Antioxidant Shows Promise as Treatment Autism

Autism symptoms of irritability were improved by taking an antioxidant medication

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) A small trial using an antioxidant treatment improved irritability symptoms for some children with autism. 

N-acetylcysteine (NAC), an antioxidant, given to children in a new study lowered symptoms of irritability, like aggression and tantrums.

More research is needed to determine if this could be a helpful treatment option for children with autism.

"Talk to your child’s psychiatrist about all treatment options."

A study, led by Antonio Harden, MD, of Stanford University, enrolled 33 children, aged 3 to 10 years old, in a study to look at the way NAC affected autism symptoms.  Half the children received NAC, the other half received placebo.

Study participants were given oral NAC for 12 weeks. During the study, the researchers measured autism symptoms like stereotypy, repetitive behaviors and social responsiveness after four, eight, and 12 weeks of taking the medication.

Children receiving NAC showed improvement by week four on the irritability measure and these improvements lasted through week 12. Irritability shows up as aggression, self-injury and tantrums in children with autism, and these behaviors were reduced when children were taking NAC.

The researchers report that most of the side effects were gastrointestinal and that, overall, NAC was well tolerated.

Dr. Harden’s study was a small trial that shows promise for NAC in treating symptoms of autism. More research is needed on larger samples to determine the safety and effectiveness of this treatment possibility.

NAC is used to treat acetaminophen overdose. It acts on glutamate, a neurotransmitter important for many functions in the brain.

This study was published in the June issue of Biological Psychiatry. Authors in this study report financial affiliations with Bristol-Meyers Squibb and Forest Pharmaceuticals among others.

This study was supported by a grant from the Escher Family Fund at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation to AYH.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 7, 2012
Last Updated:
October 16, 2012