By Dr J Mercola
Science has proven time after time that food is potent medicine. Broccoli, for example, has a solid scientific foundation showing it’s one of the most valuable health-promoting foods around.
For example, a compound in broccoli, glucosinolateglucoraphanin, produces a metabolite called sulforaphane that can significantly improve your blood pressure and kidney function1 by normalizing a process called DNA methylation.
Interestingly, preliminary research suggests sulforaphane may also be of particular benefit for those with autism—improving verbal communication and decreasing repetitive behaviors.
Broccoli Compound May Improve Symptoms of Autism
While limited in scope, the study still shows that food is an important part of the treatment plan for autism, and can have a significant impact on behavior. A total of 44 boys and men diagnosed with autism were enrolled in the study.
Some received sulforaphane in capsule form, while the controls received a placebo. As reported by Time Magazine:2
“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.’”
Positive results were observed within as little as four weeks. Communication improved, as did symptoms of hyperactivity and irritability. By the end of the 18-week study, about 50 percent of those receiving sulforaphane experienced improved ability to interact socially.
About one-third of those treated did not have any noticeable results however, so more research needs to be done to ascertain how and why the compound works in certain cases. Still, considering the many health benefits of broccoli, there’s certainly no reason to avoid it.
On the contrary, I believe part of the reason for its beneficial effect on autistic symptoms may be related to its ability to affect gene expression, inhibit certain detrimental gut bacteria, and promote detoxification of harmful environmental pollutants.
All of these factors play a role in autism, and pretty much anything that will have a beneficial effect on them is likely to be useful to some degree.
Sulforaphane Benefits Gene Expression and Gut Health
Sulforaphane is an organic sulfur compound found in cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, horseradish, and arugula—but broccoli sprouts is the richest source.
Sulforaphane has been shown to have antimicrobial properties. It also kills cancer stem cells, which slows tumor growth. As noted earlier, it also normalizes DNA methylation, which plays a role in a number of diseases, including hypertension, kidney function,3 gut health,4 and cancer.
In simple terms, DNA methylation5 is the process by which a methyl group (one carbon atom attached to three hydrogen atoms) is added to part of a DNA molecule.
This is a crucial part of normal cell function as it allows cells to “remember who they are and where they have been.” DNA methylation also suppresses viral- and other disease-related gene expression.
Sulforaphane influences bacteria as well. For example, broccoli sprouts have been shown to inhibit Helicobacter pylori, the bacteria thought to cause gastric ulcers. Interestingly, H. pylori may also play a role in autism.
It is widely known that autistic children tend to suffer from gastrointestinal (GI) problems, with those experiencing the worst GI problems often having the most severe cases of autism.
In one study,6 researchers analyzed the gut microflora of 20 healthy and 20 autistic children using fecal samples, and found distinct differences between the two groups.
Specifically, those with autism had reduced levels of Prevotella, Coprococcus, and Veillonellaceae, compared to healthy children. These belong to groups of carbohydrate-degrading and/or fermenting microbes, and may be critical for healthy interactions between microbes in the gut.
The presentation below discusses the links between H. pylori and autism and language delays, noting that H. pylori can instigate leaky gut and influences genes associated with the speech disorder apraxia7 that affects many autistic children.
Other Health Benefits of Broccoli
Other research has shown that broccoli can be helpful in the prevention of:
· Heart disease
· UV radiation damage to your skin when applied topically8
The sulforaphane from broccoli plays a role in activating more than 200 different genes, which accounts for its varied effects. Fortunately, you don’t have to consume vast volumes of broccoli to reap its benefits. In one study,15 just four servings of broccoli—about 10 broccoli spears—per week was found to protect men from prostate cancer.