The reason why you should be eating broccoli sprouts is due to a substance called sulforaphane. Sulforaphane or SNF, is one of the most fascinating phytochemicals in the world because it contains properties that are neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial, as well as anti-aging. SNF has potential properties to reduce cholesterol and blood sugar, protect against skin damage, improve symptoms of autism, protect against H. pylori bacteria, enhance liver function, and avert asthmatic reactions.
This substance has it all. The best part is you don’t need to go buy some over priced supplement to receive sulforophane benefits. You just need to eat more broccoli sprouts!
What is Sulforaphane?
Sulforaphane (SNF) is a strong anti-cancer and antibacterial substance found in cruciferous vegetables and sprouts.
Sulforaphane is created when the enzyme myrosinase transforms the glucoraphanin, a glucosinolate, into sulforaphane. Myrosinase and glucoraphanin are found in different parts of the plant and in order to create sulforaphane the plant needs to be damaged. This occurs by chewing, chopping, cutting, blending, etc. This allows the two compounds to mix and react together. This similar process also occurs in garlic with the production of allicin.
Young sprouts from the cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower are particularly good sources of glucoraphanin.
Sulforaphane is a part of the plant-based cancer fighting group called isothiocyanates. When you eat more broccoli sprouts, the sulforaphane stimulates the production of some important enzymes that neutralize free radicals in your body.
You may know that free radicals and inflammation can be blamed for many diseases and types of cancer. So, consuming more plants containing isothiocyanates, you may decrease your chances of certain diseases and cancer. They also block certain cancer-activating enzymes in the body.
Sulforaphane is well studied because of its ability to:
- Protect against many types of cancer such as colon, breast, stomach, lung, prostate, and more.
- Supports brain and digestive system
- Reduces risks for neurodegenerative disease, heart disease, eye disease, respiratory disease, and other problems.
Which Foods Have Sulforaphane?
Sulforaphane is found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, bok choy, cabbage, collards, radish, arugula, watercress, turnips, kohlrabi, and mustard greens. Of all the foods studied, broccoli sprouts contain the highest concentration of sulforaphane.
Cruciferous vegetables have many health-promoting properties and sulforaphane is another reason why you should consume more of them daily.
This phytochemical is studied for:
- Anti-aging properties
- Brain Function
- Liver function
- Promotes heart health
- Promotes detoxification
- Increases glutathione as an Nrf2 activator
- Creates cancer-fighting compounds
- Promotes weight loss
- Reduces inflammation
- May reverse hair loss
Below we will talk more about these benefits to better understand.
Slows Down the Aging Process
Sulforaphane activates heat-shock proteins in the body, especially HSP27. Heat-shock proteins can help slow down the aging process and improve brain function. Going in a sauna will also activate these heat-shock proteins. But eating broccoli sprouts is a good way to up your levels of these proteins without the heat.
A study conducted by the National academy for the Sciences (U.S.) revealed that sulforaphane mobilizes defenses that protect against cellular damage from UV rays. So boost up on your broccoli sprouts in summer time to get the benefits of vitamin D from the sun but not worry too much about aging more quickly due to the exposure.
Boosts Brain Function
Sulforaphane is considered a nootropic (a brain boosting substance) which protects the brain from any further damage by strengthening the blood-brain barrier that allows some of the body’s materials to cross into the brain.
Sulforaphane can protect the nerves, neurons, and the entire nervous system from oxidative stress damage and increase neurite growth. This means that this powerful phytochemical may help damaged neurons repair after injury or from aging.
Additionally, a variety of acute and chronic neurodegenerative disorders ranging from stroke, traumatic brain injury, Parkinson’s disease, Autism, Alzheimer’s disease, and Dementia share common characteristics such as oxidative stress, inflammation, neuronal loss, misfolded proteins and excitotoxity. As no drugs are available to prevent progression, using phytochemicals, like sulforaphane, are being used as an alternative form of treatment.
Helps Your Liver
Sulforaphane supports the liver by decreasing oxidative stress. In animal experimental models, dietary sulforaphane has been demonstrated to protect against a wide variety of liver diseases caused by alcohol, high energy food consumption, and hepatotoxic chemicals.
Promotes A Healthy Heart
Sulforaphane is a powerful antioxidant and can increase the body’s own antioxidant production capabilities. It has anti-inflammatory properties and can reduce reactive oxygen species by increasing oxygen levels. Both of these protective qualities support heart health.
When you chew sulforaphane it releases hydrogen sulfide which is a compound is a sulfur containing compound which has cardioprotective effects.
Some studies also show that this potent antioxidant helps reduce blood pressure levels in those who have lowered triglycerides and hypertension.
Finally, in animal studies, sulforaphane is able to reduce levels of the total cholesterol, LDL-C, CRP and LDH.
Sulforaphane found in broccoli sprouts promotes the body’s natural detoxification process in many ways. As an indirect antioxidant, it promotes the antioxidant capacity of cells rather than just providing antioxidants.
Sulforaphane also activates the Nrf2 and ARE pathways which leads to increased cellular glutathione in our bodies. Glutathione is a potent antioxidant that has far-reaching benefits for the body. We will talk more about this below.
Increases Glutathione as an Nrf2 Activator
One of the biggest benefits of sulforaphane is by activating Nrf2. Nrf2 is a protein that lives in each of our cells. When activated by stress, it binds to Antioxidant Response Element (ARE), which is basically the switch that controls antioxidant production. When Nrf2/ARE is activated, our body starts creating glutathione and other antioxidants. In turn, this will reduce inflammation and raise protection from disease.
Protects Against Cancer
Sulforaphane in cruciferous vegetables has been shown to target cancer cells while protecting healthy ones. It also kills breast cancer cells, liver cancer cells, prostate cancer cells, cervical cancer cells, and colorectal cancer cells in clinical studies.
Sulforaphane also inhibits the growth of cancer cells while promoting growth of healthy ones. In mice studies, the potent antioxidant inhibits skin cancer cells as well as bladder cancer development.
Promotes Weight Loss
There have been human studies showing that sulforaphane decreases inflammatory biomarkers and improves blood glucose levels.
Sulforaphane from broccoli sprouts causes 20% visceral fat loss by changing gut bacteria and increasing mitochondria in fat in mice. The mice were fed sulforaphane which also lowered their fatty liver and reduced their blood glucose levels. The sulforaphane reduced inflammation by decreasing a species of bacteria in the gut that are responsible for producing endotoxin, which is a major source of inflammation.
It will be interesting to see more future studies looking at sulforaphane in humans and long-term effects.
Reduces Inflammation and Pain
As previously mentioned, sulforaphane can reduce inflammation and pain due to its antioxidant promoting activity. There have been studies showing that sulforaphane can have specific benefit against pain and inflammation when combined with a high-quality turmeric or concentrated curcumin.
Dihydrotestosterone (DHT) hormone suppresses hair growth and leads to androgenic baldness. Sulforaphane increases the production of enzymes in the body that break down the DHT hormone.
In studies, sulforaphane reduced DHT levels in the blood and reversed the suppression of hair growth. So, if you’re suffering from hair loss, boost up your broccoli sprout intake to try and stop the loss.
Ways to Increase Sulforaphane Levels
Like most things in life, moderation is key. Don’t over due it and start eating as many broccoli sprouts as you can. Just a handful should be fine. It’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor before making any major changes such as supplementation. Sulforaphane may interact with certain medications that are broken down in the liver and may be contraindicated in certain individuals.
Eat More Broccoli Sprouts
So, if all cruciferous vegetables contain sulforaphane, why not eat mature broccoli?
Basically, you will most likely to not get any sulforaphane. Why? Because it has to do with certain concentrations of phytochemicals and the temperature of other cruciferous veggies.
Sprouts, especially broccoli sprouts contain up to 100 times higher concentrations of glucoraphanin and sulforaphane than mature cruciferous vegetables. Thee levels spike on day three of sprouting, making three-day-old broccoli sprouts one of the best sources on the planet.
The Best Way to Cook Sulforaphane
Sulforaphane will not produce when vegetables are cooked above 158oF. This high heat will deactivate the enzyme myrosinase needed for sulforaphane production. No myrosinase means no sulforaphane.
Raw broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables have a small amount of these phytochemicals at much lower concentration. Frozen or commercially produced broccoli, on the other hand, are often blanched in their production. Frozen broccoli has no way to produce sulforaphane.
Start with fresh cruciferous vegetables
Chop them and let them stand for about 5 minutes. Cutting them damages the plant and lets the enzymes with each other interact to create sulforaphane.
Steam lightly for 3-4 minutes to preserve the most sulforaphane.
Add in Some Mustard Greens
A great tip from Dr. Rhonda Patrick’s podcast for getting sulforaphane even from frozen or cooked cruciferous vegetables is by adding mustard seed powder. We know that enzymes are deactivated with high heat or when frozen vegetable are blanched, but it turns out that mustard seeds can fix the problem!
Since mustard seeds also contain myrosinase, sprinkle mustard seed powder on top of your cooked cruciferous vegetables can re-activate their ability to produce sulforaphane.
How do you eat your broccoli sprouts?