Broccoli's Secret Weapon: Supercharged Sulforaphane

Sulforaphane may be one of the most vital nutrients of our time. Researchers have explored its potential to treat a variety of health conditions, from cancer to mood disorders like depression and even diseases such as autism and Alzheimer's. Researchers have also examined its ability to aid in weight loss. It's an exciting discovery that continues to reveal its importance in our well-being!

Key takeaways:

What does research show about sulforaphane?

Since the early 1990s, scientists have been studying this unique substance and have found that it offers essential health benefits. Your mom was right all along eating broccoli really is good for you! Let's look at what 30 years of science and research shows.

Preventing and fighting cancer

By far, most of the research on sulforaphane has focused on its anti-cancer properties. Scientists have been studying sulforaphane for a long time because it can help fight cancer and protect human cells from cancer-causing agents. Scientists have found that sulforaphane might lower the risk of getting some specific cancers like breast, prostate, lung, stomach, and colon cancers.

But how does sulforaphane actually work against cancer? Some scientists have discovered that sulforaphane can change how genes switch on and off, making it more difficult for cancer cells to absorb nutrients, survive, or spread. Sulforaphane is also like a safety shield for genes, protecting them from harmful environmental stress that damages them, such as bacterial or viral infections, inflammation, and carcinogens.

There's even more exciting news from a 2023 scientific review, which revealed that sulforaphane can attack a specific type of cancer called cancer stem cells. These tricky cells can grow and turn into different types of tumor cells, and regular cancer drugs usually don't work against them. Cancer stem cell activities might be one reason why cancer sometimes returns even after undergoing standard treatments. Sulforaphane may be a key to fighting these stubborn cells, offering hope for better treatments in the future.

Although research is promising, scientists suggest that sulforaphane is best when combined with traditional cancer prevention and treatment.

Easing autism symptoms

Additionally, researchers have studied sulforaphane for its potential effectiveness in treating autism spectrum disorder (ASD). A review of three major studies showed that sulforaphane may help reduce hyperactivity in people with ASD. The authors of this scientific review said that sulforaphane may reduce hyperactivity by reducing systemic inflammation and brain cell oxidation damage. However, the studies did not provide clear results for other symptoms, such as social interaction and abnormal behaviors. More research is needed to know exactly how and why it works.

Losing weight

In a 2022 study, scientists found that sulforaphane helped mice lose fat without losing muscle by working with a hormone called leptin. Body fat releases the hormone leptin, which helps maintain an average weight over a long period. This hormone regulates hunger by creating a feeling of fullness, called satiety. Sulforaphane works with leptin to increase its appetite-suppressing effects. To fully understand how effective sulforaphane is in fighting obesity, much more research is needed.

Protecting brain function

A review of studies published in 2020 suggested sulforaphane may help with brain diseases like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and multiple sclerosis by protecting our brains from environmental toxins and inflammation. Sulforaphane can also stimulate the growth of new nerves, nerve growth factors, and the brain's ability to make new active pathways when the old ones become damaged. Making new brain pathways is especially important for those recovering from stroke.

Sulforaphane can be used alongside other brain disease treatments since it may be beneficial and is not harmful to brain cells. More research is required to understand its full benefits.

Reducing blood sugar

In the early stages of type 2 diabetes, the liver makes too much glucose, causing the body to produce more insulin, offsetting the high blood sugar. As time passes, the body loses its ability to produce insulin and make functioning insulin receptors (where insulin attaches to cells and works to lower blood sugar). This leads to diabetes, which is more challenging to manage.

A 2017 research study in mice showed that sulforaphane can lower glucose production in the liver. It does this by decreasing the action of enzymes that make glucose. The authors also noticed that sulforaphane reversed some of the liver problems caused by diabetes, working almost as well as metformin.

Using the mice study information, the scientists gave patients broccoli sprout extract containing high sulforaphane levels. When the patients took it, their fasting blood sugar levels went down, and another important measure of their diabetes, hemoglobin A1c, also improved.

This news is important because it shows that the extract from broccoli sprouts may help people with this type of diabetes. Overall, the science looks good, but how can you translate that to everyday use? For practical purposes, let's examine the types, uses, and risks of sulforaphane.

Foods or supplements?

Researchers have conducted most sulforaphane studies on animals or human cells in test tubes. So, more research is needed to determine the best dosing and formulations for the best results. Choosing between foods or supplements will depend on your personal preferences mixed with a few scientific tips.

How much to eat and how to prepare it

A general rule is to choose whole foods over supplements for a healthy, well-balanced diet that will win approval from your health care team. A few preparation tips for the cruciferous vegetable family will give you the biggest bang for your buck.

When we chew, chop, or crush raw cruciferous vegetables, an enzyme called myrosinase is released. This enzyme then converts glucoraphanin, also known as sulforaphane glucosinolate, into its active form called sulforaphane. For you to gain the benefits of sulforaphane, this enzyme reaction must occur.

It's also vital to know that excessive heat or veggies sitting for days can deactivate the myrosinase enzyme, so fresh, raw vegetables provide the most sulforaphane benefits.

If you want to cook broccoli, steam it lightly in a covered stove steamer with simmering water for only 5 minutes instead of boiling, microwaving, or stir-frying. Steaming by this method will retain most of the sulforaphane glucosinolate, but other methods decrease this nutrient by approximately 40–50%.

Since any cooking method will decrease the content of the enzyme myrosinase, adding raw mustard seeds, Daikon radish, arugula, or wasabi to cooked broccoli before eating will improve active sulforaphane amounts. These foods are related to broccoli and release myrosinase enzymes when chewed.

Broccoli sprouts have the highest source of glucosinolates of all cruciferous vegetables. Below are some estimates of the milligrams of sulforaphane glucosinolates (not active sulforaphane) per 100 grams (approximately 3.5 ounces) serving in common raw vegetables:

  • Broccoli sprouts (250 mg)
  • Brussel sprouts (125 mg)
  • Curley kale (75 mg)
  • Broccoli (60 mg)
  • White cauliflower (40 mg)

There are no standard guidelines on how much vegetable source to eat to gain benefits. However, scientists Dr. Rhonda Patrick and Dr. Jed Fahey, experts in sulforaphane use, suggest a daily 100 gram (1/2 cup) vegetable serving size.

Choose and wash your produce wisely since pesticides can also be present on fresh cruciferous vegetables. Pesticides can cause allergic reactions such as hives or swelling of lips or tongue. If this occurs, seek immediate medical attention.

Perhaps you may not have access to fresh vegetables or want to ensure you're getting enough sulforaphane in your diet. Let's learn how to select a sulforaphane supplement that matches your health needs. This will allow you to enjoy the advantages of sulforaphane, even when fresh vegetables are unavailable.

Picking a supplement

Estimating adequate sulforaphane supplement amounts to prevent or treat illness is challenging because it comes in various forms (extract, tablet, powder), dosages, and formulation mixes.

Nutritional supplements are not required to be standardized and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. So, when choosing a product, your preferred option would be a product verified for purity by USP (United States Pharmacopeia) or NSF (National Sanitation Foundation). It's best to read labels and follow the manufacturer's instructions since dosages will vary.

Furthermore, sulforaphane by itself is not shelf stable, so you will want to select a product containing sulforaphane glucosinolate, sulforaphane's precursor. The product must also have myrosinase, which converts glucosinolate to active sulforaphane.

Product storage is also crucial because it can be affected by heat, light, and moisture. The best place to store supplements is up and away from children in a cupboard or drawer, not in the kitchen or bathroom.

When supplements may not be for you

Before making significant diet changes or taking any sulforaphane supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your health care professional.

Sulforaphane, overall, is a safe nutrient with minimal side effects such as nausea, bloating, gas, and diarrhea. To offset these effects, simply adjust the amount you take each day and work up to recommended amounts.

Eating excessive amounts of sulforaphane may rarely cause problems with the thyroid gland because sulforaphane can block proper iodine absorption. However, you can still eat these vegetables in average quantities if you have hypothyroidism. Still, check with your doctor before taking supplements.

Sulforaphane can change and affect specific liver metabolism enzymes. Because of this, drug interactions with the following medications can occur:

  • Mental health: clozapine, fluvoxamine, haloperidol, imipramine, olanzapine
  • Heart health: mexiletine, propranolol.
  • Muscle relaxation: cyclobenzaprine.
  • Lung health: theophylline, zileuton.
  • Pain and migraine relief: pentazocine, zolmitriptan.
  • Alzheimer's: tacrine.

Additionally, if you take warfarin, consult your healthcare provider before consuming green vegetables since they can affect vitamin K levels and decrease warfarin's effectiveness.

Sulforaphane is a unique nutrient found in vegetables like broccoli, Brussel sprouts, and kale, and scientists have discovered that it can help fight diseases like cancer and even help with weight loss. So, the next time you see these veggies on your plate, remember, that they're not just good to eat they're packed with something that can keep you healthy and strong!

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