Efficacy of N-acetyl cysteine in autism

  • Awarded: 2011
  • Award Type: Research
  • Award #: 201473

There is an immense need to find new treatments for children with autism. While some current therapies are effective, there is a lack of treatments that have a clear scientific basis. There is significant evidence to show that children with autism have decreased antioxidant defenses. This may lead to changes in the way cells function and contribute to the symptoms that children experience.

In the current study, Michael Berk and his team at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, proposed testing the efficacy of N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) as a potential treatment for autism. NAC is the key component of glutathione, an antioxidant shown to be lower than normal in children with autism.

The clinical trial involved 98 children who were randomized to receive either NAC or placebo, in addition to any usual treatments they were already being prescribed. The children received NAC or the placebo for 24 weeks and were then contacted 12 months later to determine any long-term effects of the trial. The researchers found that adding NAC to the children’s usual treatment did not show benefit over placebo.

While this particular study has not shown a beneficial treatment effect of NAC, there is still a significant amount of scientific evidence to suggest that antioxidant treatment may be a potential line of therapy for children with autism. Future trials investigating biologically relevant agents, such as antioxidants, should be supported.

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