Like it or not, broc­coli is good for you

Small study finds com­pound in the vegetable may re­duce harm­ful ef­fects of Type 2 di­a­betes

The Hamilton Spectator - - HEALTH - JONATHAN M. PITTS Bal­ti­more Sun

Turns out our moth­ers may have been onto some­thing when they told us to eat our veg­eta­bles — es­pe­cially our broc­coli.

A com­pound found nat­u­rally in broc­coli and other cru­cif­er­ous veg­eta­bles may re­duce some of the harm­ful ef­fects of Type 2 di­a­betes in over­weight adults, ac­cord­ing to new re­search by Jed Fahey, a nu­tri­tional bio­chemist and an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at the Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity School of Medicine, and a team of re­searchers in Europe and the United States.

An ar­ti­cle on the find­ings ap­peared in the jour­nal Sci­ence Trans­la­tional Medicine in June.

Fahey, who is di­rec­tor of the Cull­man Che­mo­pro­tec­tion Cen­ter at the med­i­cal school, served as an au­thor of the study along with col­leagues based in Swe­den, Switzer­land and else­where in the U.S.

Fahey’s pre­de­ces­sor as di­rec­tor of the re­search cen­tre, the renowned phar­ma­col­ogy pro­fes­sor and ex­per­i­men­tal gen­er­al­ist Paul Talalay, iso­lated the com­pound sul­foraphane as a phy­to­chem­i­cal (a chem­i­cal pro­duced by plants) in the early 1990s.

Two years later, Talalay made in­ter­na­tional head­lines — and sparked broc­coli sales around the world — by demon­strat­ing the com­pound’s ef­fec­tive­ness in boost­ing the body’s abil­ity to re­sist can­cer.

He and Fahey also showed that broc­coli sprouts — three- to four­day-old broc­coli plants — have 50 to 100 times the can­cer-fight­ing power as the ma­ture stalks typ­i­cally sold in gro­cery stores.

Pop­u­lar Sci­ence called the find­ings among the top 100 sci­en­tific dis­cov­er­ies of the 20th cen­tury, and re­searchers at Hop­kins and else­where have since tested the chem­i­cal’s ef­fec­tive­ness in help­ing the body fend off patholo­gies from autism and os­teoarthri­tis to Parkin­son’s and Alzheimer’s dis­ease.

This study was the first to test it against Type 2 di­a­betes, a chronic and in­creas­ingly wide­spread meta­bolic dis­or­der that af­fects 420 mil­lion peo­ple around the world, ac­cord­ing to the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion.

The world’s most com­mon form of di­a­betes, Type 2 arises when the body can no longer prop­erly use in­sulin, a hor­mone that reg­u­lates blood sugar. As a re­sult, blood sugar lev­els soar.

The dis­or­der in­creases a pa­tient’s like­li­hood of de­vel­op­ing heart dis­ease, eye­sight prob­lems, kid­ney fail­ure and stroke.

Though the study was small and short-term, the re­sults are promis­ing for the treat­ment of di­a­betes.

“This shows that sul­foraphane is use­ful not only for can­cer pre­ven­tion but it also demon­strates an­tidi­a­betes and many other ac­tiv­i­ties,” said Fahey.

Four years ago An­ders Rosen­gren and An­nika Ax­els­son, re­search en­docri­nol­o­gists at the Lund Univer­sity Di­a­betes Cen­ter in Swe­den, asked Fahey for help in get­ting the study un­der­way.

Re­search has shown that sul­foraphane ac­cel­er­ates the body’s pro­duc­tion of a com­mon but im­por­tant pro­tein known as Nrf2.

The job of Nrf2, in essence, is to reg­u­late the creation of an­tiox­i­dants that re­pair stressed, dam­aged or de­cay­ing cells.

A shot of sul­foraphane kicks the creation of those an­tiox­i­dants into over­drive, bol­ster­ing at the cel­lu­lar level the body’s ca­pac­ity to re­sist a wide range of mal­func­tions.

“This mol­e­cule — Nrf2 — is re­spon­si­ble for shout­ing out to cells, ‘You’re in trou­ble; you’re be­ing at­tacked by sun­light, by ul­tra­vi­o­let light, by tox­ins. You’ve got to up your game, you’ve got to en­hance your pro­tec­tive strat­egy,’” Fahey said. “Nrf2 is a cru­cial reg­u­la­tor, and sul­foraphane is one of the most po­tent in­duc­ers of that reg­u­la­tor.”

While a nor­mal per­son’s liver cre­ates en­ergy by pro­duc­ing glu­cose, a type of sugar, and re­leas­ing it in reg­u­lated amounts into the blood­stream, those with Type 2 di­a­betes can pro­duce as much as three times the needed amount.

If that mal­func­tion oc­curs be­cause a pa­tient’s cells have been weakened by ex­po­sure to stress­ful con­di­tions, the Swedes the­o­rized, per­haps sul­foraphane would help.

They chose more than 3,800 drugs whose gene sig­na­tures they saw as likely to match up against the pat­tern of gene ex­pres­sion as­so­ci­ated with Type 2 di­a­betes.

They found that sul­foraphane over­lapped most closely with the di­a­betic ex­pres­sion pat­tern.

The group then be­gan work­ing with Fahey, who is known for the highly po­tent freeze-dried form of broc­coli sprout ex­tract he cre­ates at Hop­kins.

A se­ries of ex­per­i­ments us­ing the ex­tract showed that sul­foraphane re­duced the over­pro­duc­tion of glu­cose in liver cells the sci­en­tists had grown in a lab — and that it did the same in the liv­ers of rats with di­a­betes.

The fi­nal step was to test sul­foraphane in hu­mans. The team con­ducted a 12-week ran­dom­ized study in­volv­ing 97 adults with Type 2 di­a­betes. About a third of them had a form of the dis­ease that the widely used drug met­formin and rec­om­mended life­style changes had failed to con­trol.

The re­searchers gave about half of the group a dose of the ex­tract each day, the rest a placebo.

Those who re­ceived the ex­tract saw a de­crease by an av­er­age of 10 per cent in their glu­cose lev­els — enough, the team says, to re­duce com­pli­ca­tions in the eyes, kid­ney and blood.

Those with the least con­trolled cases of di­a­betes — and sub­jects who were obese — saw the great­est drops. Sub­jects who were not obese ex­pe­ri­enced no ap­pre­cia­ble change.

Emily Ho, a nu­tri­tional bio­chemist at Ore­gon State Univer­sity, also has stud­ied the health ef­fects of sul­foraphane.

The re­sults of the study are “def­i­nitely promis­ing” even though “a more com­pre­hen­sive study with a larger study group is needed, es­pe­cially to tease out long-term safety and the sus­tain­abil­ity of ef­fects in pa­tients,” said Ho, the di­rec­tor of Moore Fam­ily Cen­ter for Whole Grain Foods, Nu­tri­tion and Pre­ven­tive Health at Ore­gon State.

Fahey agreed that the study calls for fol­lowup.

“You want to see other peo­ple repli­cate your re­sults or go them one bet­ter,” he says.

But they are more than enough to sup­port the be­lief Fahey and his Hop­kins col­leagues have long pro­moted — that sci­ence has shown peo­ple don’t have to wait un­til they de­velop full-blown ill­ness to for­tify their health.

A balanced diet that con­tains plenty of well cho­sen whole foods, he said — in­clud­ing broc­coli sprouts, the cru­cif­er­ous vegetable with the most sul­foraphane — can pro­vide a range of nu­tri­ents that work with the body to fore­stall ill­ness and ex­tend our “healthspan” in life.


A com­pound found nat­u­rally in broc­coli and other cru­cif­er­ous veg­eta­bles may re­duce some of the harm­ful ef­fects of Type 2 di­a­betes in over­weight adults.

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