A broccoli sprout compound may help with behavioral problems in some people with autism, a new study suggests.
Though the short-term study was small and did not see improvements in a third of the participants, it was still “promising” according to the lead researcher, CBS reports.
“This is just one study, and it’s a preliminary study,” said Dr. Kanwaljit Singh from Massachusetts General Hospital for Children.
44 boys and men with autism between the ages of 13 and 27 took part in the study. Some received sulforaphane, a compound found in broccoli and other vegetables that has previously been studied for its health benefits, while others received a placebo.
The compound was chosen because it can help trigger a heat-shock response, a series of biological events that protect cells from stress during fevers; some people with autism have been known to see improvement in regard to repetitive behaviors, for example, during fevers. Around 80 percent of the participants had a history of experiencing the “fever effect.”
Within four weeks of the 18-week study, parents were already seeing improvements in areas of communication, hyperactivity and irritability. Researchers, unaware of which participants were receiving a placebo, noticed similar changes. By week 18, roughly half of the sulforaphane participants had better social interactions, and, four weeks after the study and the sulforaphane stopped, such improvements were less apparent.
The head of medical research for the organization Autism Speaks, Dr. Paul Wang, said the study was “interesting and important” but ultimately too small to tell for sure whether the compound can help with autism treatment.