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Has Osteoarthritis Met Its Match in Broccoli?

Osteoarthritis and broccoli

Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables contain a substance that could help battle the most common type of arthritis. Has osteoporosis met its match in broccoli and its potent compound?

What is sulforaphane?

Broccoli and its cruciferous cousins are rich sources of glucosinolates, substances that the body metabolizes into isothiocyanates, which includes the potent compound sulforaphane. Previous research has touted sulforaphane for its anti-inflammatory and anticancer abilities.

Now researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA) report that laboratory and mouse studies show sulforaphane has other benefits related to osteoarthritis. Namely:

  • Sulforaphane stopped certain enzymes that destroy cartilage
  • Mice given a diet rich in sulforaphane experienced significantly less osteoarthritis and damage to their cartilage than did mice not given the compound

This study represents the first time researchers have demonstrated how sulforaphane has an important impact on the joints. What remains now is learning if the broccoli compound has a similar effect in humans.

That task is already in the planning stages, as the research team that conducted the new study will carry on with a trial to include 40 individuals with osteoarthritis who are slated for joint replacement surgery.

In the human trial, half the patients will consume specially bred broccoli that has high levels of sulforaphane while the other half will not. Investigators will examine the replaced joints for signs of sulforaphane and how the compound may have changed joint metabolism.

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Why these studies are important
For the 27 million Americans and tens of millions more people around the world who have osteoarthritis, treatment options for this painful and often debilitating disease are limited to medications and supplements that may relieve pain and inflammation, and surgery for joint replacement. Currently there is no cure for osteoarthritis, although there are steps people can take to help prevent the disease, such as:

  • Maintain a healthy weight (obesity is a risk factor)
  • Get regular exercise (exercise strengthens muscles that surround your joints
  • Exercise smart, which means don’t over stress your joints, do a variety of physical activities, wear protective equipment when relevant, and pay attention to joint pain
  • Maintain good posture

Discovery of natural, effective ways to help prevent and slow osteoarthritis is important, “both to improve the quality of life for sufferers and to reduce the economic burden on society,” noted lead researcher Ian Clark, professor of musculoskeletal biology at UEA. Finding a dietary approach to osteoarthritis is especially exciting.

Clark pointed out that it’s important to have ways to help healthy individuals protect their joints against the disease, but you don’t want to give them medications unnecessarily. Therefore, offering dietary alternatives could be an effective, cost-effective, and safe option.

While research into the role of broccoli, its cruciferous cousins, and sulforaphane continue, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t include these vegetables in your diet as much as possible. At least as far as broccoli is concerned, lightly steaming the vegetable is the recommended way to preserve its health-promoting attributes.

Broccoli sprouts are the richest source of sulforaphane, followed by broccoli. Other sources include Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, bok choy, mustard greens, watercress, and turnips. Dietary supplements that contain broccoli extracts are also available, however research into the effects of broccoli and sulforaphane on osteoarthritis is still incomplete.

Davidson RK et al. Sulforaphane represses matrix-degrading proteases and protects cartilage from destruction in vitro and in vivo. Arthritis & Rheumatism 2013 Aug 27; doi:10.1002/art.38133

Image: Pixabay

Updated 6/17/2014