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Broccoli for Autism?

Autism spectrum disorder affects one in 68 children in the U.S. Currently, there's no cure, but there is a promising new treatment being studied and it comes from something mom told us to eat as kids.

Ryan Dwelley was a happy, normally developing baby.

Sharon Dwelley, Ryan's mom told Ivanhoe, "He'd speak in full sentences, he was clever, he was playful."

But at 27-months-old, he changed after a bug bite sent him to the hospital with hives.

"He went from typically developing, talking, to not making eye contact. Not really using his language" Sharon explained.

Ryan's pediatrician diagnosed him with autism.

Sharon told Ivanhoe, "It's been hard. Sorry but it's been really hard, for him and for us."

His family tried medications, diet, but nothing seemed to help. Then Sharon found out about a new study that changed everything.

"It was unbelievable. I noticed immediately that he had you know, the decrease in his vocalizations" Sharon said.

Andrew Zimmerman, MD, Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at UMass Memorial Medical Center, says a compound found in broccoli sprouts seems to mimic something called the fever effect in the body, it's what protects cells in times of stress.

"Sulforaphane is one compound that performs many of these functions by kick starting or up-regulating those functions in the cells" Dr. Zimmerman told Ivanhoe.

The idea came from a previous study showing when kids with autism get a fever, their symptoms improve.

Dr. Zimmerman explained, "They're more sociable and they make more eye contact."

In the 18-week trial, 40 young men with severe to moderate autism either got the drug or a placebo. By week four researchers saw improvements.

"They were calmer, more sociable" Dr. Zimmerman said.

By the end, half of participants had better social interactions and two-thirds improved behavior. Some made eye contact for the first time or like Ryan, were able to go out in public.

Now 17, while nonverbal, Ryan's at a special needs school where he delivers meals with meals on wheels. Once the trial ended and patients stopped taking Sulforaphane, they reverted back to their old behaviors. Ryan's mom was able to find another sulforaphane supplement on the market that's helped Ryan keep the positive changes he's made. Dr. Zimmerman says sulforaphane can be found in all cruciferous vegetables including broccoli, cauliflower, kale and brussel sprouts. While you can't eat enough sulforaphane from natural sources, it could still be a healthy addition to your diet.