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Sulforaphane: discover this super compound of broccoli

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Health authorities have always recommended the consumption of fruits and vegetables. These contain significant amounts of fiber, minerals and vitamins. However, we also find chemically active substances such as polyphenols, antioxidants and, among them, sulforaphane.

In recent years, medical research has included broccoli among the well-known “superfoods”, a definition that is now very fashionable and on everyone’s lips but that does not provide much information.

There are a lot of studies that praise the properties of broccoli and recommend its consumption several times a week. It contains a very complete mineral ratio (high in iron, magnesium and potassium, among others), as well as great heterogeneity of vitamins (thiamine, B6, vitamin C, vitamin E, etc.).

However, what may interest us most are the active compounds present in the cruciferous family (broccoli, cauliflower, kale, etc.), including the most important, sulforaphane.

This sulfur-related compound gives us countless positive health effects, specifically on the cardiovascular and digestive system. We will analyze each of these properties with the relevant scientific review.

What is sulforaphane?

The sulforaphane it is a chemical compound whose main base is sulfur, and that we can find it in the cruciferous family. Sulforaphane is physiologically activated when the glucoraphanin molecule (a type of glucosinolate) binds with myrosinase, an enzyme that is related to the plant’s defense response to external stimuli.

This type of compound and the vast majority of vitamins suffer degradation by heat, hence the highest concentrations of sulforaphane are found in raw or low-cooked foods.

In fact, scientific studies that have analyzed sulforaphane have found a concentration 10 times higher in raw broccoli than cooked broccoli.

Therefore, if you have to cook, it is recommended to steam it or not exceed 5 minutes of boiling, since from 140 ºC is when the loss of functionality of glucosinolates begins.

Sulforaphane diseases

Health Benefits of Sulforaphane

Currently there is a wide range of scientific studies carried out in animals, humans and in vitro, so there is a very good medical basis to know its potential for health.

Anti-cancer activity

Whenever we talk about anticancer, we must understand that they have preventive activity. Oxidation processes and pollutants (such as smoking or breathing toxic vapors) activate the uncontrolled multiplication of cells and cause tumors.

The consumption of substances rich in antioxidants, polyphenols and active substances such as sulforaphane reduce the presence of free radicals and cellular oxidation, thus preventing the appearance of different types of cancer.

Specifically, sulforaphane reduces the presence of cancer cells and has histone deacetylase inhibitory activity.

Other studies have also shown that sulforaphane activates the release of antioxidant enzymes that prevent the presence of carcinogenic compounds.

Even so, more research is needed to check against which type of cancer this compound present in broccoli and other cruciferous animals has more activity and the long-term impact of isothiocyanates.

In any case, the scientific and medical community advises the consumption of this type of food in the daily diet, since they have activity against cancer, coronary heart disease and digestive tract.

Improves cardiovascular health

Sulfur-rich compounds have been associated with improved circulatory system response. Specifically, sulforaphane has been shown to have benefits for the heart and blood pressure.

It has very interesting anti-inflammatory effects for the cardiovascular system, since they prevent the narrowing of the arteries and all related diseases. In any case, it should always be accompanied by a diet with low consumption in fats and sugars.

Currently, research in animals concludes that sulforaphane has high blood pressure-lowering activity, so a very important range of research is opened.

Likewise, more research is needed and extrapolatedn of all this data to the human being.

Possible potential against diabetes

Type 2 diabetes has become one of the diseases of unstoppable progress around the world, although especially in the West. And this is due to the worsening of the diet, where excess fats and protein from meat sources and processed products predominate.

Type 2 diabetes causes poor management of blood sugar and must be controlled with medications. Several studies have looked at the potential of sulforaphane present in various cruciferous and its impact on blood glucose balance.

4-week studies in 100 obese people concluded that broccoli extract (with approximately 150 μmol of sulforaphane) significantly reduces blood sugar levels by 6.5%.

Previously, the same effects have been found in various animal trials, which gives sufficient scientific evidence of the commitment to its consumption in diabetic people.

Other potential benefits for the body

With less research, but also relevance, there are quite a few more benefits associated with consuming broccoli and sulforaphane.

Reduces ultraviolet cell damage

Several studies have analyzed the protective effect of sulforaphane against ultraviolet (UV) rays caused by the Sun, finding positive responses.

Reduces constipation

Several scientific studies have shown a notable improvement with the habitual consumption of broccoli, related to both the sulforaphane content and the increase in dietary fiber.

Delays cognitive decline

Animal studies have concluded that sulforaphane favors the delay of cognitive decline and improves recovery with brain injuries. [See study]

Where can we find sulforaphane?

Let’s analyze foods that contain sulforaphane among its components. In general, we talk about all cruciferous vegetables, to which we must also add a large amount of minerals, vitamins and antioxidant compounds.

  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Kale
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Bok choy
  • Watercress
  • Rocket

As we mentioned earlier, splitting each of these ingredients into small pieces favors the activation of this compound, by activating glucoraphanin.

And of course, as with vitamins, they should not be overcooked or at high temperatures (140 ºC).

In addition, there are nutrients and active compounds that further activate the assimilation of this type of compounds. One of them is mustard seeds, which contain myrosinase, which promotes the absorption of sulforaphane.

Sulfophane content in broccoli (ug/g dry weight)

Head Inflorescence Stem Leaf Whole head
1 448,35 250,58 313,91 195,3
2 513,69 202,23 495,86 267,28
3 218,93 154,43 239,04 108,82
4 634,02 234,62 430,71 297,68
5 683,27 231,82 437,5 359,02
Average 499,65 214,75 383,4 246,21

The most interesting part of broccoli in relation to the sulforaphane content is the inflorescence.

Sulforaphane Supplements

Currently, sulforaphane has been extracted from various foods and incorporated into capsules.

Possible contraindications of sulforaphane

Sulforaphane is a compound considered safe, although like all components, there may be side effects depending on the dose.

In general, they do not usually occur when eating foods such as those we have mentioned, since they are usually found in low concentrations.

However, there may be side effects in supplements and tablets. It can lead to constipation, stomach pains, or flatulence.

About Andrew Parkinson

Andrew Parkinson is a highly accomplished pharmacist with a passion for improving healthcare. With a wealth of experience in both community and clinical pharmacy settings, he's known for his dedication to patient well-being. Mr. Parkinson actively engages in medication management, offering personalized solutions and promoting better health outcomes. He has also played a pivotal role in educating patients on proper medication usage and potential interactions. Andrew's commitment to advancing the field of pharmacy and ensuring safe and effective drug therapies has garnered him recognition as a trusted and invaluable healthcare professional, making a positive impact on countless lives.

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