Broccoli Sprouts: One of Nature's Top Cancer-Fighting Foods
Because they aren't as readily available as regular broccoli, you might be tempted to pass on broccoli sprouts. However, I'm confident that once you know the amazing things scientists have discovered these sprouts can accomplish, you'll rethink that position
[Food is Medicine] Sometimes, powerful world-changers come in small packages. Believe it or not, this is very true for broccoli sprouts, the precursor to mature broccoli. (Photo Credit: Dr. Josh Axe/ Food is Medicine)
Until the last couple of decades, vegetable sprouts were given little to no attention from a nutritional standpoint. However, a 1997 piece in the New York Times changed all that, making the general public aware of the incredible cancer-fighting compounds found in broccoli sprouts.
Because they aren’t as readily available as regular broccoli, you might be tempted to pass on broccoli sprouts. However, I’m confident that once you know the amazing things scientists have discovered these sprouts can accomplish, you’ll rethink that position. (Maybe I’ll even convince you to start growing them at home!)
What Are Broccoli Sprouts?
Many people assume that broccoli sprouts are essentially the same as mature broccoli from a nutritional standpoint. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth — broccoli sprouts may not have the high quantity of vitamins like K and C found in adult broccoli, but they contain a great deal more glucosinolates.
Why does it matter if broccoli sprouts contain high amounts of glucosinolates? For that, let’s get into a little food science.
Brassica vegetables, including broccoli sprouts as well as other cruciferous veggies (kale, arugula, radishes and more) contain an enzyme called myrosinase that functions as part of gut bacteria to break down glucosinolates into their “usable” forms, one category of which is known as isothiocyanates.
Isothiocyanates seem to activate other enzymes responsible for transforming and/or removing xenobiotics (disease-causing compounds) from the body. Some sources describe this process as a “host defense mechanism” that is activated by relatively small amounts of isothiocyanates and causes your body to employ its natural disease-fighting power. (1)
Broccoli sprouts contain extremely high levels of glucoraphanin, the glucosinolate precursor to the isothiocyanate sulforaphane. Actually, these sprouts pack between 10–100 times the amount of glucoraphanin than adult broccoli. (2) The exact quantity of glucoraphanin depends on the date picked (three days seems to be the ultimate sweet spot) and how the sprouts are prepared (raw is best — cooking eliminates a lot of the myrosinase). To most effectively take advantage of these compounds, thoroughly chew your sprouts. (3)
Still with me? Let’s simplify it for the remainder of this article. Like most researchers, I’ll simply refer to this incredible compound as sulforaphane (as opposed to glucosinolate-derived sulforaphane or myrosinase-accompanied glucoraphanin).
Now that we’ve established how this works, let’s talk a little bit about why we should care about sulforaphane.
For one, this compound has some super impressive cancer-preventing and cancer-fighting capabilities that I’ll discuss in detail in just a moment, but that’s not the only thing it can do. Sulforaphane has been shown to support the heart, bones and respiratory system, and it might help your body fight off a common infection, detoxify environmental chemicals, combat autoimmune disease and even protect your brain after serious injury.
One way sulforaphane seems to accomplish these things is through epigenetics, an exciting new scientific discovery about how genetic changes can be accomplished by changes to diet and lifestyle. Epigenetics is the science of the “layer” on top of our DNA that instructs cells to turn off and on, how to function, and so on. Sulforaphane has been found to influence the epigenetic layer of certain parts of DNA that influence a number of disease-fighting functions.
Sound too good to be true? Just wait until you hear the science behind it all.
Benefits of Broccoli Sprouts
- May 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
- May Fight and Prevent Cancer
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?