We all know that eating our broccoli is good for us, and many population studies have confirmed that people who eat more vegetables, and in particular broccoli and members of its extended family (the Brassicae), have better health and lower incidence of diseases such as cancer. The reasons for this have been under investigation for the past few decades, and it turns out that these homely veggies are marvels of the plant kingdom, conferring protection against many cancers and common degenerative processes through a variety of sophisticated biochemical mechanisms. The Brassica family includes not only broccoli, but also Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, bok choy, arugula, radish, watercress and other vegetables. For those who have an interest in nutrition, you may know of the unique health benefits of the Brassica phytochemical indole-3-carbinol (I3C) which is metabolized in the body into the active compound diindole-methane (DIM). I3C and DIM act as antioxidants, assist in detoxification of hormones and potentially cancer-causing substances, and are linked in research with health benefits for hormonal health problems, and prevention of certain cancers, such as lung, colorectal, breast and prostate cancer. Supplements which provide I3C and DIM have been available for years, and have been incorporated into the standard natural therapeutic approach for such health issues.
Now a “new” phytonutrient from the broccoli family is available in supplement form. In recent years, much scientific attention has been focused on Sulforaphane glucosinolate (abbreviated as SGS), a substance found in high concentration in broccoli seeds and sprouts (the sprouts contain 30 to 50 times the amount of SGS as mature broccoli). While SGS is found in other brassica vegetables such as cauliflower, kale, and cabbage, the greatest amounts by far come from broccoli. SGS was identified twenty years ago by researchers at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine as the most potent of the isothiocyanates, a class of beneficial compounds derived from certain Brassica vegetables. SGS was found to provide protection from chemical carcinogens by increasing levels of the Phase II liver detoxification enzymes quinone reductase and glutathione transferase, and powerful antioxidants such as glutathione and superoxide dismutase. What’s more, the antioxidant effects are extraordinarily long-lasting – as long as days after sulforaphane is in the picture, cells continue to have increased protection.
Subsequent and ongoing studies have found that sulforaphane, the active form of SGS, has multiple modes of action in the body, holds promise for cancer prevention and treatment, and has benefit for arthritis, cardiovascular protection, immune support, skin health, retinal health, and brain cell health. Without doubt, the list will continue to grow.