A new pilot study suggests a specific antioxidant supplement may be an effective therapy for some features of autism.

Researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital studied 31 children with the disorder.

The antioxidant, called N-Acetylcysteine, or NAC, effectively reduced irritability in children with autism and moderated repetitive behaviors. The researchers emphasized that the findings must be confirmed in a larger trial before NAC can be recommended for children with autism.

Irritability affects 60 to 70 percent of children with autism. “We’re not talking about mild things: This is throwing, kicking, hitting, the child needing to be restrained,” said Antonio Hardan, M.D., the primary author of the new study.

“It can affect learning, vocational activities and the child’s ability to participate in autism therapies.”

The study will appear in a forthcoming issue of the journal Biological Psychiatry.

Stanford University is filing a patent for the use of NAC in autism, and one of the study authors has a financial stake in a company that makes and sells the NAC used in the trial.

The dramatic increase in diagnosed cases of autistic spectrum disorders has made the discovery of new medications to treat autism and its symptoms a high priority for researchers.

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