Sulforaphane: A promising treatment for children with autism

Over the last several years Sulforaphane (SFN) has been studied as a complementary and alternative medicine for treating ASD symptoms in children. The results are promising.

Currently there aren’t any FDA-approved treatments for the core symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). However, a 2020 systematic review examined the data about the efficacy of SFN with regard to these symptoms—including irritability—and the results were promising. Read on to find out if SFN could benefit your child.

What is Sulforaphane?

SFN is a dietary isothiocyanate that is synthesized from glucosinolate (glucoraphanin). It is found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli sprouts. A potent antioxidant, SFN has several beneficial biological and neuroprotective effects on the body and brain. It has been called the “guardian of redox homeostasis” and leads to the upregulation of products that provide protection against oxidative stress. SFN also significantly lessens inflammatory responses to pathological states.

Systematic Review of Sulforaphane

A “systematic review” examines available research on a given medication to provide a summary of results pertaining to a specific question—for example, SFN as a treatment for symptoms associated with ASD. Sulforaphane, which shows negligible toxicity, was selected because it upregulates genes that protect aerobic cells against oxidative stress, inflammation, and DNA-damage, all of which are prominent and possibly mechanistic characteristics of ASD. This systematic review of SFN examined five studies, three of which were double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled studies (the gold standard in medical trials) and two of which were open label—meaning that both the researcher and participant knew they were taking SFN and not a placebo. Treatment doses ranged from 50-150 umol based on weight. A limitation of the review was the relatively small sample size in these studies, with the largest having only 50 patients.

The Potential Benefits of Taking Sulforaphane

The results of the studies demonstrated a significant improvement in participants with regard to behavior, social, and cognitive scores when patients received SFN. Several measures were used across the studies: reduction in symptoms associated with ASD were seen on the Clinical Global Impression Improvement Scale (CGI-I), Social Responsiveness Scale (17% improvement), and Aberrant Behavior Checklist (34% improvement). Preliminary analysis of the Ohio Autism Global Impression Scale-Improvement (OACIS-I) showed improvements of 26% at 7 weeks, 38% at 15 weeks, 64% at 22 weeks, and 64 % at 30 weeks in one study.

Side effects of taking SFN included insomnia, flatulence, constipation, weight gain, vomiting, diarrhea, and increased aggression. Seizures were observed in two patients in one of the studies, but one of the patients had an undisclosed history of seizures and the other patient had a seizure 3 weeks after the trial of SFN completed as well as a history of seizures that were well controlled on medications. Overall there weren’t any other major adverse events reported.

Is Sulforaphane Right for My Child?

SFN has been shown to improve some of the core symptoms related to ASD. It is safe and was mostly well tolerated by patients in the study. Schedule an appointment with Potomac Psychiatry to discuss whether this would be a viable treatment for your child.