Antioxidant offers hope for autism

By Amy Mayer • Published: October 2nd, 2012
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

For all the attention autism gets, solutions for patients and families remain elusive. Occupational therapy and other treatments can help, but symptoms such as extreme irritability and repetitive behaviors can interfere and prevent success. But a new small study shows promising results for reducing some symptoms that can get in the way of therapies designed to help children.

The Stanford University study involved 31 children with autism who were given a potent antioxidant called PharmaNAC. The compound is typically used as an antidote to liver damage caused by acetaminophen overdose. But its chemical make-up and impact on neurotransmission also made it a candidate for treating certain neuropsychiatric disorders. Plus, it’s good for kids because it can be dissolved in water so children don’t need to swallow a pill.

After a 12-week course of the antioxidant, with the dose increasing every four weeks, the children taking the drug showed significant improvements compared to those who received a placebo. The researchers say these findings merit a larger study examining the antioxidant’s potential use as a therapy for autism.

One of the biggest problems with current treatments for autism is side effects. Irritability affects 60 to 70 percent of children with autism, and conventional treatment often includes antipsychotic drugs. Those can cause serious side effects such as metabolic syndrome, which increases diabetes risk, and weight gain. PharmaNAC does have potential side effects, such as constipation, but the children in this study generally reported no problems.

If a larger study replicates these findings, patients, families and schools struggling with the impulsive behaviors of autism may get some much-needed relief. And the kids may get some gentler meds.