Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Antioxidant shows promise as treatment for certain features of autism

Date:
May 29, 2012
Source:
Stanford University Medical Center
Summary:
A specific antioxidant supplement may be an effective therapy for some features of autism, according to a pilot trial that involved 31 children with the disorder.

A specific antioxidant supplement may be an effective therapy for some features of autism, according to a pilot trial from the Stanford University School of Medicine and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital that involved 31 children with the disorder.

The antioxidant, called N-Acetylcysteine, or NAC, lowered irritability in children with autism as well as reducing the children's repetitive behaviors. The researchers emphasized that the findings must be confirmed in a larger trial before NAC can be recommended for children with autism.

Irritability affects 60 to 70 percent of children with autism. "We're not talking about mild things: This is throwing, kicking, hitting, the child needing to be restrained," said Antonio Hardan, MD, the primary author of the new study. "It can affect learning, vocational activities and the child's ability to participate in autism therapies."

The study appears in the June 1 issue of Biological Psychiatry. Hardan is an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford and director of the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Clinic at Packard Children's. Stanfordis filing a patent for the use of NAC in autism, and one of the study authors has a financial stake in a company that makes and sells the NAC used in the trial.

Finding new medications to treat autism and its symptoms is a high priority for researchers. Currently, irritability, mood swings and aggression, all of which are considered associated features of autism, are treated with second-generation antipsychotics. But these drugs cause significant side effects, including weight gain, involuntary motor movements and metabolic syndrome, which increases diabetes risk. By contrast, side effects of NAC are generally mild, with gastrointestinal problems such as constipation, nausea, diarrhea and decreased appetite being the most common.

The state of drug treatments for autism's core features, such as social deficits, language impairment and repetitive behaviors, is also a major problem. "Today, in 2012, we have no effective medication to treat repetitive behavior such as hand flapping or any other core features of autism," Hardan said. NAC could be the first medication available to treat repetitive behavior in autism -- if the findings hold up when scrutinized further.

The study tested children with autism ages 3 to 12. They were physically healthy and were not planning any changes in their established autism treatments during the trial. In a double-blind study design, children received NAC or a placebo for 12 weeks. The NAC used was a pharmaceutical-grade preparation donated by the drug manufacturer Bioadvantex Inc. Subjects were evaluated before the trial began and every four weeks during the study using several standardized surveys that measure problem behaviors, social behaviors, autistic preoccupations and drug side effects.

During the 12-week trial, NAC treatment decreased irritability scores from 13.1 to 7.2 on the Aberrant Behavior Checklist, a widely used clinical scale for assessing irritability. The change is not as large as that seen in children taking antipsychotics. "But this is still a potentially valuable tool to have before jumping on these big guns," Hardan said.

In addition, according to two standardized measures of autism mannerisms and stereotypic behavior, children taking NAC showed a decrease in repetitive and stereotyped behaviors.

"One of the reasons I wanted to do this trial was that NAC is being used by community practitioners who focus on alternative, non-traditional therapies," Hardan said. "But there is no strong scientific evidence to support these interventions. Somebody needs to look at them."

Hardan cautioned that the NAC for sale as a dietary supplement at drugstores and grocery stores differs in some important respects from the individually packaged doses of pharmaceutical-grade NAC used in the study, and that the over-the-counter version may not produce the same results. "When you open the bottle from the drugstore and expose the pills to air and sunlight, it gets oxidized and becomes less effective," he said.

Although the study did not test how NAC works, the researchers speculated on two possible mechanisms of action. NAC increases the capacity of the body's main antioxidant network, which some previous studies have suggested is deficient in autism. In addition, other research has suggested that autism is related to an imbalance in excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters in the brain. NAC can modulate the glutamatergic family of excitatory neurotransmitters, which might be useful in autism.

The scientists are now applying for funding to conduct a large, multicenter trial in which they hope to replicate their findings.

"This was a pilot study," Hardan said. "Final conclusions cannot be made before we do a larger trial."

The research was supported by a grant from the Escher Family Fund at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. Herzenberg and Tirouvanziam are listed as inventors on two patents for NAC used for treating cystic fibrosis that are licensed by Bioadvantex Inc., which supplied NAC for the trial. Herzenberg also has equity in Bioadvantex.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Stanford University Medical Center. The original article was written by Erin Digitale. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Antonio Y. Hardan, Lawrence K. Fung, Robin A. Libove, Tetyana V. Obukhanych, Surekha Nair, Leonore A. Herzenberg, Thomas W. Frazier, Rabindra Tirouvanziam. A Randomized Controlled Pilot Trial of Oral N-Acetylcysteine in Children with Autism. Biological Psychiatry, 2012; 71 (11): 956 DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2012.01.014

Cite This Page:

Stanford University Medical Center. "Antioxidant shows promise as treatment for certain features of autism." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 May 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120529182719.htm>.
Stanford University Medical Center. (2012, May 29). Antioxidant shows promise as treatment for certain features of autism. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120529182719.htm
Stanford University Medical Center. "Antioxidant shows promise as treatment for certain features of autism." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120529182719.htm (accessed October 1, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Pregnancy Spacing Could Have Big Impact On Autism Risks

Pregnancy Spacing Could Have Big Impact On Autism Risks

Newsy (Oct. 1, 2014) A new study says children born less than one year and more than five years after a sibling can have an increased risk for autism. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Stopping School Violence

Stopping School Violence

Ivanhoe (Oct. 1, 2014) A trauma doctor steps out of the hospital and into the classroom to teach kids how to calmly solve conflicts, avoiding a trip to the ER. Video provided by Ivanhoe
Powered by NewsLook.com
Pineal Cysts: Debilitating Pain

Pineal Cysts: Debilitating Pain

Ivanhoe (Oct. 1, 2014) A tiny cyst in the brain that can cause debilitating symptoms like chronic headaches and insomnia, and the doctor who performs the delicate surgery to remove them. Video provided by Ivanhoe
Powered by NewsLook.com
Burning Away Brain Tumors

Burning Away Brain Tumors

Ivanhoe (Oct. 1, 2014) Doctors are 'cooking' brain tumors. Hear how this new laser-heat procedure cuts down on recovery time. Video provided by Ivanhoe
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

More Coverage


New Treatment for Irritability in Autism

May 31, 2012 Autism is a developmental disorder that affects social and communication skills. Irritability is a symptom of autism that can complicate adjustment at home and other settings, and can manifest itself ... read more

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins