A chemical found in veggies like broccoli may help cut down on symptoms in people with autism, a study finds. With the help of parents and caregivers, researchers assigned autism "scores" to 44 males with the disorder, ages 13 to 27; higher numbers on two different scales were linked to more severe symptoms. Twenty-six subjects received the chemical, called sulforaphane, for 18 weeks, while others got a placebo. The scores of who took sulforaphane dropped by 34% or 17%, depending on which scale was used, LiveScience reports. They showed, for instance, less irritability and less trouble communicating.
In 17 of the participants, changes were noticeable enough that family and medical workers were able to guess that they were on the real treatment rather than the placebo. Approximately a third of subjects showed no improvement. "This is by no means a 'cure,' but sulforaphane may ameliorate symptoms of autism," a researcher says. The study follows reports that kids with autism show fewer symptoms when they have a fever, he says; sulforaphane can have an effect on cells that mimics what's seen in a fever. In addition to broccoli, sulforaphane is found in cabbage and cauliflower, a press release notes. But just eating tons of the vegetables wouldn't likely produce the same results, researchers say. Studies have shown a 30% increase in the disorder in just two years. (Read more broccoli stories.)