Background: Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) demonstrate a physiological imbalance between free radicals, resultant from oxidative stress, and antioxidants. Oxidative stress is linked to the pathogenesis of this neurocognitive disorder. The aim of this pilot feasibility study was to examine the effect of consumption of high concentration antioxidant cacao on behavior of children with ASD.
Methods: This was a 4-week pre-test post-test experimental pilot study of high antioxidant cacao and children with ASD. Participants consumed 8 squares (or 16 grams) per day of the dark chocolate which had a concentration of 70% cacao and 30% organic cane sugar (total antioxidant concentration was 8,320). The two main behavioral measures were the Aberrant Behavior Checklist- 2nd Edition and the Autism Spectrum Rating Scale which were completed by the child's teacher at baseline and end of week four.
Results: Sixteen participants were recruited for this study. Follow up data was available on 12 participants (9 males, 3 females, mean age of 10.9 ±3.9 years). Significant improvements on the Autism Spectrum Rating Scale were noted in Social/Communication (P = .03, η2=0.79), Unusual Behaviors (P = .02, η2=0.70), and Self-Regulation (P = .04, η2=0.59). No significant changes were noted on any of the Aberrant Behavior Checklist-2 subscales (P >.05).
Conclusion: Results from this study support the potential therapeutic benefit of antioxidants in improving social communication, unusual behaviors, and self-regulation behaviors of children with ASD. Further robust randomized controlled trials are now necessary to elaborate the validity of these findings.