Compound Found in Broccoli Improves Behavior in Autism Study

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) affects one of every 68 children, mostly males, in the United States. The developmental disorder interferes with communication and social interactions and includes repetitive behavior patterns.

Some nutritional therapies, such as vitamin B6 and magnesium, have led to moderate benefits. In the latest study along these lines, researchers found that sulforaphane, a compound found in broccoli, can lead to significant improvements in the behavior of children with ASD.

Andrew W. Zimmerman, MD, of the Harvard Medical School, and his colleagues tested the effects of sulforaphane on 29 young men, ages 13-27, and compared their responses to 15 comparable subjects who were given placebos during an 18-week study.

The sulforaphane dosages varied according to the subjects’ weight. Those weighing less than 100 pounds received 9 mg of sulforaphane daily, those weighing 100-199 pounds got 18 mg daily, and those heavier than 200 pounds received 27 mg daily.

All of the subjects were assessed by parents, caregivers, or physicians using three standardized tests: the Aberrant Behavior Checklist (ABC), Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS), and Clinical Global Impression Improvement Scale (CGI-I).

At weeks four, 10, and 18, the subjects taking sulforaphane had significant improvements in hyperactivity, irritability, lethargy, and repetitive movements, according to the ABC test. They also had improvements in awareness, communication, and motivation, according to the SRS scale.

By the end of the 18-week study, the CGI-I test showed notable improvements in social interaction in 46 percent of those taking sulforaphane (compared with none in the placebo group), as well as improvements in verbal communication in 42 percent of those taking sulforaphane (compared with none in the placebo group). In addition, behavior improved in 54 percent, or 14 individuals, of those taking sulforaphane (compared with only 9 percent, or one, of those getting placebos).


Singh K, Connors SL, Macklin EA, et al. Sulforaphane treatment of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, 2014;111:15550-15555.

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