment was discontinued, indicating that the intake of sulforaphane was likely to be the source of the positive changes observed in the study.

"When we broke the code that revealed who was receiving sulforaphane and who got the placebo, the results weren't surprising to us, since the improvements were so noticeable," coinvestigator Andrew Zimmerman, MD, observed.

"Over the years there have been several anecdotal reports that children with autism can have improvements in social interaction and sometimes language skills when they have a fever," he explained. "We investigated what might be behind that on a cellular level and postulated that it results from fever's activation of the cellular stress response, in which protective cellular mechanisms that are usually held in reserve are turned on through activation of gene transcription."

"Ultimately we need to get at the biology underlying the effects we have seen and study it at a cellular level," he remarked. "I think that will be done, and I hope it will teach us a lot about this still poorly understood disorder."

What's Hot
Sulforaphane, quercetin improve cells' defense system

An article published ahead of print on September 2, 2014 in the journal Antioxidants and Redox Signalling provides evidence that beneficial compounds found in broccoli, onions and other foods could boost cellular defense.

The current study centers on Nrf2, a protein that enters and exits the cells' nuclei once every 129 minutes according to research first conducted by Professor Paul J. Thornalley of England's University of Warwick and his associates. When the protein is exposed to health threats, the rate of oscillation and cellular defense increases, which is accompanied by an elevation in antioxidant levels.

Dr Thornalley's team found that sulforaphane from broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, and quercetin, which occurs in onions, apples and other plant foods, increase Nrf2's speed of oscillation between the cell's nucleus and cytoplasm to once every 80 minutes.

"The way Nrf2 works is very similar to sensors in electronic devices that rely on continual reassessment of their surroundings to provide an appropriate response," Dr Thornalley explained. "The health benefit of Nrf2 oscillating at a fast speed is that surveillance of cell health is increased when most needed, that is, when cells are under threat. By understanding how this process works and increasing Nrf2's speed without putting cells under threat, new strategies for design of healthier foods and improved drugs can be devised."

"A main nutritional challenge in Europe is to substantiate the beneficial effects of foods that are advertised to the consumers," commented Andreu Palou, who is the coordinator of the EU-funded BIOmarkers of Robustness of Metabolic Homeostasis for Nutrigenomics-derived Health CLAIMS Made on Food (BIOCLAIMS) research program. "The approach of the group of Professor Thornalley is opening a fascinating new window."

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