When you look at a typical list of so-called ‘superfoods’, it’s almost certain to include broccoli. This common vegetable has been linked to a number of health benefits; it’s high in vitamin C and dietary fiber, contains several substances with anti-cancer activity, and has anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties.

Now, scientists have discovered even more about broccoli and one of its compounds in particular, called glucoraphanin. It seems this compound can actually ‘retune’ processes that take place inside our cells but get disrupted with age.



So What’s The Big Deal With Broccoli?

broccoli

Broccoli is one of those foods that we’re told to eat as often as possible. Whether it’s as an accompaniment to the evening meal or whipped up into a vegetable juice drink, a serving of broccoli each day can do you the world of good. But why?

This edible plant belongs to a special group of veggies called cruciferous vegetables, also containing cauliflower and cabbage. It’s widely considered to be a healthy food as it contains multiple nutrients and phytochemicals, as well as soluble fiber.

A number of nutrients in broccoli can help to fight cancer, with research showing that a high intake of broccoli may reduce the risk of aggressive prostate cancer in men. Some components may also help to ward off cardiovascular disease.

One of these beneficial nutrients, the compound glucoraphanin, was the subject of a recent study at the Institute of Food Research in the UK.


A Little Background on Glucoraphanin

Glucoraphanin can be transformed into an anti-cancer compound called sulforaphane, a process that takes place when the plant is damaged, such as while chewing. Previous studies have shown that sulforaphane helps to combat cancer cells in experimental animals in the lab. For instance, it has been found to prevent cancer growth, both in cell samples and in animals.

What’s The Latest Study All About?

medical research with testtubes

Researchers at the Institute of Food Research set about studying the effects of a glucoraphanin-rich diet, in light of the reduced risk of cancer seen in people who eat large amounts of broccoli. They recruited 48 people and split them into three different groups for 12 weeks. The first group ate a special type of broccoli that is particularly high in glucoraphanin; the second ate normal broccoli; and the third ate no broccoli at all.

By the end of the 12-week study period, the researchers found that people who ate the glucoraphanin-rich broccoli had improved metabolism, as shown by measuring 346 different metabolites in the blood at the beginning and end of the study. In addition, many of the broccoli eaters had reduced levels of fatty acids and fewer substances linked with inflammation in their blood.

According to the researchers, the study provides the first human-based evidence that glucoraphanin in broccoli helps to normalize cellular processes as we get older. They say these benefits are due to the effects of sulforaphane, which is derived from the glucoraphanin in broccoli. The compound appears to switch on specific genes that help cells’ metabolic processes to run more smoothly – something that can become a problem as we get older.

And this improved metabolic activity inside cells could in turn reduce your risk of developing cancer, obesity, type-2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

For more information on the study, read the abstract by Charlotte Armah et al on the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition website. (http://ajcn.nutrition.org/)

Anna Seward

About Anna Seward

  • Senior Health Information Officer at Prostate Cancer UK
  • Experienced producer of consumer health information (written and audio-visual)
  • NCTJ-trained journalist with more than eight years' experience of writing and editing content on a range of subjects
  • More than seven years' experience writing about consumer health and medical research for charities, patient information websites and pharmaceutical companies
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