New Study Shows Promise for Natural Support of Autism Symptoms

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A new double-blind, placebo-controlled study published in Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences shows exciting potential for sulforaphane, a compound found in broccoli sprouts, to help ease symptoms of irritability and hyperactivity in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).1

The study divided 60 children aged 4-12 years old with ASD into two groups. One group received sulforaphane plus the antipsychotic medication risperidone, while the control group received a placebo plus risperidone. After 10 weeks, the sulforaphane group showed significantly greater improvements in irritability scores and hyperactivity/noncompliance scores compared to placebo. However, no differences were seen between groups in other symptom areas like lethargy, stereotypic behavior, or inappropriate speech.

This demonstrates sulforaphane's potential as a safe, supportive natural food extract that may help young people with ASD, especially with disruptive irritability and hyperactivity. As the authors note, current drug treatments for these symptoms have concerning side effects, highlighting the need for gentler alternatives.

The researchers propose oxidative stress and inflammation may play a key role in ASD. As a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, sulforaphane may help address these underlying drivers. More research is still needed, but this study adds to growing evidence that nutritional approaches could provide helpful adjunct support in ASD management.

For families struggling with ASD's daily challenges, news of a safe nutritional extract that eases some of the most disruptive behaviors offers hope. While more studies are still needed, these early findings on sulforaphane are exciting and warrant optimism.

 With current drug treatments carrying concerning side effects for children, this nutrient-derived compound emerges as a promising natural alternative for providing supportive care.

Although autism spectrum disorder (ASD) only became mainstream in the 1980s, there has been skyrocketing growth of ASD diagnoses in recent decades. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now estimates that 1 in 44 children has ASD.1 This rapid rise is alarming, with causes still not fully understood, certain contributing factors like mercury and aluminum adjuvants in vaccines not allowed to be discussed, and few effective medical interventions available.

Despite the pressing need, pharmaceutical treatments have struggled to manage ASD symptoms without concerning safety issues. Current FDA-approved drugs like risperidone and aripiprazole, while moderately easing aggression, have been linked in some studies to alarming side effects like weight gain and increased type-2 diabetes risks.2 The search continues for safer and more effective treatments. You can view our extensive database on alternative, natural approaches to autism spectrum disorder here.

New research on the natural compound sulforaphane offers some hope. A study published in Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences found that when used as an adjunctive treatment alongside risperidone, sulforaphane significantly improved symptoms of irritability and hyperactivity in children with ASD compared to placebo.3

Participants were given sulforaphane doses of 8.71 mg per day if less than 45 kg (99.2 pounds), and 17.73 mg per day if greater than 45 kg, over the 10 week study duration.

The study's senior author Dr. Akhondzadeh suggests inflammation and oxidative stress may be contributing factors in ASD.4 Indeed, other studies have found children with ASD exhibit more inflammation as well as higher levels of oxidative biomarkers like malondialdehyde and nitric oxide.5,6 The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory powers of sulforaphane may help alleviate these mechanisms.7

Excitingly, sulforaphane has also been shown to provide a multitude of other health benefits that could be just as protective for individuals with ASD. Early studies associate sulforaphane with reduced risks for cardiovascular disease, asthma, schizophrenia, Alzheimer's disease, and Parkinson's disease.8 It has been shown to support liver function, blood sugar balance, eye health, skin reactions, detoxification and even slowing the aging process itself. With over 250 recorded health benefits, sulforaphane's therapeutic potential appears tremendous.9

While larger scale research on sulforaphane and ASD is still needed, this recent study adds to a growing body of literature suggesting sulforaphane could provide supportive, adjunctive care for managing autism symptoms. Particularly given its exceptional safety profile and myriad side benefits, sulforaphane offers newfound optimism in the ongoing quest to improve quality of life for individuals and families living with ASD.

Learn more about the power of sulforaphane here

Learn more about additional natural approaches to autism spectrum disorder here.


1. Maenner MJ, Shaw KA, Baio J, et al. Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder Among Children Aged 8 Years -- Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, 11 Sites, United States, 2016. MMWR Surveill Summ 2020;69(No. SS-4):1–12.

2. Correll CU, Manu P, Olshanskiy V, Napolitano B, Kane JM, Malhotra AK. Cardiometabolic risk of second-generation antipsychotic medications during first-time use in children and adolescents. JAMA. 2009 Oct 28;302(16):1765-73.

3. Momtazmanesh, S., Amirimoghaddam-Yazdi, Z., Moghaddam, H.S., Mohammadi, M.R. and Akhondzadeh, S., 2020. Sulforaphane as an adjunctive treatment for irritability in children with autism spectrum disorder: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 74(7), pp.398-405.

4. Ibid.

5. Rose, S., Melnyk, S., Pavliv, O., Bai, S., Nick, T.G., Frye, R.E. and James, S.J., 2012. Evidence of oxidative damage and inflammation associated with low glutathione redox status in the autism brain. Translational psychiatry, 2(7), pp.e134-e134.

6. El-Ansary, A. and Al-Ayadhi, L., 2014. Lipid mediators in plasma of autism spectrum disorders. Lipids in health and disease, 13(1), pp.1-10.

7. Cui, H. and Kong, Y., 2018. Oxidative stress, mitochondrial dysfunction, and aging. Journal of signal transduction, 2018.

8. Houghton, C.A., Fassett, R.G. and Coombes, J.S., 2016. Sulforaphane: translational research from laboratory bench to clinic. Nutrition reviews, 74(11), pp.709-726.

9."Sulforaphane". GreenMedInfo. (accessed February 22, 2024).

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