In one study at Johns Hopkins, researchers and an international team of scientists showed that eating a daily dose of broccoli sprouts reduced by more than 40 percent the level of HpSA, a highly specific measure of the presence of components of H. pylori shed into the stool of infected people. There was no HpSA level change in control subjects who ate alfalfa sprouts.
The discovery that sulforaphane is a potent antibiotic against H. pylori was reported in 2002 by Fahey and colleagues at Johns Hopkins. "Broccoli sprouts have a much higher concentration of sulforaphane than mature heads," Fahey explains, adding that further investigation is needed to affirm the results of this clinical trial and move the research forward. The study, published April 6 in Cancer Prevention Research, builds on earlier test-tube and mouse studies at Johns Hopkins and elsewhere about the potential value of sulforaphane, a naturally occurring biochemical found in relative abundance in fresh broccoli sprouts. Sulforaphane appears to trigger cells in the body, including in the gastrointestinal tract, to produce enzymes that protect against oxygen radicals, DNA-damaging chemicals, and inflammation.
Sulforaphane can also help to prevent or slow the progress of one of the most common forms of arthritis, say researchers.
The findings from a new lab study show that the broccoli compound - that has been previously touted for its potential anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer benefits - slows down the destruction of cartilage in joints that is associated with osteoarthritis.
Writing in Arthritis & Rheumatism, the team reported that in addition to their in vitro results, a sulforaphane-rich diet - decreased arthritis scores in a mouse model of osteoarthritis versus control chow .
"The results from this study are very promising," said Clark. "We have shown that this works in the three laboratory models we have tried, in cartilage cells, tissue and mice."
"As well as treating those who already have the condition, you need to be able to tell healthy people how to protect their joints into the future," he said. "There is currently no way in to the disease pharmaceutically and you cannot give healthy people drugs unnecessarily, so this is where diet could be a safe alternative."
"Prevention would be preferable and changes to lifestyle, like diet, may be the only way to do that."
Scientists have discovered that an extract of broccoli sprouts protects the skin against the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays.
"Cells contain an elaborate network of protective genes that code for proteins that protect against four principal injurious processes to which all of our cells are exposed and which are the causes of cancer, degenerative disease and aging," explained Dr. Paul Talalay, a professor of pharmacology and molecular sciences at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.
Those four processes are: oxidation; DNA damage; inflammation and radiation, namely ultraviolet radiation.
The cells' protective system normally operates at about one-third capacity, so the real question is what would ramp up that system.
The highest doses of sukforaphane extract reduced UV-induced redness and inflammation (erythema) by an average of 37 percent, although protection varied from 8 percent to 78 percent.
"If you apply an extract of broccoli sprouts that contains high levels of sulforaphane to regions of human skin, you can protect them very substantially," Talalay said. "We believe, to the best of our knowledge, that this is the first demonstration of protection against a known human carcinogen in humans."
"There is some interesting data here," said Dr. Vijay Trisal, an assistant professor of surgical oncology at the City of Hope Cancer Center, in Duarte, Calif. "Sulforaphane compounds have been known to boost the immune system locally. This has some basic science behind it."
Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have determined that broccoli hinders the growth of human breast cancer cells in the laboratory.
This magic bullet worked by disrupting the action of protein "microtubules" within the cancer cells, which are vital for the success of cell division and growth. What is most intriguing about this finding is that certain cancer drugs work in a similar way.
Previous research has also proven that the compound blocks the formation of breast tumors in rats, and it can even force colon cancer cells to commit cell suicide. It seems that sulforaphane works its magic on the detoxification enzymes that try to defend the cancer-promoting substances.
Reverse The Heart Damaging Effects Of Diabetes
Professor Paul Thornalley and his team from the University of Warwick have found that sulforaphane can encourage the body to produce more enzymes to protect the vessels, as well as reduce high levels of molecules which cause significant cell damage.
Past studies have shown that a diet rich in vegetables -- particularly brassica vegetables such as broccoli -- is linked to decreased risk of heart disease and stroke. People with diabetes have a particularly high risk of heart disease and stroke and other health impairments, such as kidney disease, are linked to damaged blood vessels.
Professor Thornalley, at the University’s Warwick Medical School, tested the effects of Sulforaphane on blood vessel cells damaged by high glucose levels (hyperglycaemia). His team observed a significant reduction of molecules in the body called Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS). Hyperglycaemia can cause levels of ROS to increase three-fold and such high levels can damage human cells. The results of the study showed that Sulforaphane reversed this increase in ROS by 73 per cent. They also found Sulforaphane activated a protein in the body called nrf2, which protects cells and tissues from oxidative stress by activating protective antioxidant and detoxifying enzymes. The study showed the presence of Sulforaphane in human microvascular cells doubled the activation of nrf2. Professor Thornalley said: “Our study suggests that compounds such as Sulforaphane from broccoli may help counter processes linked to the development of vascular disease in diabetes. In future, it will be important to test if eating a diet rich in Brassica vegetables has health benefits for diabetic patients. We expect that it will.”
Allergy and Asthma
In a study of 65 healthy volunteers, researchers found that an oral preparation made from broccoli sprouts trigger an increase in inflammation-fighting enzymes in the upper airways.
Sulforaphane triggers an increase in antioxidant enzymes that help counter cell damage and inflammation brought on by oxidative stress -- from sources like air pollution and environmental allergens.
"Based on this study, compounds in broccoli sprouts have a very potent effect in boosting the airway's self-defense system against oxidative stress," explained lead researcher Dr. Marc A. Riedl, an assistant professor at the University of California Los Angeles David Geffen School of Medicine.
Broccoli sprouts contain 20 to 50 times the concentration of sulforaphane that mature broccoli does. So a person would have to eat large amounts of broccoli to get the sulforaphane dose that young broccoli sprouts provide.
The researchers took samples of the volunteers' nasal fluids to measure the activity of so-called Phase II enzymes, which control oxidative stress. They found that the broccoli sprout preparation sparked an increase in the protective enzymes, whereas the alfalfa-derived placebo did not.
The findings, Riedl said, show that "induction of protective enzymes can be accomplished using well-tolerated, readily available food sources."
This diet-based approach, he said, "may add another weapon to our fight against the increasing health burden of allergy and asthma."
Mae Chan holds degrees in both physiology and nutritional sciences. She is also blogger and and technology enthusiast with a passion for disseminating information about health.