Although your mother may have instinctually known that you should eat your broccoli, what she may not have realized is that by enforcing this rule she was actually helping you prevent cancer and other diseases. In fact, broccoli is considered to be a chemoprevention agent and has been proven to protect against and even reverse cancer, cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative diseases, autism, and diabetes(1-7).
So why is broccoli such a powerhouse when it comes to preventing and fighting diseases and disorders?
Broccoli is a brassica vegetable. These vegetables prevent fat from accumulating in your liver, reducing your chance of developing liver cancer and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. The consumption of such vegetables is even more important to those who partake in the standard American diet (SAD), as evidenced by recent studies.
In a 2016 mouse study, scientists divided mice into groups, feeding some a typical “Western” diet, high in fat and sugar, while others received a control diet(1). In addition, some of the groups were fed broccoli while others were not. Those consuming the high fat-high sugar diet experienced an increase in not only the size of cancer nodules in their liver but in the number of liver tumors as well. However, when given broccoli, the scientists noted a reduction in the number of liver cancer nodules. This is very promising news, especially when you consider that a mere 17.5% of patients survive for 5 years or more after being diagnosed with liver cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute.
How Broccoli Fights Cancer
In addition to preventing and reversing liver cancer, broccoli has been shown to eliminate cancers of the head and neck, breast, colon, prostate, and lungs(2-6). This is due, in large part, to the phytochemical, sulforaphane (SFN) found in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables.
SFN has the ability to alter gene expression and disrupt cancer-causing pathways in the human body. These mechanisms prevent the development of tumors as well as the progression of already established cancerous masses, with several studies demonstrating that SFN inhibits the migration of breast cancer cells to other parts of the body and that it even prevents the formation of breast cancer stem cells – the primary cells from which all cancer metastasizes. SFN also increases apoptosis – the natural, automatic death of cancer cells within your body and the result of a properly functioning immune system. The fact that broccoli does all of this without harming healthy cells and without any of the common side effects of traditional cancer treatments is of equal importance. This nutritional alternative allows your body to heal naturally and actually boosts your immune system to prevent further damage and additional disease, unlike chemo and radiation, which render the immune system weak and at risk of recurrence and other diseases.
The sulfur-rich SFN is also a powerful antioxidant which prevents DNA cell damage caused by oxidative stress and inflammation in the body, a great deal of which is caused by consuming acid-promoting foods such as animal fats, and processed foods loaded with hidden sugar and oil. In studies, consumption of assorted brassica vegetables, including broccoli, reduced biomarkers of oxidative stress and internal inflammation such as NR-kB, IL-d, IL-8, HIF-1a, and COX-2.
Using Broccoli To Detox
Another way in which SFN prevents cancer from developing is through its natural ability to detoxify the body.
A study performed in Qidong, China showed that high levels of airborne pollutants were excreted from participant’s bodies when they were given beverages containing broccoli sprouts(7). Compared to study participants receiving a placebo, those in the broccoli sprout group excreted 61% benzene and 23% acrolein from their body. This area of the world was chosen for the study due to its extraordinarily high air pollution, which, at the time of the study, was reported to be 4-5 times greater than air pollution found in the urban area of Minneapolis, Minnesota in the United States. This serves as a reminder that, although we cannot completely avoid toxins, there are ways in which we can protect ourselves from falling victim to their ill effects.
It’s important to note that, while the consumption of broccoli and other SFN-containing foods aid in detoxifying and ridding the body of dangerous contaminants, the SFN itself remains in your blood, urine, and tissue for up to 24 hours, according to scientific research. In addition, the compound has been shown to be highly bioavailable to the human body and is absorbed rapidly and distributed to various organs when taken orally.
So, at the risk of sounding like your mother, eat your broccoli ; )
- Chen, Y.-J., M. A. Wallig, and E. H. Jeffery. Dietary Broccoli Lessens Development of Fatty Liver and Liver Cancer in Mice Given Diethylnitrosamine and Fed a Western or Control Diet. Journal of Nutrition 146, no. 3 (February 10, 2016): 542-50. doi:10.3945/jn.115.228148.
- University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences. “Broccoli sprout extract promising for head and neck cancer prevention.” ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/04/150419194019.htm
- Yang, Li, Dushani L. Palliyaguru, and Thomas W. Kensler. Frugal Chemoprevention: Targeting Nrf2 with Foods Rich in Sulforaphane. Seminars in Oncology 43, no. 1 (2016): 146-53. doi:10.1053/j.seminoncol.2015.09.013.
- Atwell, Lauren L., Laura M. Beaver, Jackilen Shannon, David E. Williams, Roderick H. Dashwood, and Emily Ho. Epigenetic Regulation by Sulforaphane: Opportunities for Breast and Prostate Cancer Chemoprevention. Curr Pharmacol Rep Current Pharmacology Reports 1, no. 2 (January 30, 2015): 102-11. doi:10.1007/s40495-014-0002-x.
- Beaver, Laura M., Alex Buchanan, Elizabeth I. Sokolowski, Allison N. Riscoe, Carmen P. Wong, Jeff H. Chang, Christiane V. Löhr, David E. Williams, Roderick H. Dashwood, and Emily Ho. Transcriptome Analysis Reveals a Dynamic and Differential Transcriptional Response to Sulforaphane in Normal and Prostate Cancer Cells and Suggests a Role for Sp1 in Chemoprevention. Molecular Nutrition & Food Research Mol. Nutr. Food Res. 58, no. 10 (August 05, 2014): 2001-013. doi:10.1002/mnfr.201400269.
- Tortorella, Stephanie M., Simon G. Royce, Paul V. Licciardi, and Tom C. Karagiannis. Dietary Sulforaphane in Cancer Chemoprevention: The Role of Epigenetic Regulation and HDAC Inhibition. Antioxidants & Redox Signaling 22, no. 16 (June 1, 2015): 1382-424. doi:10.1089/ars.2014.6097.
- Egner, P. A., J. G. Chen, J. B. Wang, Y. Wu, Y. Sun, J. H. Lu, J. Zhu, Y. H. Zhang, Y. S. Chen, M. D. Friesen, L. P. Jacobson, A. Munoz, D. Ng, G. S. Qian, Y. R. Zhu, T. Y. Chen, N. P. Botting, Q. Zhang, J. W. Fahey, P. Talalay, J. D. Groopman, and T. W. Kensler. Bioavailability of Sulforaphane from Two Broccoli Sprout Beverages: Results of a Short-term, Cross-over Clinical Trial in Qidong, China. Cancer Prevention Research 4, no. 3 (March 04, 2011): 384-95. doi:10.1158/1940-6207.capr-10-0296.