Top 10 Reasons to Eat Your Cruciferous Veggies

These foods start a chemical reaction that most super foods can only envy
June 13, 2019 Updated: June 15, 2019

Everyone knows that eating vegetables has profound health benefits. But, like all foods, not all vegetables are created the same. A few vegetables appear to be downright “miracle” foods.

One such group of veggies are those of the Brassica family; commonly known as cruciferous vegetables or simply cruciferae. These include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, radish, rutabaga, turnip, and even arugula.

What makes this group of veggies so special? Sulforaphane.

Sulforaphane is a phytochemical abundant in cruciferous vegetables, and it’s been getting a ton of attention from researchers. But it all starts with glucoraphanin.

These plants convert glucoraphanin to sulforaphane through an enzyme process when they detect damage from insects, or are cut or chewed.

It just so happens that cruciferous vegetables contain a remarkable amount of glucoraphanin. That makes them powerhouses of nutrition, thanks to the list of benefits this phytochemical has for human beings.

Turnips and Rutabagas (Peter Zijlstra/thinkstock)
Turnips and Rutabagas (Peter Zijlstra/thinkstock)

There is a growing body of research into the wide array of applications for sulforaphane across the gamut of diseases and health issues. In fact, hundreds of studies have been carried out across the globe since the first scientist, esteemed Johns Hopkins researcher Paul Talalay, realized this chemical’s potential in 1992. GreenMedInfo has a database of more than 200 diseases researched that may benefit from sulforaphane consumption.

In this study, Talalay and his team explored and confirmed the anticarcinogenic properties of broccoli and sulforaphane. So excited was the world at large, his findings were even featured in The New York Times.

Since then Talalay has dedicated years to researching sulforaphane, going so far as to found The Brassica Chemoprotection Laboratory, no doubt helping inspire future generations of scientists who want to know the truth about what the plants and their compounds can do for the betterment of humanity.

With that in mind, here are the top ten reasons to eat your cruciferous vegetables.

bunches of red radishes
Radishes. (Shutterstock)

1. Anti-Cancer Benefits

Sulforaphane is increasingly referred to as an anti-cancer compound. This reputation is linked mainly to sulforaphane’s potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, not dissimilar to turmeric (curcumin). In fact, one promising preclinical study found that the combination of sulforaphane, aspirin, and curcumin was effective for the chemoprevention of pancreatic cancer.

It doesn’t stop there, however. Sulforaphane has been studied for the prevention and treatment of several types of cancer, including stomach, bladder, breast, prostate, lung, colon, and skin.

Specifically, research indicates sulforaphane “possesses the capacity to intervene in multistage carcinogenesis through the modulation and/or regulation of important cellular mechanisms” and “to be selectively toxic to malignant cells.”

Other notable findings:

  • Evidence supports high intakes of Brassica vegetables reduce prostate cancer risk
  • Potent doses of broccoli sprout extract activate a “detoxification” gene and may help prevent cancer recurrence in survivors of head and neck cancer
  • Cruciferae contains extracts that are effective at inhibiting lung adenocarcinomas (a malignant tumor formed from glandular structures in epithelial tissue), colon polyps, and skin cancer
  • In skin cancer research, the protection offered by sulforaphane “against a carcinogen in humans is catalytic and long lasting.”
  • Broccoli sprouts have been found to be as a rich source of antioxidants that improve the defensive system against oxidative stress in the human colon. In fact, in a 2015 study, 57.33 percent reduction in oxidative DNA damage in NCM460 cells due to treatment with digested broccoli spout extract was observed.
  • Combined sulforaphane and selenium treatment enhanced protection against free radical-mediated cell death provided by the co-treatment.
Kale
Kale is seen at a Farmer’s Market where locally grown produce is sold August 13, 2015 in Fairfax, Virginia. (Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

2. Depression Relief

Cruciferae and sulforaphane may also have a significant benefit for depression. An animal study published in 2015 found sulforaphane “has antidepressant and anxiolytic-like [anxiety reducing] activities in stressed mice model of depression, which likely occurs by inhibiting the hypothalamic.”

Inflammation has also been connected to depression, and a 2016 study found broccoli sprouts effective to “prevent or minimize the relapse by inflammation.” This same study found that the extracts of broccoli sprouts were so effective, they acted as a prophylactic that could “prevent the onset of LPS-induced depression-like behaviors” in the juvenile and adolescent mice they were testing, all the way into adulthood. [note: LPS (lipopolysaccharide) is a bacterially derived inflammatory factor known to cause a wide range of health issues]. More research is being done on the phytochemicals of cruciferous vegetables and depression.

Different kinds of cauliflower
Different kinds of cauliflower are displayed at 2018 International Green Week in Berlin, Germany, on Jan. 19, 2018. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

3. Pain Relief

This is some evidence that sulforaphane may have significant value in pain or pain management. A 2000 study on female fibromyalgia patients reported that the combination of ascorbigen (derived from Vitamin C) and broccoli powder “reduces pain sensitivity and improves quality of life” for patients suffering from this challenging condition.

A 2016 publication also investigated the potential for sulforaphane via broccoli sprout extract, noting “significant” antinociception [pain blocking] results, that bode well for further study into the pain relieving benefits.

4. Cardioprotection

Cardiovascular problems remain a top health concern, especially in the United States. Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is on the rise, with Ischemia-Reperfusion (I/R) injury, such as heart attack, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease) and hypertension being the main components.

Research is showing that sulforaphane helps with inflammation of the arterial walls, inhibits obesity, relieves hypertension, and other conditions that are part of or lead to CVD.

With regard to hypertension, a 2012 study reported sulforaphane “decreases renal and vascular oxidative stress and inflammation as well as blood pressure,” thus assisting in hypertension. Similarly, but even more significantly, a 2006 study demonstrated the power of eating foods high in sulforaphane by observing significantly “lower blood pressure and less tissue inflammation in adulthood, regardless of their subsequent diet” in the offspring of pregnant rats fed foods rich in the compound.

Also of special note, a 2009 study in Iran in which rats were given an extract containing 2 percent of broccoli sprouts for 10 days showed that “a relatively short dietary treatment with broccoli sprouts can strongly protect the heart against oxidative stress and cell death caused by ischemia-reperfusion.”

Sulforaphane may also protect arteries from disease by boosting a natural defense mechanism in the body.

FOOD File Arugula 20110214
Arugula, a spicy-flavoured green that the ancient Romans used in aphrodisiac dishes, is popping up more and more in the grocery store. (The Canadian Press/Darren Calabrese)

5. Antioxidants

It’s well known that cruciferous vegetables, especially broccoli, are a superior source of antioxidants. There are almost 300 studies on PubMed alone, referring to these vegetables and antioxidants.

One particularly interesting study was carried out on young male smokers, in which 250g per day of broccoli was consumed, for a 10-day period. At the end of the treatment, researchers observed a decrease in circulating CRP (C-reactive protein) concentrations.  This is significant because the measure of CRP indicates the level of inflammation in the body, and indirectly the oxidative stress status, with high levels of both being associated with long-term diseases.

In 2015, broccoli sprout extract was again found highly effective in reducing oxidative stress. In this case, it was found to assist with healthy liver function.

Broccoli
Recent research indicates that a compound naturally present in broccoli could be used to treat advanced prostate cancer. (Olha_Afanasieva/iStock/Thinkstock)

6. Protection From and Elimination of Toxins

There are so many toxic substances present in our lives. Fortunately, cruciferous veggies and their sulforaphane rich tissues can help, as noted in several studies. In 2014, a randomized clinical trial recruited 291 participants from a rural area of China, an area known for high levels of air pollution. The nonplacebo group consumed a broccoli sprout-derived beverage providing daily doses of 600µmol glucoraphanin and 40 µmol sulforaphane over a 12-week period. Essentially, they were given a concentrated extract of cruciferous vegetables for three months. Urine testing found “rapid and sustained, statistically significant” increases in the elimination of toxic substances in those drinking the beverage over the placebo group.

Studies have also shown sulforaphane assists in protection from and elimination of arsenic and pesticides. The detoxifying qualities of Cruciferae is thought to be directly connected to sulforaphane’s role in the activation of Nrf2, a protein that regulates the expression of antioxidant proteins. Nrf2 is known to have a critical role in the metabolism and excretion of toxic substances.

7. Type II Diabetes and Insulin Resistance Support

It’s generally recognized that diet and exercise can profoundly assist with the prevention and treatment of Type II Diabetes. However, sulforaphane and consuming cruciferous vegetables, have shown specific positive results.

In particular, insulin resistance, an aspect of Type II diabetes, can cause havoc in a body. A 2016 study investigated the effects of broccoli sprout powder, containing a high concentration of sulforaphane, on insulin resistance in Type II diabetic patients. In a randomized trial, 81 patients received either the high concentration of sulforaphane powder or a placebo over four weeks. The end results showed sulforaphane lowered levels of insulin resistance.

Other studies have demonstrated similar results, showing decreased oxidative stress and insulin resistance and that “[sulforaphane] could prevent nephropathy, diabetes-induced fibrosis, and vascular complications,” further empowering those with Type II Diabetes.

(Karisssa/iStock)

8. Helicobacter Pylori Support

The bacteria Helicobacter pylori is most famously associated with stomach ulcers, and, in many cases, gastric cancer. Our sulforaphane-laden cruciferous friends help eliminate the colonization of this organism in our bodies. This is most clearly demonstrated in a 2009 study:

“Forty-eight H. pylori-infected patients were randomly assigned to feeding of broccoli sprouts (70 g/d; containing 420 micromol of SF precursor) for 8 weeks or to consumption of an equal weight of alfalfa sprouts (not containing SF) as placebo. Intervention with broccoli sprouts, but not with placebo, decreased the levels of urease measured by the urea breath test and H. pylori stool antigen (both biomarkers of H. pylori colonization) and serum pepsinogens I and II (biomarkers of gastric inflammation).”

While the sulforaphane had measurable, positive results during the testing, levels reverted to their original amounts after the study. This indicates that continued consumption of the broccoli sprouts is necessary for continued benefits.

Other research with sulforaphane rich sprouts reported 78 percent of patients showed negative stool antigen results after therapy, with 67 percent remaining negative another 35 days after stopping, meaning the sulforaphane helped the body deal with these antigens. Research with human gastric xenografts on mice reported the Helicobacter pylori “completely eradicated” in 73 percent of the sulforaphane-treated grafts.

9. Alzheimer’s Applications

Studies suggest that sulforaphane might be a promising therapeutic agent for cognitive enhancement in Alzheimer’s disease. In 2015, researchers looked at the effects of sulforaphane compounds via the administration of broccoli sprout juices of varying concentrations. They reported positive effects against the measures of two major factors implicated in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s, as well as up-regulation in the intracellular glutathione content and the activity of antioxidant enzymes—both of which may contribute to improved tissue detoxification and function.

10. Anti-Inflammatory Benefits

Dysfunctional inflammation is increasingly seen as a root factor in the development of chronic illness and disease. In some form or another, a body that is unwell is inflamed. Luckily, nature has provided us with several remedies for this scourge of our times.

As anti-inflammatories go, sulforaphane is right up there with that king of all spices, curcumin (turmeric), giving our cruciferous vegetables a place at the top of the list of healing foods.

A recent cell-based study, published in 2016 reported that “clear evidence that pre-treatment with sulforaphane completely restored the antioxidant status and prevented inflammatory responses.” They went on to say that “the protection offered by sulforaphane against acrolein-induced damage in PBMC is attributed to its anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory potential.”

More and more data suggests that sulforaphane may be useful as a therapeutic agent for the treatment of inflammatory conditions and diseases.

This is not, by far, an exhaustive list of the known benefits of eating your cruciferous veggies. Studies even show sulforaphane has benefits for autism, which reportedly affects around 2 percent of Americans (mostly males) and costs the United States about $100 billion, annually.

A study at the Cullman Chemoprotection Center, home of the “Father” of sulforaphane, Paul Talalay, explains:

“The rationale for a clinical trial of sulforaphane in autism was based on evidence that autism is characterized by oxidative stress, depressed antioxidant capacity, and mitochondrial dysfunction. These pathological processes are antagonized by sulforaphane.”

Seems they were right because the resulting randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, where they examined the effects of sulforaphane-rich broccoli sprout extract on autistic patients, revealed ‘dramatic’ improvement in 65 percent of those receiving it. These improvements diminished in the four weeks following the dosing period, solidifying the observed benefits of continued consumption.

This just goes to show, the tremendous benefits of eating your sulforaphane-rich cruciferous vegetables should not be underestimated. Instead, take advantage of this bounty from nature by making them a regular part of your diet.

This article was first published on GreenMedInfo.

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