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Sulforaphane: Effect And Application

Sulforaphane is a phytochemical found only in certain types of vegetables. Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower contain sulforaphane in particularly high amounts. Sulforaphane can be used in cancer therapy (e.g. blood and skin cancer). The effect of sulforaphane on arthritis and respiratory diseases is similarly fascinating. However, sulforaphane is not only useful for treatment but is also recommended as a preventive measure to stay fit and prevent the diseases mentioned.

Sulforaphane – The power substance from broccoli

First, he distinguishes himself in cancer prophylaxis, then even in cancer therapy. It discovers its potential in the area of arthritic diseases and eventually shows that it can also be helpful for respiratory diseases such as asthma and hay fever.

We are talking about sulforaphane, a secondary plant substance from the isothiocyanate family (also called mustard oils or mustard oil glycosides).

Mustard oil glycosides are found in particular in cruciferous plants such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, radishes, white cabbage, red cabbage, kohlrabi, horseradish, rocket, cress, and mustard and give these vegetables their characteristic pungent taste.

Sulforaphane – Clever strategist in the fight against free radicals

Sulforaphane is a powerful antioxidant first discovered in 1992 by Dr. Paul Talalay at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore/USA from broccoli and described.

While vitamin C or vitamin E kills itself in the fight against free radicals, sulforaphane acts strategically from the background and activates the body’s own detoxification enzymes in the liver – the so-called phase II detoxification enzymes.

They then neutralize carcinogenic free radicals so that they can no longer cause cell damage.

Since sulforaphane acts indirectly here, it is not consumed itself and is highly active throughout the body – for four to five days.

Sulforaphane – A potential weapon against cancer

However, sulforaphane not only organizes the removal of carcinogenic substances but also acts directly against existing cancer cells. Yes, sulforaphane is sometimes called the most powerful natural cancer weapon, especially because the substance is also said to be effective in advanced cancer.

Sulforaphane intervenes in the cell division process of the cell by destroying the so-called microtubules of the cancer cells. These structures are responsible for cell division.

If they are inactivated, this prevents the cell nucleus from dividing and leads to the death of the cancer cell.

In the meantime, sulforaphane has proven to be successful in numerous studies and in various types of cancer.

According to a study published in the American journal Oncology Report, it has been known since 2003 that sulforaphane can contribute to or even trigger the self-destruction (apoptosis) of both diseased blood cells (leukemia) and malignant skin cells (melanoma).

In May 2006, Rutgers University in New Jersey/USA reported after a corresponding study that sulforaphane could activate the body’s own protective mechanisms to thwart the onset of the disease even if there is a genetically determined risk of colon cancer.

In animal experiments, it was also found that sulforaphane was effective against lung cancer cells and successfully contained their growth.

The prevention of metastasis of prostate cancer by sulforaphane or broccoli was also observed in a large-scale nutritional study on over 10,000 patients with prostate cancer.

This study showed that high consumption of vegetables from the cruciferous family, i.e. broccoli and also cauliflower, could protect patients from metastasis of a primary prostate tumor.

Sulforaphane in gastric cancer and gastric ulcers

Sulforaphane is also said to be effective against the bacterium Helicobacter pylori – sometimes better than antibiotics.

Helicobacter pylori are considered to be the cause of gastric ulcers and gastric cancer. In studies, sulforaphane even eliminated those Helicobacter strains that were already resistant to several antibiotics.

Especially in the case of stomach cancer, sulforaphane should be a veritable textbook remedy, since it fights bacterial infection and at the same time blocks tumor formation.

Is Sulforaphane effective in treatment-resistant pancreatic cancer?

Pancreatic cancer is characterized by its pronounced therapy resistance. Few patients survive the diagnosis for more than a year. This is due to the strong resistance of the so-called cancer stem cells of pancreatic cancer.

The population of these cancer stem cells is usually about 1 percent of the total tumor. While ordinary cancer cells die from chemotherapy and radiation, stem cells stubbornly survive.

As soon as the therapy is over, new cancer cell colonies develop from the stem cells. Pancreatic cancer is therefore considered to be extremely aggressive and difficult to treat.

The working group around Professor Dr. A few years ago, Ingrid Herr at the University Hospital in Heidelberg published research results on therapy with the cancer drug sorafenib from Bayer AG in the journal Cancer Research.

Treatment with sorafenib costs the health insurance companies just under 60,000 euros per year so that annual sales of the drug are in the three-digit million range – and the Bayer Group brings in almost as much as the blockbuster Aspirin.

However, sorafenib is highly controversial because it has severe side effects and significantly reduces the quality of life of patients.

The most common sorafenib side effects are diarrhea, rash, hair loss, bleeding, high blood pressure, nausea, vomiting, itching, fatigue, pain, etc.

However, the Heidelberg scientists were able to show in cancer cells and mice that sorafenib can apparently also attack stubborn cancer stem cells. Unfortunately, this positive effect only lasted for a short time.

After four weeks, small colonies of cancer stem cells had formed again, and not only that: the new stem cells no longer reacted a bit to further treatment with sorafenib.

However, when sorafenib is combined and administered with sulforaphane from broccoli, sorafenib remains effective (at least in mice) – without causing additional side effects. Yes, sulforaphane can even protect healthy body cells from the side effects of sorafenib and thus from DNA damage.

Professor Herr is of the opinion that “nutrition could also be used to break through the therapy resistance of cancer stem cells and thereby make tumor therapies more effective.”

Sulforaphane in arthritis and arthrosis

Scientists who observed and regularly examined a group of older women over a 10-year period as part of an arthritis study found that those women who particularly liked to eat brassicas had a significantly lower risk of developing arthritis than such women who did not like these vegetables.

A study by the University of East Anglia has now found that the reason for this phenomenon could be sulforaphane. Sulforaphane can not only prevent and fight cancer but also help with arthritic joint problems.

Sulforaphane blocks the functioning of the harmful enzymes involved in the development of arthritis, which normally leads to inflammation and pain.

Anyone who enjoys the vegetables mentioned in extravagant amounts increases their sulforaphane level in the blood, whereupon the potent plant substance can migrate into the tissue of the joints and act protectively there.

This mechanism also helps with arthrosis, when the articular cartilage is damaged and begins to hurt.

The results of this study published so far are only the beginning of a promising long-term study. It is intended to provide information about how specifically sulforaphane works in the body, how it can get into the joints, and how much of it is needed to achieve a significant therapeutic effect.

Sulforaphane against respiratory diseases

Sulforaphane can even be used against inflammation of the airways and the resulting diseases such as asthma, allergic rhinitis (hay fever), and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) – according to the results of a research project at the University of California (UCLA) in Los Angeles. Free radicals are also held responsible for many inflammatory respiratory diseases.

Although free radicals are formed in our body with every breath we take from the oxidation of the oxygen in the air, as long as we have sufficient amounts of antioxidants, which trap the free radicals and render them harmless, they pose no danger to our cells.

A problem only arises when there are too few antioxidants and too many free radicals. It is precisely this situation that is favored by an unhealthy diet low in antioxidants, but also by additional factors such as air pollution, tobacco smoke, or other unhealthy environmental influences.

An unhealthy diet coupled with poor breathing air (and of course the corresponding genetic predisposition) can consequently lead to the respiratory diseases described above. But how could sulforaphane prevent this?

Apparently, the substance – as published in the specialist journal Clinical Immunology – stimulates the release of antioxidant enzymes. These in turn act as a natural protective shield against free radicals and can now prevent serious respiratory diseases accordingly.

Is Broccoli Sprouts Better Than Broccoli Vegetables?

As mentioned above, sulforaphane is preferably contained in cabbage vegetables or cruciferous plants.

The best source of sulforaphane is broccoli, with fresh broccoli sprouts having by far the highest known sulforaphane content.

There is 10 to 100 times more sulforaphane in broccoli sprouts than in broccoli vegetables. In other words, one scoop of broccoli sprouts contains as much sulforaphane as 500 grams of broccoli greens.

What is the best way to prepare broccoli to get as much sulforaphane as possible?

Sulforaphane is only released through the chewing process or fine chopping with a knife or blender, i.e. when the cell walls are destroyed. This releases an enzyme (myrosinase) that allows sulforaphane to form in the first place from a precursor. Extensive chewing and slow eating, therefore, increase the sulforaphane dose considerably.

Like all enzymes, however, myrosinase is also heat-sensitive, so that cooked broccoli can hardly supply sulforaphane. But since you can’t eat that much raw broccoli, there is another solution.

Of course, you can also eat raw broccoli in a salad from time to time, but if you don’t want to, you can eat the broccoli that has been steamed very briefly or fried in a wok for 2 minutes together with raw broccoli sprouts or another raw cruciferous vegetable. Radishes, radishes, rockets,s, and cress also contain myrosinase.

The effect of the broccoli is increased by adding the raw broccoli sprouts via two mechanisms. On the one hand, the raw sprouts provide myrosinase to activate the sulforaphane in broccoli, on the other hand, the sprouts themselves provide many times more sulforaphane than broccoli.

A 2018 study also showed that if the previously finely chopped broccoli was left to sit for 90 minutes (allowing time for myrosinase to activate the sulforaphane), the amount of sulforaphane increased significantly (by a factor of 2.8). it was prepared in a wok while stirring.

How much broccoli do you need to eat?

If you now want to consume sulforaphane via broccoli vegetables, the question arises: How much broccoli do you have to eat to achieve the required dose of sulforaphane?

As a daily dietary supplement for preventive purposes, it is recommended to take 5 to 15 milligrams of sulforaphane. For therapeutic purposes, however, at least 30 milligrams should be taken daily. In the studies at Heidelberg University Hospital, cancer patients were even given 90 milligrams a day.

The minimum therapeutic amount (30 mg) is found in about 750 grams of broccoli. However, the broccoli heads must be fresh, firm, dark green and, if possible, organic.

On the other hand, broccoli that has been stored too long or even blossomed (yellow colored) is low in sulforaphane and should never be eaten.

Even if the amount of 750 grams of broccoli may sound like a lot to some, it is by no means so. Just weigh the amount once. If necessary, divide the portion between lunch and dinner.

Lightly (!) steamed, seasoned with rock or sea salt, turmeric, and a high-quality oil (olive oil, linseed oil, or hemp oil) and served with a colorful salad (made of various lettuce, herbs, vegetables, avocado, sunflower or pumpkin seeds) this is what it comes down to a complete, filling, low-carb meal rich in vital substances and sulforaphane.

Can you take a supplement instead of eating broccoli?

It is particularly easy to resort to sulforaphane-containing dietary supplements, which makes sense for all people who do not like broccoli or do not want to/can not eat it every day.

The sulforaphane or broccoli product used in the Heidelberg University studies is Broccoraphan® from Deiters. It provides sulforaphane from natural broccoli sprouts in powder form. Of these, 3 grams a day are enough to provide you with up to 55 milligrams of sulforaphane.

An even more concentrated product is a capsule product of effective nature. It is called sulforaphane broccoli extract and provides 100 mg of sulforaphane per daily dose.

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Written by Bella Adams

I'm a professionally-trained, executive chef with over ten years in Restaurant Culinary and hospitality management. Experienced in specialized diets, including Vegetarian, Vegan, Raw foods, whole food, plant-based, allergy-friendly, farm-to-table, and more. Outside of the kitchen, I write about lifestyle factors that impact well-being.

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