If you still haven’t outgrown your childhood aversion to broccoli, you may want to do so now—a continuing wave of research is confirming that broccoli offers even more powerful health benefits than previously imagined.
The compound that has been getting the most attention is sulfurophane. This organic sulfur molecule broke onto the scene when scientists discovered its potent anti-cancer properties, and subsequent studies have revealed a wealth of other powerful benefits.
Here’s a whirlwind tour of the reasons why broccoli deserves a prominent place in your diet (and why your mother was doing you a favor by forcing you to eat it).
Broccoli: A functional food with healing capabilities
There’s healthy foods, and then there’s functional foods—that is, foods with such powerful healing capacities that they can be used to treat acute health conditions. And broccoli—thanks to its high levels of sulfurophane and other beneficial nutrients—is perhaps one of the most promising functional foods of all.
Sulfurophane and broccoli’s other beneficial compounds—including glucoraphanin, flavonoids, phenolic acids, diindolylmethane (DIM), and nicotinamide mononucleotide (NMN)—perfectly exemplify the holistic healing power of functional foods. Traditional drugs and medications nearly always focus on specified mechanisms to the exclusion of others—as a result, they often create imbalances and side effects elsewhere in the body, even while attempting to balance the ailment in question.
Functional foods, on the other hand, balance the underlying factors that lead to optimal health, and are thus able to address an impressive variety of conditions. They do so without side effects, and without sacrificing the acute healing power that we look for in modern medications.
Take a look at some of the benefits and applications of sulfurophane that researchers have discovered so far.
Immune support. It turns out that eating broccoli can offer your immune system a serious boost. One study found that it enhances the clearance of bacteria by macrophages, increases the activity of natural killer cells, and even boosts defenses against influenza and other viruses. It also helps prevent the decline in cellular immunity that normally occurs with aging by activating a protein called Nrf2.
This comes as no surprise, given that sulfurophane also takes care of some of the fundamental factors associated with aging, illness, and immune dysfunction. For example, it significantly reduces both the presence of reactive oxygen species and C-reactive proteins, thus helping to ward off systemic inflammation.
Detoxification. Sulfurophane also helps unburden your immune system and other defenses by dramatically improving detoxification mechanisms. In fact, it is the most potent inducer of phase 2 detoxification enzymes (endogenous antioxidants that do the bulk of detox work throughout the body). Research has demonstrated that sulfurophane triggers this cascade of enzymes by activating Nrf2 and by increasing cellular levels of glutathione, the body’s “master antioxidant.”
Diabetes. One of the most promising applications of sulfurophane is in the treatment of diabetes. Studies have shown that eating broccoli sprouts improves many of the parameters for type 2 diabetes, including increased blood antioxidant capacity and HDL (“good”) cholesterol, and decreased triglycerides, oxidative stress, insulin resistance, and C-reactive protein (CRP).
They have even been shown to attenuate diabetes complications such as nephropathy, tissue damage, and cardiovascular issues. For these reasons, many physicians believe that sulfurophane could serve as a complement to (or even a replacement for) metformin, the leading diabetes medication.
Obesity. Researchers are finding that many of the compounds that make broccoli so well-suited for treating type 2 diabetes can also be profoundly helpful for preventing and controlling obesity. One study demonstrated that three weeks of sulfurophane supplementation reduced weight gain, lowered levels of insulin and leptin, and improved cholesterol, glucose tolerance, and insulin resistance in mice.
A similar study found that sulfurophane protects against both obesity and cardiovascular disease by inhibiting fat accumulation, and reduced liver triglycerides, total cholesterol, and leptin.
Cancer. According to many experts, broccoli sprouts just might be the most promising anti-cancer yet discovered. Supporting research is pouring in at any increasing rate, and the results are fascinating.
Eating cruciferous vegetables (especially three to five servings per week of broccoli and broccoli sprouts) will decrease the risk of many cancers by up to 40%—but that’s just the beginning. Sulfurophane also directly kills cancer cells (without harming healthy cells) through a wide variety of mechanisms, and increases the efficacy of chemotherapy drugs (while minimizing their toxic effect on the body).
Now are you ready to eat your broccoli?
Sulfurophane supplements can be helpful, but there’s no substitute for good, old-fashioned broccoli. Eating at least a few servings a week will confer all the benefits discussed above, and will ensure that you’re getting all the beneficial compounds that work in synergy with sulfurophane.
Only eat lightly steamed broccoli—full cooking or boiling will denature most of the good stuff. Better yet, also give broccoli sprouts a try. They’re packed with extremely high levels of sulfurophane, and they make a delicious, spicy addition to salads and smoothies.