Broccoli Sprout

ay Fight and Prevent Cancer – including throat, lung, colon, prostate, breast, bladder, skin cancers
Might Benefit the Heart
Support Strong Bones
Might Help Fight H. pylori Infection
Detoxify the Body
May Improve Respiratory Function
Can Be Part of a Multiple Sclerosis Diet
Could Protect Your Brain
1. May Fight and Prevent Cancer
Broccoli sprouts – Dr. Axe
Remember that 1997 article in the New York Times? The title of that piece is “Researchers Find a Concentrated Anticancer Substance in Broccoli Sprouts.” More than any other phenomenon, the ability of broccoli sprouts to fight cancer is its most extensively researched and well-known feature.

How does it work? (This is a pretty technical description, so feel free to skip down a few paragraphs if you’re not into the gritty details.)

First of all, sulforaphane inhibits the function of phase I enzymes, which activate pro-carcinogens (substances that are metabolized into carcinogens) in the body. (4) Then, it induces phase II enzymes to begin their work — unlike phase I enzymes, phase II enzymes detoxify your body of potential carcinogens and other disease-causing compounds (the scientific term for this is “xenobiotic metabolism”). (5)

Eating broccoli sprouts can also influence the amount of a fascinating protein known as Nrf2. It’s interesting because this protein functions early in life as an antioxidant likely to serve in cancer prevention but, once cancer has spread, also seems to promote tumor growth. Researchers observe the activity of HDAC, a cancer-promoting protein, to determine how Nrf2 is functioning in the body — the more activity in Nrf2 pathways, the less HDAC is expressed. They also look at the expression of the p16 gene, a cancer suppressor that inhibits HDAC.

In animal studies, sulforaphane was able to exhibit strong cancer-fighting ability in mice with high Nrf2 concentrations but had very little effect in Nrf2-deficient mice. Reducing HDAC in human colon cancer cells causes sulforaphane to double its ability to cause p16 expression and potentially stop that cancer from growing further. A human study found that those eating more than five servings of cruciferous vegetable servings a week or taking a broccoli sprout supplement had higher p16 expression and lower HDAC, according to colonoscopy screenings. (6)

Lastly, many of the benefits of sulforaphane (not limited just to cancer-preventing) are connected to epigenetics, as I mentioned. Sulforaphane might be able to influence some of the epigenetic changes in specific types of cancer cells and possibly reverse negative alterations in genetic code that worsen or induce some cancers. (7)

As complicated as that might sound, those are the bare basics of broccoli sprouts and cancer prevention. Here are the various types of cancer studied for their relationship to broccoli sprouts and sulforaphane:

Throat Cancer: Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and Johns Hopkins University presented a review in 2015 detailing the way broccoli sprout extract protects against oral cancer (specifically, head and neck squamous cell carcinoma) in mice and how it is very tolerable in human volunteers. These two facts combined warrant further study in high-risk human subjects about this form of cancer. (8, 9)

Lung Cancer: A mouse study in 2005 tested the ability of sulforaphane to prevent lung cancer caused by tobacco carcinogens. The results were promising and led the scientists to suggest these substances should be tested to help prevent lung cancer “in smokers and ex-smokers with early lung lesions.” (10)

Colon Cancer: The examples in my explanation of how sulforaphane can help prevent cancer included mice with colon cancer as well as colon cancer cells. Other studies have found the same results. A lab study found that sulforaphane from broccoli sprouts and other cruciferous vegetables causes cell death and permanent DNA breakage in colon cancer cells while leaving healthy cells unaffected. (11)

Prostate Cancer: Both animal and human studies have reflected an impact of broccoli and broccoli sprouts on prostate cancer. The selenium found in both broccoli and its sprouts stops the expression of a protein called NGK2D ligand, which negatively affects the immune system and causes it to overact and then shut down in cancers, including leukemia, prostate cancer and melanoma. (12, 13)

In a lab, scientists found that selenium-enriched broccoli sprouts effectively stopped the growth and spread of prostate cancer cells. Selenium-enriched sprouts are increasingly common. (14, 15)

Regular consumption of broccoli sprouts also seems to halt the development of prostate cancer tumors in mice. (16) A very small human study saw some improvements but not to a very significant threshold, as expected. Even so, those doing the study said they want to repeat the study with higher doses of sulforaphane and a larger number of subjects, particularly since the side effects were essentially null. (17)

Breast Cancer: A mouse study discovered that sulforaphane stops the growth of breast cancer stem cells and suggests it’s a useful dietary method to protect from breast cancer. (18) In humans, another small trial found some positive changes but non-statistically significant changes in tumor biomarkers usually used to test improvement of cancer development. (19)

Bladder Cancer: Another study in mice tested the effectiveness of a broccoli sprout extract on bladder cancer. Researchers found the bladder to benefit quite a bit — because the extract is delivered directly to the part of the bladder (the epithelium) where bladder cancer develops, it was a very promising result in preventing bladder cancer and slowing or stopping its spread. (20)

Skin Cancer: In mice, sulforaphane-containing broccoli sprout extracts seem to protect against skin cancer caused by UV light. (21)

2. Might Benefit the Heart
A 2012 study found that rats given sulforaphane from broccoli sprouts showed lower blood pressure after the sulforaphane stopped an epigenetic process called DNA methylation that researchers believe to be correlated with hypertension. (22)

Broccoli sprouts also lowered blood pressure in another animal study in 2016, as well as resulted in lowering high triglycerides. (23)

At a Chinese university, scientists discovered that sulforaphane also helps decrease the lab markers of cardiac hypertrophy (abnormal enlargement of the heart muscle). (24)

It’s even possible broccoli sprouts can be beneficial for a serious heart injury known as myocardial reperfusion injury. This injury occurs as a result of a common medical practice administered after a heart attack known as percutaneous coronary intervention (PPCI). PPCI is used to widen arteries immediately after heart attack and prevent further damage but often results in oxidative stress and cell death within the heart and connected arteries. (25)

Rats were fed broccoli sprouts for 10 days and then subjected to heart attack and two hours of reperfusion. The rats fed broccoli sprouts experienced less cell death and oxidative stress during the process, suggesting that preemptively adding broccoli sprouts to the diet might help aid in recovery for those at risk for heart attack. (26)

3. Support Strong Bones
Early reports indicate sulforaphane might be a powerful protector against osteoporosis. In a lab, sulforaphane from broccoli sprouts seems to stop molecular processes and inflammation related to the formation of osteoblasts, which are a major cause of osteoporosis. (27)

Epigenetics play a role here, too. A study in mice found that sulforaphane influences the epigenetic layer to counteract mechanisms that contribute to the formation of osteoporosis. (28)

4. Might Help Fight H. pylori Infection
“The most successful pathogen in human history” might have met a match in broccoli sprouts. H. pylori originated from Africa and has been causing gastritis and stomach ulcers for 200,000 years. (29)

Animal and human studies alike have found broccoli sprouts to temporarily suspend this bacterial infection in at least some patients, with little to no side effects. (30, 31)

Some studies have found that the H. pylori infection didn’t go away after giving broccoli sprout extract. However, broccoli sprouts seem to protect the gastric lining (mucosa) from oxidative stress associated with the development of gastritis and eventually gastric cancer. (32, 33) They may also reduce the future colonization of H. pylori.

Eating broccoli sprouts has a distinct anti-inflammatory effect when it comes to H. pylori, too, which means they could significantly help your body fight illness and disease related to infection by this bacteria. (34, 35)

5. Detoxify the Body
Many fad “detoxes” aren’t worth the dollars they cost because nature has already provided powerful detoxing foods that you can use to make your own detox drinks to get rid of many of the environmental and dietary pollutants your body needs to trash — just more proof that food is medicine.

One such example is a broccoli sprout drink. Two human studies in congested areas famed for their toxin overload in the air found that the broccoli sprouts in their drinks resulted in excretion of far larger quantities of airborne chemicals than people drinking a placebo. (36) One of the studies specifically tested for carcinogen biomarkers, finding the participants were significantly detoxing these dangerous chemicals after just 10 days. (37)

6. May Improve Respiratory Function
That same detox power might be one reason sulforaphane is good for respiratory health. Lab and human studies have discovered that broccoli sprouts and sulforaphane aid cells in the lungs get rid of environmental toxins (namely, diesel exhaust) that are known to contribute to allergies, asthma and other respiratory illness. (38, 39)

Do you remember that sulforaphane induces phase II enzymes in cancer? Those enzymes are also expressed in the upper airway when exposed to ingested sulforaphane and may decrease inflammation from oxidative stress connected with asthma. (40)

Researchers also conducted a study in mice that found sulforaphane decreased oxidative stress and limited replication of the RSV virus, the most common cause of lower respiratory illness in infants and young children. (41)

7. Can Be Part of a Multiple Sclerosis Diet
Sulforaphane is one nutrient being investigated for potential dietary impact in multiple sclerosis (MS). (42)

In a mouse model, sulforaphane decreased inflammation and oxidative stress (are you seeing a pattern yet?) associated with the demyelinating seen in MS. (43) “Demyelinating” is the process by which the body’s immune system damages the myelin sheath surrounding nerve fibers and is the cause of the severe symptoms associated with MS.

8. Could Protect Your Brain
Some “nutraceuticals” (medicinal foods) protect your brain from long-term, slowly developing problems that arise late in life. Others, like broccoli sprouts, might help to relieve some problems associated with trauma.

For one, immediately administering sulforaphane after traumatic brain injury (TBI) has been found to help reduce brain swelling. (44) It also enhances cognition in patients who get it within an hour after TBI. (45)

These are obviously times in which physicians and emergency personnel will be giving treatment to patients — don’t try feeding broccoli sprouts to your loved ones if they have head injuries; get them to a hospital!

However, other brain issues might benefit from the dietary use of broccoli sprouts. One example is in stroke — it seems possible that regularly eating broccoli sprouts prior to stroke might help reduce disruption of the blood-brain barrier and neural dysfunction after strokes have occurred. (46)

Finally, there have been multiple rat studies in which blood flow to the brain was restricted and then sulforaphane was given to the animals. In these tests, blood flow blockage was minimized, and the brain was somewhat protected from oxygen deprivation. The latter result is significant because that deprivation has been known to cause cerebral palsy. (47, 48)

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