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Broccoli Extract Sulforaphane Targets, Kills Cancer Cells

Broccoli and cancer

The news about broccoli just keeps getting better and better, especially when it comes to cancer. For the first time, scientists have shown that sulforaphane, a key phytonutrient in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, can target and kill cancer cells without harming normal cells.

Sulforaphane has strong anticancer properties

Broccoli and its cruciferous cousins cauliflower, cabbage, kale, and others are rich sources of glucosinolates, which the body metabolizes into isothiocyanates such as sulforaphane. Numerous studies have shown that sulforaphane provides a number of health benefits.

One recent study, for example, suggested that the sulforaphane in broccoli sprouts, the richest source of the phytonutrient, helps fight oxidative stress, which is associated with insulin resistance and then leads to diabetes. A study published in Arteriosclerosis Thormbosis and Vascular Biology noted that sulforaphane may benefit cardiovascular health by reducing inflammation in high-risk arteries and other blood vessels.

Much research has focused on sulforaphane’s anticancer properties. In this latest study, led by Dr. Emily Ho, associate professor at the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, the authors noted that “it is well documented that sulforaphane can target cancer cells through multiple chemopreventive mechanisms.”

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What is unique about this research, however, it that “we show for the first time that sulforaphane selectively targets benign hyperplasia cells and cancerous prostate cells while leaving the normal prostate cells unaffected.”

Specifically, sulforaphane inhibited certain enzymes (histone deacetylase, or HDAD) that play a critical role in expression of tumor suppressor genes. The inhibition of HDAD is believed to be important in cancer treatment, and so it is being pursued from both a pharmaceutical and dietary approach.

If you want to include broccoli in your diet, make sure you don’t overcook it. In a recent University of Illinois study, researchers reported that overcooking broccoli destroys the enzyme myrosinase, which is necessary for sulforaphane to form. Broccoli powder supplements do not contain this critical enzyme.

According to Ho and her colleagues, sulforaphane from dietary sources can inhibit HDAD and also selectively target cancer cells and kill them. Broccoli, anyone?

Bahadoran Z et al. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2011 May; doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2011.59
Clarke JD et al. Molecular Nutrition & Food Research 2011; doi: 10.1002/mnfr.201000547
Cramer JM, Jeffery EH. Nutrition and Cancer 2011 Jan;
DOI: 10.1080/01635581.2011.523495
Zakkar M et al. Arteriosclerosis Thrombosis and Vascular Biology 2009 Sept; doi: 10.1161/ATVBAHA.109.193375

Image credit: Morguefile