Sulforaphane, an active compound in cruciferous vegetables and especially broccoli sprouts has an impressive array of whole-body health benefits that are worth writing home (or on the internet) about 😉
Once inside the body, sulforaphane (SFN) is the most potent naturally occurring activator of a molecule called NRF2, which plays a major role in the body’s defense against oxidative stress (a.k.a human rusting or aging).
When Hippocrates said “Food is Medicine” he was obviously referring to broccoli sprouts – one of the most powerful medicinal foods we’ve ever come across!
Sulforaphane has potent cancer preventative effects and is also widely being investigated for its benefits for cardiovascular health, diabetes, inflammatory conditions, autism, and more. It works by switching on a pathway that controls over 200 genes in the body – the NRF2 pathway.
Where do we get sulforaphane?
Sulforaphane (SFN) is a sulfur-containing compound found in cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, radish, Brussels sprouts, Bok choy, turnip, arugula /rocket, kohlrabi, kale, watercress, rapini, mustard greens, horseradish, and more ) but most abundantly in broccoli sprouts
Young broccoli sprouts contain 10 to 100 times more glucoraphanin than any other plant! Sulforaphane actually occurs as glucoraphanin in these foods and only gets converted to SFN upon chewing, crushing or blending, via the action of an enzyme (also found in these foods) called myrosinase.
What makes Sulforaphane so powerful?
Once inside the body, sulforaphane is the most potent naturally occurring activator of the NRF 2 pathway, which is the body’s strongest defense against oxidative stress and aging.
NRF2 activation affects the expression of over 200 genes including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and detoxification genes. NRF2 activation can also be achieved through exercise and calorie restriction (including fasting.
With such widespread effects on so many genes and cellular processes, the benefits of sulforaphane on the body are vast.
Here’s a diagram summary of its major effects:
Here are 6 evidence-based health benefits sulforaphane:
1. Reduces inflammation
We know that rampant, misguided inflammation – often referred to as just chronic inflammation – is a driver of aging and underlies all illness from depression and dementia, to heart disease and auto-immune conditions. Research has shown that diets high in sulforaphane-rich cruciferous vegetables significantly reduced inflammatory markers, specifically in these studies, where it affected IL-6, TNF-alpha, and CRP (common markers of inflammation).
2. May help prevent cancer
Studies have shown that sulforaphane has the ability to help enhance the deactivation and excretion of carcinogens and can prevent DNA adducts, a type of DNA damage shown to lead to cancer.
In this study, eating at least 4.5 servings of cruciferous vegetables per month was associated with a decrease risk of lung cancer by an incredible 55%.
There have been a couple of clinical trials involving prostate cancer investigating the effects of sulforaphane from broccoli sprouts on cancer treatment. Men with prostate cancer that were given 60mg of active SFN per day resulted in the slowing of the doubling rate of a cancer biomarker known as Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) by 86 % compared to placebo.
3. Boosts liver detoxification & increases Glutathione
SFN activates a family of enzymes known as phase 2 detoxification enzymes (You can read all about detox genes and how else to boost them in this quick blog summary).
In addition, Research has shown that SFN can increase glutathione – the body and brain’s most abundant, major internal antioxidant. Other foods that naturally contain glutathione include asparagus, avocado, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, spinach, broccoli, garlic, chives, tomatoes, cucumber, almonds, and walnuts.
Another detox super-power of SFN: it increased the excretion of benzene (by a remarkable 61%!), thereby mitigating the effects of breathing polluted air. Benzene is a known human carcinogen commonly found in car exhausts, cigarette smoke and air pollution.
4. Improves Cardiovascular health
SFN has been shown to affect cardiovascular health in a favorable way. Evidence indicates that consumption of high glucoraphanin broccoli significantly reduces plasma LDL, while other research has indicated that the beneficial effects in CVD are thanks to SFN’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
5. Improves Autism
SFN has been shown to substantially improve autism symptoms and behavior in both young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) (in this 18 week placebo-controlled, randomized, double-blind clinical trial) and more recently also in children.
“Sulforaphane, which showed negligible toxicity, was selected because it upregulates genes that protect aerobic cells against oxidative stress, inflammation, and DNA-damage, all of which are prominent and possibly mechanistic characteristics of ASD.”
6. Positively affects the gut microbiome
Sulforaphane is an effective treatment against Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium implicated in the cause of peptic ulcer disease and stomach cancer.
Sulforaphane’s effectiveness in treating or preventing disease may be modulated by its bioavailability, which is influenced by a variety of factors, including the type and age of the food consumed, food preparation techniques (heat during cooking can destroy the formation of sulforaphane), and interindividual differences in gut microbial population.