We’ve harped on the incredible benefits of broccoli in past articles. If you never got over the childhood tendency to avoid this superfood veggie, it’s time to reconsider—researchers continue to uncover a multitude of powerful health benefits associated with eating broccoli.
The beneficial components of broccoli (especially a compound called sulfurophane) have been shown to boost immune function, aid detoxification, slow the aging process, counteract diabetes and its many complications, improve cholesterol levels, aid weight loss, and even fight cancer.
And that’s just scratching the surface—broccoli just might be one of the most powerful and versatile anti-aging superfoods available.
Now research is beginning to reveal that broccoli also provides perfect support for digestive health. This is big news, because it’s no exaggeration to say that gut health is one of the most central and important aspects of overall wellness.
And for better or worse, it’s also incredibly complex—we’re only just beginning to understanding the sophisticated world of the microbiome. For this reason, digestive issues can be notoriously difficult to address.
Conventional medicine simply suppresses the symptoms of digestive ailments with proton-pump inhibitors and other medications that inevitably worsen the condition in the long run. In past articles, we’ve explored how proton-pump inhibitor usage has been linked to liver disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and many other health imbalances.
The process of adopting an integrative approach to healing the gut can be a complicated one (hence the allure of antacids and similar mediations), so it’s great news that the simple practice of eating more broccoli can help correct acute imbalances and radically improve overall digestive health.
Let’s take a look at some of the gut-specific therapeutic possibilities of broccoli.
Stop inflammation, heal “leaky gut,” and much more
Researchers at Penn State University tested the digestive healing potential of broccoli by including it in the daily diet of mice. They found that when broccoli comprised 15% of their diet (this would be equivalent to about 3.5 cups of broccoli per day for us humans), the mice were significantly better adapted to deal with a wide range of digestive issues.
When they dug deeper, they discovered that the stomach-protecting effects stem largely from a compound in broccoli called indolocarbazole (ICZ), which works in conjunction with sulfurophane to heal gut health on every level.
Inflammation. As is the case with most diseases, gut imbalances are often marked by chronic inflammation. Inflammatory foods like gluten, dairy, and sugar can irritate the digestive tract and upset microbiome balance to the point that tiny holes begin to form in the intestinal wall membrane. Food, toxins, and waste products can then leak into the bloodstream, thus causing even more inflammation—this condition is known as leaky gut syndrome.
Broccoli has been shown to decrease inflammation in the stomach and intestines, and to protect against the development of leaky gut (as well as other inflammatory digestive conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease and ulcerative colitis).
Aryl hydrocarbon receptor activity. Researchers have found that one of the keys to understanding gut health is aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR) activity. These receptors are like the gatekeepers of the gut—they sound the alarm when toxins and pathogens are present, and protect the digestive tract by whatever means necessary. To this end, they can increase or decrease inflammation as necessary. Studies have shown that they’re essential for bringing inflammation (and other markers of digestive health) into balance, and that they exert a protective effect against a wide variety of conditions, including cancer.
The Penn State University study cited above demonstrated that broccoli phytonutrients activate and enhance AHR activity, and thus help protect the GI tract from toxicity, induced colitis, and inflammation.
Microbial community structure. Lastly, the same study also found that broccoli improves the composition of the gut’s microbial community. While we still have much to learn about the microbiome, we have been able to correlate the proliferation of certain bacteria with GI imbalance. The Erysipelotrichaceae family of bacteria is one example: while it is necessary for proper digestive function, an overabundance of this bacterial type has been correlated with markers of increased cancer risk, autoimmune dysfunctions, and inflammatory bowel diseases. Luckily, broccoli was found to decrease the abundance of Erysipelotrichaceae, thus positively influencing the overall community structure of the microbiome.
Broccoli needs to be a part of your diet
All of this fascinating data covers only one aspect of broccoli’s healing potential. This affordable and widely available vegetable has so many benefits that including it in your diet (as close to every day as possible) is a no-brainer.
Throw it in omelets and scrambled eggs in the morning, cook up a broccoli stir fry for lunch, and eat it as a steamed side dish with dinner. You can even mix things up by eating broccoli sprouts, which are even more packed with sulfurophane and other nutrients than the full-grown plant.