Pilot Study Suggests Antioxidant Supplement Helps Autism Symptoms

Pilot Study Suggests Antioxidant Supplement Helps Autism Symptoms

Researchers from Stanford School of Medicine and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital studied 31 children with autism and found a specific antioxidant supplement helped reduce some symptoms of autism.

The antioxidant, called N-Acetylcysteine, or NAC, reduced autism symptoms of irritability and moderate repetitive behaviors.  Irritability is a very common symptom of autism, and it affects around 60 to 70 percent of children with autism.  According to the researchers, irritability refers to behaviors such as hitting, kicking, throwing, or other actions requiring restraint.  The finding that an antioxidant supplement could reduce these extreme behaviors is a promising result. 

The study, to be published in Biological Psychiatry, suggests grounds for future research, as this study was just a pilot study with a limited number of individuals.  This type of research is needed in such a time as now, when more and more children are diagnosed with autism and the discovery of new medications is integral to treatment.

Stanford University is pursuing a patent for NAC as a treatment for autism.  Many current medications for autism cause significant side effects, including weight gain, increased risk of diabetes, and involuntary motor movements.  NAC, however, had more mild side effects, including constipation, diarrhea, nausea, or decreased appetite.  Also, at this time, there is no medication for the repetitive behaviors, such as hand flapping, which are core symptoms of autism.  NAC could be the first supplement to address this behavior.

Children who took part in the study ranged in age, from 3 to 12 years.  During the trial, irritability scores dropped from an average of 13.1 to 7.2 on the Aberrant Behavior Checklist.  Researchers also noted a decrease in repetitive and other stereotype behaviors.

It is uncertain why exactly NAC works for autism, but hypotheses include that NAC helps increase antioxidants in the body, which is suspected to be lacking in children with autism, and it is also possible that NAC balances neurotransmitter levels in the brain, which decreases the presentation of some symptoms of autism.

Final conclusions cannot be made until more research is done, but researchers are hopeful for the implications based on this pilot study.

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Written by: Candice Evans See other articles by Candice Evans
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