Broccoli: Another Reason To Eat Your Greens


I like broccoli. But broccoli doesn’t like me. When I eat it, I develop a migraine headache that can last for a full day or more. So unfortunately the benefits – and the pleasures – of broccoli are beyond me.

But I’ve just finished reading about a new study, and while it may not do me any good, it revealed how increasing your consumption of this leafy green may help you cut down on your prescription drug use.

The beast in the belly

A study out of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in the US, looked at the effects of broccoli on stomach infections and tumours. Among the conclusions, researchers reported that broccoli contains a compound that, under certain conditions, can outperform antibiotics.

The researchers set out to examine sulforaphane, a substance that the body creates out of a compound called glucoraphanin that is commonly found in broccoli — and to a lesser degree in other cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower and Brussels sprouts.

The study was divided into two parts. The first part was a laboratory study in which sulforaphane was tested against Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium that causes peptic ulcers and several different kinds of cancer including stomach cancer.

H. pylori is extremely difficult to treat. Antibiotics are somewhat effective against it, but H. pylori microbes defend themselves by burrowing into the cells of the stomach lining where they are protected from antibiotics. In test tube trials, the researchers showed that sulforaphane was more effective than antibiotics in killing H. pylori — even able to kill the H. pylori that had burrowed into the stomach lining cells.

The second part of the study was somewhat cruel and controversial, and was conducted with mice dosed with a chemical known to cause stomach cancer. Mice that were treated with sulforaphane suffered 39 percent fewer stomach tumours than the mice that were not treated. These results are significant because they are among the first to identify a particular chemical that could account for the fact that people who eat more vegetables are less likely to develop cancer.

Trading pounds for ounces

In the early ’90s when the researchers first uncovered the process by which glucoraphanin creates sulforaphane, they also discovered that glucoraphanin is more than 20 times more concentrated in three-day-old broccoli sprouts than it is in broccoli. In other words, it would take a full pound and a quarter of cooked broccoli to equal the glucoraphanin contained in a single ounce of broccoli sprouts.

So you don’t have to eat a wheelbarrow filled with broccoli each day to reap the benefits of glucoraphanin.

Encouraged by the results of their recent studies, the Hopkins researchers will go to Japan, where they are facing current epidemics of stomach cancer and peptic ulcers, to test the effectiveness of the broccoli sprouts in humans infected with H. pylori.

It’s believed that as many as 80 percent of Japanese adults are afflicted with the bacteria. The findings of this study could eventually be of vital importance to developing countries where antibiotics and other medical treatments are often impossible to come by.

Meanwhile, back at home

Broccoli sprouts are easy to find in larger health food stores. To be honest, the price is somewhat more expensive than other varieties of sprouts, which is probably why sprouting kits are becoming widely available.

Exactly how large a daily helping of the sprouts you might need in order to reap ulcer- and cancer-fighting benefits is not yet known. But Jed Fahey, the lead author of the study, said, ‘The levels that are effective [in test tubes] are levels that could be achieved by eating a serving or so of broccoli sprouts.’

But, bear in mind, that until we receive results from the tests in Japan we won’t be able to say conclusively that broccoli sprouts have the ability to treat peptic ulcers and stomach cancer, so I’ll be watching for further developments and information from the ongoing Johns Hopkins studies.

In the meantime, assuming you have a better tolerance for broccoli than I do, this is just one more reason to add it to your salads and stir-fry recipes.

Disclaimer: Bear in mind the material contained in this article is provided for information purposes only. We are not addressing anyone’s personal situation. Please consult with your own physician before acting on any recommendations contained herein.
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