Can cerebral palsy and other neurodisabilities be prevented? Hear Dr. Jerome Yager speak in Vancouver at BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute: April 25, 2018 | 4:30-5:30 p.m. | room A3-131.

Does eating broccoli sprouts as part of a whole foods diet make a difference in outcomes for kids with CP, ADHD, autism and other conditions? A community-based occupational therapist inspired by one of our researchers’ findings encourages parents to provide the tiny shoots to her young patients in Powell River, BC.

The first time Michelle Riddle met her new client, “Billy,” he wasn’t able to speak. About to turn four, he wasn’t toilet trained, couldn’t leave the house without major meltdowns, didn’t attend preschool, and had a range of behaviours associated with autism, including body rocking, lining up objects, twirling them and watching them spin, and making tic-like sounds. A validated screening tool placed Billy in the first percentile for his age group – meaning 99 per cent of children evaluated with the screen outperformed him developmentally.

At Riddle’s recommendation, the family removed potentially toxic substances from their home and began feeding Billy a whole foods diet, including broccoli sprouts.

“I saw the family walking into a grocery store in Powell River B.C. a few months later, and the little boy was walking right beside his parents,” Riddle recalls. “When his mom leaned down and whispered in his ear he said, “Hi, Michelle!” with a great big wave. This was a child who, three months before, hadn’t been communicating and would have been screaming and kicking. It was a pretty remarkable transformation.”

It is unclear whether the diet, fewer chemical exposures, the broccoli sprouts, or all three were responsible for the turnaround in Billy, a pseudonym for a real child.

KBHN investigator Dr. Jerome Yager, a pediatric neurologist and neuroscientist who’s been researching broccoli sprouts for more than a decade says a growing body of evidence shows the antioxidant-rich, slightly bitter tasting shoots have a clear capacity to stabilize the activity of antioxidants and inflammation in the body.

Dr. Yager’s studies, conducted at the University of Alberta, have had tremendous success in animal models. Female rats fed raw broccoli sprouts during pregnancy had fetuses with significantly more resilient brains than rats not fed the sprouts. If the sprouts were consumed before an injury to the fetal brain caused by inflammation or inadequate blood flow to the placenta, between 60 to 80 per cent of the injury was prevented, a number that dropped to 40 per cent if the sprouts were consumed post-injury.

“There is so little out there on prevention, especially when it comes to childhood disease and disability. There is a huge lack of studies examining pregnancy and the vulnerable fetus, and the use of therapies during this time, because of the fear of side effects on the fetus. Of course, side effects to the mother and fetus is absolutely necessary to avoid. But that is why the use of broccoli sprouts may hold such great promise,” he says.

Unchecked, inflammation and oxidation deteriorate the body at a number of levels, he adds. The footprints of later neurodisability are made during gestation. “Whatever the insult is in utero, it’s already completed before the child is born,” says Yager.  “Treating the injury after it has occurred often does little to improve outcomes, though it is improving. It is definitely not reducing the prevalence of neurodisability overall. That will only occur with prevention.”

Regulating inflammation and oxidative stress
How broccoli sprouts work is relatively simple: the sprouts’ main constituent, sulforaphane, acts to stabilize the system once an injury has occurred, by increasing the body’s ability to fight inflammation and reducing oxidative stress. “Sulforaphane restores homeostasis,” says Dr. Yager. “It puts you back on track.”

“The antioxidant in broccoli sprouts effects repair by binding certain chemicals in the brain, which increases the brain’s ability to fight off oxidants,” Dr. Yager explains. “It kind of ‘revs up’ your own system – it’s quite cool.”

In upcoming studies, we hope to determine the safety of broccoli sprouts and sulforaphane during pregnancy, and determine how long the effect will last,” notes Yager. “It’s a slow process, taking our work with rats into human trials, but we believe it will be well worth the time and investment.”

Michelle Riddle first learned about broccoli sprouts when she heard Dr. Yager speak at a conference. She was inspired to obtain a holistic nutrition certification, and began giving raw broccoli sprouts – as well as recommending whole foods and a low toxicity home environment – to families raising children with developmental delays shortly after.

Initial results were so promising Riddle started implementing the Canadian Occupational Performance Measure (a rating scale used by occupational therapists to assess performance during activities of daily living), tracking performance when clients first came in, and re-assessing three months later.

“The children who were introduced to the organic food and broccoli sprouts scored an average of 40 per cent higher than the other children I was seeing after just three months,” says Riddle. “It was shocking, and the scores were really a nice concrete piece of evidence.”

Since then, Riddle has implemented her broccoli sprouts enhanced protocol with youth with autism, ADHD, neonatal drug exposure, sensory processing disorder, developmental coordination disorder, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, Tourette’s, and cerebral palsy. She reports seeing improvements across the board. Billy, once showing early signs of autism, recently began French immersion kindergarten without the help of a teacher’s aid, and now scores in the 80th percentile for his age group.

“Though Michelle Riddle’s results have not met many of the hurdles required for broad acceptance, they do make sense,” reflects Dr. Yager. “If we accept the current theories that the final common biological pathway to many developmental disorders is ongoing inflammation, her diet and the use of broccoli sprouts are both aimed at reducing these culprits.”

“Convincing the scientific community is challenging,” he adds. “Insuring safety, and scientific proof are important first steps. Our pre-clinical animal work is very convincing, and we look forward to moving ahead with this work. For the vulnerable fetal population, where therapies don’t currently exist, sulforaphane may prove both safe and very effective. It’s an exciting time.”