By Dr. 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
- Osteoarthritis9, 10, 11, 12
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.
Broccoli Sprouts Combat Exposure to Environmental Pollutants
Another major benefit of broccoli sprouts relates to its ability to detox pollutants, as demonstrated in recent research.16, 17, 18 This is important for virtually everyone these days, but especially women planning a pregnancy. Autistic children are known to have higher levels of environmental toxins in their system, and this underlying toxic burden plays a significant role.
For example, one recent study19, 20, 21, 22 found that every one percent increase in genital malformations in newborn males within a particular US county was associated with a 283 percent increased rate in autism. According to the researchers, genital malformations are signs of exposure to harmful toxins.
The correlation between genital malformation and autism in turn offer strong support for the notion that autism is the result of parental overexposure to environmental toxins. Another study23 published last year also found that autistic children have markedly higher levels of toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs). They also had fewer healthy bacteria, such as Bifidobacterium. With regards to the detoxifying powers of broccoli sprouts, Time Magazine noted that:24
“Broccoli sprouts specifically are a source of glucoraphanin, which creates sulforaphane when chewed or swallowed. That compound accelerates the body’s ability to detoxify from various pollutants...”
The three-month long study included about 300 Chinese men and women living one of the most polluted areas of China, a rural community in the Jiangsu Province. The test group drank half a cup a day of a beverage consisting of sterilized water, pineapple and lime juice, with dissolved freeze-dried broccoli sprout powder. The control group drank the same mixture without the addition of the sprouts.
After urine and blood tests were collected and analyzed, the researchers found that the test group, who received the broccoli sprout powder, excreted far greater levels of two carcinogens. Excretion of benzene increased 61 percent, and the rate of excretion of acrolein increased by 23 percent. Benzene is usually found in car exhaust fumes, but can also be ingested via soda, where it can form from benzoate salt—used as a preservative. Acrolein forms from the breakdown of certain indoor air pollutants, from the burning of organic matter such as tobacco, and the burning of fuels like gasoline.
Factors That Likely Contribute to Autism
With autism spectrum disorder now affecting as many as one in 50 children,25 it seems reasonable to assume that there are MANY factors contributing to this problem. Evidence suggests it’s rooted in a combination of toxic overload and other aggravating factors, including but not limited to the following:
- Gut dysbiosis, especially in combination with vaccines and their additives like mercury (thimerosal), aluminum, and others, which are known to damage your mitochondria—the powerhouses in your body’s cells that produce energy. Your gastrointestinal system is often referred to as your “second brain,” containing some 100 million neurons—more than in either your spinal cord or your peripheral nervous system.
- Vitamin D deficiency. The link between vitamin D deficiency in pregnant women and the proportionate jump in autism has been highlighted by Dr. John Cannell. Vitamin D receptors appear in a wide variety of brain tissue early in the fetal development, and activated vitamin D receptors increase nerve growth in your brain. I believe vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy is a MAJOR contributing factor to autism, especially when you consider that vitamin D also helps in the detoxification of mercury. Without sufficient amounts of vitamin D, any subsequent toxic assaults—regardless of the source—will be further magnified.
- Electromagnetic radiation (EMR) from cell phones, cell towers, and Wi-Fi devices, which can trap heavy metals inside of nerve cells, accelerate heavy metal toxicity, and hinder natural detoxification processes.
- Microbial toxins, such as mold. Children with autism not only have overwhelmed detoxification pathways and often heavy metal toxicity, but, according to Dr. Klinghardt, their bodies are also frequently beset by toxic microbes, including neuro-borreliosis, and possibly other Lyme co-infections.
- Mercury toxicity. Pregnant mothers may inadvertently contribute to their child’s toxic load via dental amalgams, 50 percent of which are mercury, a known neurotoxin.
Healing the Gut May Be Key for the Treatment of Autism
Getting back to the issue of food, while broccoli sprouts may certainly be useful, parents of autistic children would do well to consider implementing the GAPS diet. Women planning a pregnancy can also reduce their chances of having an autistic child by paying careful attention to their gut health, along with avoiding toxic exposures of all kinds.
GAPS stands for Gut and Psychology Syndrome, pioneered by neurologist Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, who successfully reversed her son’s autism. In her research, she discovered that nearly all mothers of autistic children have abnormal gut flora, which is significant because babies inherit their gut flora from their mothers at the time of birth. Establishing normal gut flora in the first 20 days or so of life plays a crucial role in the maturation of your baby's immune system.
Babies who develop abnormal gut flora have compromised immune systems, which put them at higher risk for suffering vaccine reactions. If your baby has suboptimal gut flora, vaccines can become the proverbial "last straw" — the trigger that "primes" his/her immune system to develop chronic health problems. This helps explain why not every child is damaged by vaccines, and why autism rates keep rising. More children are now born with elevated toxicity levels and damaged gut flora right from the start... Such is the legacy of our increasingly toxic world. Tack on a few exacerbating factors, and the child’s body simply cannot handle the onslaught.
The best way to prevent GAPS is for the mother to avoid all processed foods, sugar, antibiotics (including CAFO meats and antibacterial soaps) and birth control pills prior to conception as these cause yeast and fungi to grow and also cause leaky gut. This can then be followed by breastfeeding and avoiding the use of antibiotics during (intrapartum) and after delivering. It’s also a good idea to make sure your baby’s microbiome is healthy before getting any vaccinations. Fortunately, it's possible to rather inexpensively identify GAPS within the first weeks of your baby's life, which can help you make better-informed decisions about vaccinations, and about how to proceed to set your child on the path to a healthy life.
The entire process for identifying children who would be at risk for developing autism from a vaccine is described in her book Gut and Psychology Syndrome, but to sum it up, in her practice she starts out by collecting a complete health history of the parents, and their gut health is assessed. Then, within the first few days of life, the stool of the child can be analyzed to determine the state of her gut flora, followed by a urine test to check for metabolites, which can give you a picture of the state of your child's immune system. These tests are available in most laboratories around the world and cost a very reasonable amount, about $80 to $100 per test.
In my view, it is absolutely VITAL to perform this analysis BEFORE you consider vaccinating your child. If the test results are normal, the likelihood of autism after vaccines is dramatically reduced. If you find that your baby has abnormal gut microflora, or begins to develop symptoms of autism a year or two later, the GAPS program should be started immediately, as the younger the child is when you start the treatment, the better the results.