Sulforaphane from Broccoli Protects Cells Against Free Radicals
Broccoli is already known to contain chemicals that assist the body’s immune system. Raw broccoli sprouts provide much greater amounts of this protective sulforaphane.
Australian nutritionist Christine Houghton is investigating whether broccoli sprouts could help in the fight against diabetes.
Ms Houghton, who is working towards a doctorate at the University of Queensland’s School of Human Movement Studies, has been studying the levels of the antioxidant compound sulforaphane in fresh broccoli sprouts.
Sulforaphane has been found to protect against heart disease and some types of cancers, and to act as an anti-aging agent.
“Sulforaphane essentially talks to the DNA within your cells and can help to optimise several of your body’s natural defence systems,” Ms Houghton said.
“Studies have found that sulforaphane influences about 200 genes of the cell’s defence system.
“Remarkably, sulforaphane enhances the cell’s ability to defend itself from harmful free radicals and toxic cellular break down products.”
Sulphurophane to Combat Diabetes?
Ms Houghton is currently analysing exactly how much sulforaphane is produced in 500mg of encapsulated broccoli sprout powder.
Using this encapsulated sprout powder, she hopes to start a clinical trial in 2010 for patients with impaired glucose tolerance.
Recent research funded by the British Heart Foundation found sulforaphane may protect against inflammation and atherosclerosis of the arteries, while scientists at Johns Hopkins University found broccoli sprouts significantly reduced a person’s risk of developing ulcers and stomach cancer.
“Evidence in in-vitro and animal studies indicates that sulforaphane can reduce the complications of diabetes, with improved biochemical markers evident,” she said.
However, previous studies using ground up broccoli sprouts meant it was difficult to ascertain what quantity of ingested sulforaphane produces a measured clinical outcome.
“My planned research may be the first time a clinical trial intervention with a fully characterised product has been attempted,” she said.
Cooking Destroys Sulforaphane in Broccoli
Unfortunately, while broccoli is a good source of vitamins, minerals and fibre, the enzyme that produces sulforaphane is destroyed by cooking, Ms Houghton said.
“To get the antioxidant benefits, you should eat broccoli raw in salads, or better still, eat broccoli sprouts.”
Broccoli sprouts are similar to bean sprouts, and are harvested when only a few days old.
“Regular consumption of raw broccoli or broccoli sprouts is a simple way to activate your body’s own protective mechanisms which naturally decline as we age or are unwell,” she said.
Broccoli Sprouts – Eat Fresh or Take Capsules?
While encouraging people to eat raw broccoli sprouts or sprigs of young broccoli, Ms Houghton stressed that they would not get sufficient sulforaphane to maximise its health benefits.
“Unless you sprout your own, it’s not always easy to get fresh broccoli sprouts,” she said.
“Raw broccoli sprouts are difficult to obtain in stores, but in Australia at least, a powdered version is available from naturopaths, integrative health doctors, some pharmacies and health food stores.”
The sprout powder should be mixed with juice or water and drunk within 30 minutes of mixing, while the enzyme producing sulforaphane is still active.
Eat a Healthy Diet and Supplement it
Ms Houghton has been a nutritionist for 30 years, and in recent years has researched nutritional medicine and the development of nutraceuticals to supplement people’s diets.
“I’m not suggesting that people don’t need to eat plenty of fruit and vegetables in their diet,” she said. “These foods are very important for getting enough vitamins, minerals and fibre.
“Sadly, many people don’t eat the recommended five cups of vegetables and two cups of fruit a day.”
However, she said that even people who do consume that large amount of fresh food wouldn’t be getting all the antioxidants the body needs to prevent free radical damage to its cells.
The solution, she suggested, was to eat a healthy diet, and supplement it with commercially available products like powdered broccoli sprouts.