Fighting Autism Brain Inflammation with Food

Fighting Autism Brain Inflammation with Food
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One food may be able to combat all four purported causal factors of autism: synaptic dysfunction, oxidative stress, mitochondrial dysfunction, and neuroinflammation.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Harvard neurologist Martha Herbert, in a keynote address at an autism conference, said “we need to conduct research as if we know this is an emergency.” Already, up to one and a half percent of American children have autism, and it appears to be on the rise. Well, what about fever’s dramatic effect? This “dramatic relief of autistic behavior [during a fever] continues to tantalize parents and practitioners.” From a research standpoint, “what could be more revealing than a common event that virtually ‘normalizes’ autistic behavior for a time?” “There’s so much going on during fever,” though; where do you even begin?

Well, once it became understood that one cause of autism may reside in the synapses—the so-called “soul of the brain,” the nerve-to-nerve junctions where information is transmitted—attention turned to HSPs, heat shock proteins, released by the brain when you have a fever, that can improve synaptic transmission, and thus, may be “capable of improving long-range [brain] connectivity which is depressed in [autism].” ASD stands for autism spectrum disorder. And, there’s this compound, sulforaphane, that “upregulates” those heat shock proteins. So, you could potentially get the benefits without the fever. What drug company makes it? What do I ask for at the pharmacy? Nope, wrong aisle.

Sulforaphane is not made in chemical plant; it’s made by a plant. Sulforaphane is made by broccoli, kale, cabbage, collards, and cauliflower—in other words, cruciferous vegetables. So, maybe if we give some broccoli to those with autism, it will make things better by boosting the heat shock proteins.

But, synaptic dysfunction is not the only contributing cause of autism. There’s also oxidative stress. “The brain is particularly vulnerable to oxidative stress” because lots of free radicals are forged in the brain, which has few “antioxidant defense capacities.” And, indeed, “[t]here is a long history of studies showing that [autism] is associated with oxidative stress and diminished antioxidant capacity.” Nrf2 levels cut nearly in half, which is what triggers our body’s “antioxidant response.” If only there was a way we could boost Nrf2 with foods—boom, there it is! Sulforaphane just so happens to be perhaps “the most potent natural…inducer…of Nrf2” on the planet.

What’s this Nrf2 thing again? It’s “considered to be a master regulator of” our body’s response to environmental stressors. Under any kind of stress—oxidative stress, inflammatory stress—Nrf2 triggers our “antioxidant response elements,” activating all sorts of cell-protective genes that balance out and detoxify the free radicals, and facilitate protein and DNA repair.

So, maybe if we give some broccoli to those with autism, it will also make things better by triggering Nrf2, which activates those antioxidant response elements. And then, there’s the mitochondrial dysfunction. “[C]hildren with autism [are] more likely to” suffer from dysfunctional mitochondria, the little power plants within our cells where metabolism takes place. If only there was some food that could improve mitochondrial function. And, there is. “A diet rich in cruciferous vegetables effectively retunes our metabolism by…restoring metabolic [balance].” Power plants for our cellular power plants.

Not only can sulforaphane boost the gene expression of heat shock proteins as much as six-fold within six hours, it can double the mass of mitochondria in human cells growing in a petri dish. So, maybe if we give some broccoli to those with autism, it will also make things better by relieving some of that mitochondrial dysfunction that is creating even more free radicals. Okay. So, can we try giving some kids some broccoli already? First, one final factor: neuroinflammation—brain inflammation, another causal factor in autism. If, at autopsy, you look at brain tissue of those with autism, you can see inflammation throughout the white matter.  And, if you do a spinal tap, up to 200 times the levels of inflammatory mediators, like interferon, bathing their brains. 

What’s causing all that inflammation? Well, the master regulator of the inflammatory cascade is a protein called NF-kappa-beta, which induces inflammation and, if overexpressed, like in autism, can lead to “chronic or excessive inflammation.” If only there was a food. Wait—broccoli does that, too? In fact, it’s the major anti-inflammatory mechanism for sulforaphane, inhibiting NF-kappa-beta.

Well, then; that completes the picture. Give someone with autism broccoli, and heat shock proteins are released to boost synaptic transmission, Nrf2 is activated to wipe out the free radicals, mitochondrial function is restored, and we suppress the inflammation triggered by NF-kappa-beta. One food to counter all four purported causal factors. That’s one of the differences between foods and drugs. Drugs tend to have single effects. But, autism spectrum disorder, ASD, “is multi-factorial”—no wonder there’s no drugs that work. But, “strategies using multi-functional phytochemicals [like sulforaphane] or even [better] the [whole] plants [themselves],…are highly attractive”—in theory. But, you don’t know, until you put it to the test, which I promise we’ll cover, next.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Icons created by Kate Maldjian, Artem Kovyazin, Basti Steinhaur, Duda Araujo, and Basti Steinhauer from The Noun Project.

Image credit: National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI). Image has been modified.

Motion graphics by Avocado Video

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Harvard neurologist Martha Herbert, in a keynote address at an autism conference, said “we need to conduct research as if we know this is an emergency.” Already, up to one and a half percent of American children have autism, and it appears to be on the rise. Well, what about fever’s dramatic effect? This “dramatic relief of autistic behavior [during a fever] continues to tantalize parents and practitioners.” From a research standpoint, “what could be more revealing than a common event that virtually ‘normalizes’ autistic behavior for a time?” “There’s so much going on during fever,” though; where do you even begin?

Well, once it became understood that one cause of autism may reside in the synapses—the so-called “soul of the brain,” the nerve-to-nerve junctions where information is transmitted—attention turned to HSPs, heat shock proteins, released by the brain when you have a fever, that can improve synaptic transmission, and thus, may be “capable of improving long-range [brain] connectivity which is depressed in [autism].” ASD stands for autism spectrum disorder. And, there’s this compound, sulforaphane, that “upregulates” those heat shock proteins. So, you could potentially get the benefits without the fever. What drug company makes it? What do I ask for at the pharmacy? Nope, wrong aisle.

Sulforaphane is not made in chemical plant; it’s made by a plant. Sulforaphane is made by broccoli, kale, cabbage, collards, and cauliflower—in other words, cruciferous vegetables. So, maybe if we give some broccoli to those with autism, it will make things better by boosting the heat shock proteins.

But, synaptic dysfunction is not the only contributing cause of autism. There’s also oxidative stress. “The brain is particularly vulnerable to oxidative stress” because lots of free radicals are forged in the brain, which has few “antioxidant defense capacities.” And, indeed, “[t]here is a long history of studies showing that [autism] is associated with oxidative stress and diminished antioxidant capacity.” Nrf2 levels cut nearly in half, which is what triggers our body’s “antioxidant response.” If only there was a way we could boost Nrf2 with foods—boom, there it is! Sulforaphane just so happens to be perhaps “the most potent natural…inducer…of Nrf2” on the planet.

What’s this Nrf2 thing again? It’s “considered to be a master regulator of” our body’s response to environmental stressors. Under any kind of stress—oxidative stress, inflammatory stress—Nrf2 triggers our “antioxidant response elements,” activating all sorts of cell-protective genes that balance out and detoxify the free radicals, and facilitate protein and DNA repair.

So, maybe if we give some broccoli to those with autism, it will also make things better by triggering Nrf2, which activates those antioxidant response elements. And then, there’s the mitochondrial dysfunction. “[C]hildren with autism [are] more likely to” suffer from dysfunctional mitochondria, the little power plants within our cells where metabolism takes place. If only there was some food that could improve mitochondrial function. And, there is. “A diet rich in cruciferous vegetables effectively retunes our metabolism by…restoring metabolic [balance].” Power plants for our cellular power plants.

Not only can sulforaphane boost the gene expression of heat shock proteins as much as six-fold within six hours, it can double the mass of mitochondria in human cells growing in a petri dish. So, maybe if we give some broccoli to those with autism, it will also make things better by relieving some of that mitochondrial dysfunction that is creating even more free radicals. Okay. So, can we try giving some kids some broccoli already? First, one final factor: neuroinflammation—brain inflammation, another causal factor in autism. If, at autopsy, you look at brain tissue of those with autism, you can see inflammation throughout the white matter.  And, if you do a spinal tap, up to 200 times the levels of inflammatory mediators, like interferon, bathing their brains. 

What’s causing all that inflammation? Well, the master regulator of the inflammatory cascade is a protein called NF-kappa-beta, which induces inflammation and, if overexpressed, like in autism, can lead to “chronic or excessive inflammation.” If only there was a food. Wait—broccoli does that, too? In fact, it’s the major anti-inflammatory mechanism for sulforaphane, inhibiting NF-kappa-beta.

Well, then; that completes the picture. Give someone with autism broccoli, and heat shock proteins are released to boost synaptic transmission, Nrf2 is activated to wipe out the free radicals, mitochondrial function is restored, and we suppress the inflammation triggered by NF-kappa-beta. One food to counter all four purported causal factors. That’s one of the differences between foods and drugs. Drugs tend to have single effects. But, autism spectrum disorder, ASD, “is multi-factorial”—no wonder there’s no drugs that work. But, “strategies using multi-functional phytochemicals [like sulforaphane] or even [better] the [whole] plants [themselves],…are highly attractive”—in theory. But, you don’t know, until you put it to the test, which I promise we’ll cover, next.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Icons created by Kate Maldjian, Artem Kovyazin, Basti Steinhaur, Duda Araujo, and Basti Steinhauer from The Noun Project.

Image credit: National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI). Image has been modified.

Motion graphics by Avocado Video

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