It turns out Mom was right – you should eat your broccoli. But what Mom may not have known is why broccoli is so healthy, and how its lesser known, younger offshoot may be a powerful anti-cancer agent.
Researchers at the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University have found that sulforaphane – a compound found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, bok choy and brussels sprouts – has strong anti-cancer properties.
Even more promising results have been found in broccoli sprouts. The tiny, thread-like broccoli sprouts sold at stores next to alfalfa sprouts have more than 50 times the amount of sulforaphane than found in mature broccoli.
Emily Ho, a researcher with the Linus Pauling Institute and an assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition and Exercise Sciences at OSU, will describe these dietary inhibitors for cancer prevention at the conference on “Diet and Optimum Health,” organized by the Linus Pauling Institute.
Ho’s main area of research is on the dietary prevention of prostate cancer. The Asian diet could be a key in this prevention. White males born in the United States have dramatically higher rates of prostate cancer than Asian men. But when Asian men live in the U.S. for five years or more, their rates of prostate cancer rise significantly, Ho says.
Past studies in Ho’s lab have focused on dietary elements in cancer prevention such as green tea and soy.
In her new study, which was published in the Journal of the Society of Experimental Biology and Medicine, Ho and her colleagues at Linus Pauling Institute looked at cruciferous vegetables. While many cruciferous vegetables have sulforaphane, broccoli and broccoli sprouts have the highest amount and thus could be a major player in the prevention of prostate and colon cancer.
Ho said drugs classified as histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitors are being looked at as potentially preventing cancer. She said their research shows that these same effects of inhibiting HDAC might be obtained by consumption of cruciferous vegetables.
“I would say if you’re at all worried about cancer or at high risk of cancer, especially of prostate or colon cancer, then increasing your dietary intake of broccoli and other vegetables could be a good idea,” Ho said.
“It certainly can’t hurt. And drugs can have negative side effects and be difficult to administer.”
While Ho said the research is not at the point where she can make a specific recommendation on how much broccoli or bok choy to eat, she personally tries to have two servings of cruciferous vegetables a day.
In human subjects, just eating some broccoli sprouts on top of a bagel with cream cheese resulted in HDAC inhibition.
“The compound in broccoli may be one of the strongest anti-cancer fighters we have,” Ho said.
Materials provided by Oregon State University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.