Thoughtful Parenting: Broccoli and autism spectrum disorders — A better future for our children

Deirdre Pepin and Rosanne Iversen/ForSteamboat Today

We know the numbers: One in 68 children is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, and the rate of diagnosis is increasing. Chances are, you know someone with autism or your child attends school with a student on the spectrum. Historically, genetics have been a stable contributing factor, but significant environmental changes have recently occurred that may also be contributing to the rise of autism. Researchers are trying not only to find effective, affordable treatments, but to target causes as well.

What has changed recently in our environment?

Part of the puzzle is all the chemicals in our world today. According to the EPA Inventory Update Reporting Program, the chemical manufacturing industry estimated approximately 27 trillion pounds of chemicals have been produced or imported into the U.S. each year since 2010. That’s 74 billion pounds per day, or 250 pounds per person per day. In 2012, we put 12 billion pounds of BPA into the environment. More than 200 industrial chemicals have been found in the umbilical cord blood of unborn American and Canadian children.

What is the link between these chemicals and autism spectrum disorders?

As the amount and kind of chemicals in our environment increase, so too do our neurological disorders. Certain geographical regions with higher levels of toxic pollution also have higher numbers of special education services and autism spectrum disorders. Researchers in the field can highlight these correlations on a map.

What does this mean for our parenting?

Cruciferous vegetables:

• Broccoli

• Cauliflower

• Brussels sprouts

• Kale

• Cabbage

• Bok choy

• Watercress

• Radishes

• Arugula

These super-vegetables contain the chemical sulforaphane, an extremely potent antioxidant and detoxification substance. Sulforaphane migrates into cells and produces antioxidant proteins that combat toxins. Sulforaphane also produces detoxification enzymes that shuttle biohazards out of cells.

Studies have shown that adding sulforaphane to diets can significantly reduce the risk of autistic symptoms. The positive impacts of sulforaphane can best be achieved by:

• Eating cruciferous vegetables twice daily.

• Steaming, lightly cooking or eating them raw.

• Starting when children are young.

• Going slowly, adding little by little (in a smoothie, for example).

• Making it fun! (Serve kids broccoli trees and cauliflower bushes.)

Does this apply only to children with autism spectrum disorders?

No, it applies to everyone. Studies show sulforaphane reduces the risk of cancer, attention deficit disorder, depression, high blood pressure, cellular inflammation and other chronic conditions. We are all overwhelmed with continuous exposure to chemicals, processed foods, nutrient deficiencies and the stress of a busy modern lifestyle. Children and adults who are on the spectrum or simply interested in lowering their risk for cancer will benefit from these vegetables. Your mother and grandmother were right all along: eat your veggies.

For more information, watch “Broccoli—The DNA Whisperer: Tom Malterre at TEDxBellingham”.

Deirdre Pepin is resource development and public relations coordinator at Horizons Specialized Services. Horizons has been a member of Routt County’s Early Childhood Council, First Impressions, since its inception in 1998. Rosanne Iversen, M.D., is a family physician in Steamboat Springs with Steamboat Family Medicine. She is the mother of two teenage boys and serves on the Yampa Valley Autism Program board.

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