Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is growing at an alarming rate! CDC surveillance reports show the prevalence of ASD in American children is about 1 in 68. That number drastically increases among males with a 4.5:1 ratio. These numbers continue to climb with each passing year.
Autism spectrum disorder characteristically has neurodevelopmental impairments. Specifically, abnormalities in socialization, communicative and interactive abilities, repetitive patterns akin to obsessive compulsive disorders (OCD), irritability, anxiety and hyperactivity are common.
Why the increased prevalence you may ask?
We are beginning to unveil some of the mysteries of ASD. We know those afflicted lack the proper mechanisms to deal with oxidative stress and inflammation when exposed to toxins. It is uncertain if these mechanisms are solely genetic predispositions, cumulative exposures that in essence “stack” and overload the body’s ability to detoxify or a combination of both. The age old “chicken before the egg” conundrum!
A cluster of studies suggests that chemicals like glyphosate found in herbicides are one of the many contributing factors of ASD. These chemicals are commonly used prior to harvesting grains, corn and soy. A recent article published in February of this year by Dr. William Shaw shows compelling trends.
Integrative and functional medicine providers armed with this knowledge focus energies upon detoxification within this population. Many patients show marked improvements once diet modification with organic, GMO free foods and immune regulating treatment is initiated.
Within that vein of treatment, we continue to see promising results by activating genes in the body responsible for protecting cells against oxidative stress and inflammation. Sulforaphane, an active ingredient in broccoli sprouts,is shown to activate those genes responsible for counteracting a triggered stress response.
A remarkable study by Singh et al. treated males with significant ASD over the course of 22 weeks. Analysis of outcome was measured using the ABC and SRS behavioral scores. Outcome evaluation showed “ significant improvement of those randomized to sulforaphane at 4,10 and 18 weeks for irritability , lethargy, stereotypy, and hyperactivity subscales of the ABC and in awareness, communication, motivation and mannerism subscales of SRS” When the sulforaphane treatment was stopped the behaviors regressed back to baseline.
How does this work?
The active ingredient in broccoli seed extract known as sulforaphane elicit a heat-shock response. This response essential is a protein response found inside the cell that reacts during stress and protects the cell from death or dysfunction. These stressors can be infection, toxin exposure, inflammation, starvation etc. Those afflicted with autism spectrum disorder in many cases have an altered oxidative stress pathway. Evoking this response by using sulforaphane can help increase antioxidant capacity allowing the body to better deal with stress responses. This also allows the related mechanisms of the central nervous system to respond optimally as well. Hence the neurocognitive improvements!
Articles for further reading:
Singh K. et al. (2014) Sulforaphane treatment of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). www.pnas.org
Kensler T. et al. (2014) Keap1-Nrf2 signaling: A target for cancer prevention by sulforaphane.
Gan N. et al. (2010) Sulforaphane activates heat shock response and enhances proteasome activity through up-regulation of Hsp27. J. Bio Chem 285(46):35528-35536.