At this point most people are familiar with the health benefits of broccoli, partially thanks to the plant`s sulforaphane content. Interestingly, a recent study from Johns Hopkins found that the level of sulforaphane in the broccoli sprouts is actually 20 to 50 times higher than the plant.
Sulforaphane helps activate the body`s natural cancer-fighting system and it reduces the risk of developing cancer. Paul Talalay, M.D. and professor of pharmacology J.J. Abe discovered that three-day-old broccoli sprouts contain 20 to 50 times the amount of anti-cancer properties contained in mature broccoli heads, and might offer an effective means of reducing cancer risk.
Talalay came to this conclusion by giving extracts of broccoli sprouts to groups of twenty female rats for five days, an exposed them to carcinogen dimethylbenzanthracene. The control group, on the other hand, wasn’t given the extracts, but was only exposed to the carcinogen.
The rats that received the extracts developed fewer tumors and those who did had smaller growth. In a paper, published in the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Talalay and his colleagues describe their attempt to build on their 1992 discovery of sulforaphane’s chemo-protective properties.
Earlier systematic research of dietary sources capable of stimulating resistance to cancer-causing agents made Hopkins’ group focus on naturally-occurring compounds in plants that stimulate phase II detoxification enzymes.
These enzymes are capable of neutralizing highly reactive formulas of cancer-causing substances prior they get the chance to damage DNA and give a “green light” to cancerous developments. It was discovered that sulforaphane is a very powerful promoter of phase II enzymes, as confirmed by Jed Fahey, plant physiologist and manager of the Brassica Chemoprotection Laboratory at Hopkins. Broccoli contains very high levels of glucoraphanin, naturally-occurring precursor of sulforaphane.
Additional tests conducted in a new study have shown that glucoraphanin’s levels in broccoli samples were variable, so it cannot be said with absolute certainty which broccoli plants had the highest amount without doing a thorough chemical analysis. Furthermore, Talalay noted that even if that was possible, people would need to eat large quantities of it to get promotion of phase II enzymes.
Other clinical studies have also been reported to see if consuming a couple of tablespoons of the broccoli sprouts daily can provide an equal degree of chemo-protection as does 1-2 pounds of broccoli eaten weekly.
According to Mr. Talalay, man-made compounds that boost the resistance of cells that tissues to carcinogenic compounds were being developed at the moment, but it could take years of trials to determine efficacy and safety.
“For now, we may get faster and better impact by looking at dietary means of supplying that protection. Eating more fruits and vegetables has long been associated with reduced cancer risk, so it made all sense for us to look at vegetables. Cancer-research scientists currently ought to continue to develop new ways of detecting and treating cancer once it is established, but it also makes sense to pay more attention on efforts to prevent cancer from occurring or re-occurring.”