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Broccoli, Autism and the Microbiome

MicrobiomeBy Teresa Conrick

A recent study hit the news about a supplement derived from broccoli sprouts, called Sulforaphane, showing that negative Autism behaviors were eliminated quite a bit by many who ingested it.  Since my daughter has an autoimmune diagnosis as well as severe symptoms of regressive autism, I, like thousands of other families, are dedicated to searching and reading research to help  this increasing population of affected children and young adults:

….In a placebo-controlled, double-blind, randomized trial, young men (aged 13–27) with moderate to severe ASD received the phytochemical sulforaphane (n = 29)—derived from broccoli sprout extracts—or indistinguishable placebo (n = 15)…a significantly greater number of participants receiving sulforaphane had improvement in social interaction, abnormal behavior, and verbal communication (P = 0.015–0.007). Upon discontinuation of sulforaphane, total scores on all scales rose toward pretreatment levels. Dietary sulforaphane, of recognized low toxicity, was selected for its capacity to reverse abnormalities that have been associated with ASD, including oxidative stress and lower antioxidant capacity, depressed glutathione synthesis, reduced mitochondrial function and oxidative phosphorylation, increased lipid peroxidation, and neuroinflammmation.

 Tick-Tock Toxins

Many of us in the trenches of autism, with very sick children, are well aware of these terms -- “oxidative stress, lower antioxidant capacity, depressed glutathione synthesis, reduced mitochondrial function and oxidative phosphorylation, increased lipid peroxidation, and neuroinflammmation” as we have seen them in our children and in increasing studies over the years, like this one :

Exposure to oxidative stress via the sulfhydryl reagent thimerosal resulted in a greater decrease in the GSH/GSSG ratio and increase in free radical generation in autism compared to control cells. Acute exposure to physiological levels of nitric oxide decreased mitochondrial membrane potential to a greater extent in the autism LCLs, although GSH/GSSG and ATP concentrations were similarly decreased in both cell lines. These results suggest that the autism LCLs exhibit a reduced glutathione reserve capacity in both cytosol and mitochondria that may compromise antioxidant defense and detoxification capacity under prooxidant conditions.

And this one :

One of the harmful effects of mercury action during its accumulation in a body in a region contaminated by mercury is the excessive release of reactive oxygen species and increased lipid peroxidation in the cells.

Some other caveats to share from the Sulforaphane research study:

•   The authors seem to imply genetics, more so than environmental insult, as the predetermined road to autism -- “a variety of small molecules including sulforaphane can ameliorate a number of unrelated genetic disorders by activating the “stress proteome,” which regulates many of the aforementioned damaging processes.”

•   One of the authors, Andrew W. Zimmerman, M.D., Pediatric Neurologist, is well known for his involvement in both the Hannah Poling case of regressive autism after vaccination and as an expert witness for the U.S. Government (HHS) in the Autism Omnibus cases:

Furthermore, there is no evidence of an association between autism and the alleged reaction to MMR and Hg, and it is more likely than not, that there is a genetic basis for autism in this child.”

•   To understand those conflicting Zimmerman testimonies, here is a video from last November’s Congressional briefing on the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.

•   Conflict of interest statement: U.S. patent applications have been filed by The Johns Hopkins University (inventors K.D.S., P.T., and A.W.Z.). P.T. and A.W.Z. have divested themselves from all potential financial benefits. The sulforaphane-rich broccoli sprout extract is not a commercial product. Broccoli sprouts and seeds rich in glucosinolates have been licensed by Johns Hopkins to Brassica Protection Products LLC (A. Talalay, son of P.T., is chief executive officer).

•   Some of the authors completed a study on Sulforaphane prior to this autism study entitled, “Rapid and Sustainable Detoxification of Airborne Pollutants by Broccoli Sprout Beverage: Results of a Randomized Clinical Trial in China”:

…” sulforaphane may be exerting its protective actions by activating a signaling molecule, NRF2, that elevates the capacity of cells to adapt to and survive a broad range of environmental toxins… This study points to a frugal, simple and safe means that can be taken by individuals to possibly reduce some of the long-term health risks associated with air pollution,” notes Thomas Kensler, PhD, professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School and one of the study’s co-authors.”

So it appears that Sulforaphane is protective and helpful regarding toxins yet that seems not stressed in the Autism paper.

Some interesting evidence to this research but let’s take a closer look at some corresponding pieces.

Pollution, Mercury and Vaccines

It’s no secret that there have been numerous studies showing Autism is related to toxic harm - environmentally:

Exposure to high pollution levels during pregnancy may increase risk of having a child with autism”

And via vaccination:

Hepatitis B vaccination of male neonates and autism diagnosis, NHIS 1997-2002.”

So we see this from the study:

..Sulforaphane may be exerting its protective actions by activating a signaling molecule, NRF2, that elevates the capacity of cells to adapt to and survive a broad range of environmental toxins..

And that fits with mercury exposure:

Methylmercury induces acute oxidative stress, altering Nrf2 protein level in primary microglial cells.”

…our study has demonstrated that microglial cells are exquisitely sensitive to MeHg and respond rapidly to MeHg by upregulating the Nrf2-mediated antioxidant response.

Isothiocyanates Reduce Mercury Accumulation via an Nrf2-Dependent Mechanism during Exposure of Mice to Methylmercury”

The isothiocyanates 6-methylsulfinylhexyl isothiocyanate (6-HITC) and sulforaphane (SFN) activated Nrf2…..We hypothesize, therefore, that ITC-mediated activation of Nrf2 and up-regulation of the genes downstream of Nrf2 reduce cellular and organ mercury levels after exposure to MeHg, thereby diminishing the toxicity of this substance… Increased Nrf2 activation is associated with a reduction in cellular and organ levels of mercury and substantial suppression of MeHg-induced cytotoxicity and intoxication..

From Gut To Brain

For those following me on the MICROBIOME path, this may also be a big player in the mechanism of Sulforaphane:

“Growth inhibition of a spectrum of bacterial and fungal pathogens by sulforaphane, an isothiocyanate product found in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables. ”

It was found that 23 out of 28 different microbial species were inhibited by SFN [Sulforaphane] with a minimal inhibitory concentration (MIC) ranging from 1-4 microg/mL. Five pathogens--Pseudomonas aeruginosa, 3 methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) isolates and Candida albicans--were considered resistant to SFN, having MICs >or= 16-32 microg/mL. These findings suggest that, with the dual action of SFN against a select group of microorganisms and its ability to inhibit tumor growth, SFN (or the consumption of SFN-containing vegetables) might be especially helpful in preventing certain types of infections in both cancer and non-cancer patients.

More evidence of the role of the MICROBIOME:

Gut bacteria release cancer-fighting agents from broccoli”

MedWire News: US researchers have found that bacteria in the lower gut are able to release sulforaphane, the powerful cancer-fighting agent in broccoli, from its parent compound glucoraphanin…Although studies support the role of microbiota in the conversion of glucoraphanin to sulforaphane, it has remained unclear by what mechanism and to what extent glucoraphanin is hydrolyzed and sulforaphane is absorbed in the lower gut.

Also, the issue of fever as improving autism symptoms may not originate in the head:

In 2007, Dr. Zimmerman investigated the commonly reported anecdote that autism symptoms temporarily improve when some children have a fever. He found such reports to be true. However, the mechanism behind fever’s effect on autism symptoms has not yet been identified. Because sulforaphane, like fevers, initiates the body's heat-shock response, Drs. Zimmerman and Talalay wondered if sulforaphane could produce the same temporary improvement in autism symptoms. Their current study was designed to test this idea …..

But what if it is the MICROBIOME that fever alters and that is what improves the behavior?

Furthermore, clinical improvement has been reported anecdotally in children with ASD who develop fever35, receive oral antibiotics36, or ingest probiotics37, all of which are likely to alter the gut microflora.

Although I would disagree that Autism is strictly genetic and that “Sulforaphane can ameliorate a number of unrelated genetic disorders,” as the authors stated, I do think Sulforaphane is worthy of more research.  Its role in helping with autism may have much more to do with HOW the children developed autism -- environmental insults and vaccine damage.

 Maybe it's easier to get a patent when genes are to blame?



for baby alzheimers -- Jarrow formulas makes such a supplement --


There's a lot of promising research re: alzheimers and related dementias on the use of high dose Vitamin E (2000IU daily), on making dietary changes to include healthy fats (avocado, coconut oil)and limiting grains etc. I would consult w/ a functional MD or integrative physician for more advice.

Great article as always Teresa.

Doug Stables

Hi Theresa,
great article I couldn't agree more, everything I have heard all illnesses arise from mitochondria depletion. When you add in, increased vaccinations containing mercury and other poisons, it's frightening.

May I suggest a good quality oil & preservative free Coenzyme Q10,which does assist the mitochondria & therefore provides cellular energy, which in turn can produce non toxic new cells. We have researched all oil & preservative CoQ10's ourselves and they are not up to standard. We ferment our Q10 12 times for maximum cell transportation.

Johns Hopkins is not the only one.....


cia parker

Baby Alzheimer's,
You might check out the Andy Cutler protocol for getting vaccine (and amalgam) mercury out of the brain using ALA (alpha lipoic acid). My mom had Alzheimer's too, and I'm taking the ALA and DMSA as per protocol (three days a week every three or four hours) now, hoping I won't meet the same fate.

Baby Alzheimers=Elderly Autism--just way more healing hope for children

Where do we get this? Does anyone know? I don't want to wait another 20 years. My Mom who has Alzheimers (I mean Elderly Heavy Metal Poisoning) could use it too.

Thanks again Teresa for truly amazing articles, research, and synthesizing.


Thanks for this article. I've been interested in the effects of EMF and RFR for some time. Considering that electropollution is known to have biological effects, I think it is worth asking: Does this type of pollution alter the microbiome or it's response to it's environment and toxic challenges? As just one example, what is the effect of EMF/RFR emitting cell phones, laptops, etc., worn or used near the abdomen on all the nonhuman organisms residing there?

Jeannette Bishop

"US researchers have found that bacteria in the lower gut are able to release sulforaphane, the powerful cancer-fighting agent in broccoli, from its parent compound glucoraphanin..."

Possibly, many on the spectrum do not have the bacteria that make this conversion or lack some factor needed for the process?


Yeah, easier to get John Hopkins to pay the research bill too.

What ever happened to all the research for N-acetyl cysteine research they were doing -- that is another sulfur containing what ever. We still take that.

Maurine Meleck

I've been watching the long series on The Truth about Cancer and it's all so related to the immune system and autism. The first thing the good doctors do is change of diet. Eliminate the processed sugars and replace with lots of organic fruits and vegetables, seeds, nuts and a decent amount of other protein. This affects the gut microbiome to fight cancer and increase oxygen in all the cells. The autism community has known for years the importance of good nutrition so this study doesn't surprise me. Thanks, Teresa, always on top of it.

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