While these members of the Brassicaceae family are, admittedly, not among everyone’s favorites (particularly children), the significant benefits they deliver make them well-worth eating.
To start, cruciferous vegetables contain vitamin C, beta carotene, and plenty of fiber. But it’s the other compounds these plants provide that are responsible for their most notable benefits.
Healthy Estrogen Metabolism Promoted By Cruciferous Vegetables
Glucosinolates, found in cruciferous vegetables, are precursors of compounds whose most well-studied properties are those that prevent or combat cancer. As of 2013, 132 natural glucosinolates have been documented.1
The glucosinolate glucobrassicin interacts with a plant enzyme known as myrosinase when a vegetable is chopped or chewed. This reaction results in the formation of indole 3 carbinol (I3C), a compound that induces detoxification as well as estrogen metabolism.
Estrogen can be metabolized to 2-hydroxyestrone or 16 alpha-hydroxyestrone, the latter of which has been shown to stimulate cancer.2 Indole 3 carbinol shifts the metabolism of estrogen to 2-hydroxyesterone, the so-called “good” estrogen, which has been associated with protection against breast cancer.3
Cruciferous Vegetables Support Cancer
In addition to these indirect hormonal effects, I3C has direct anticancer effects by inducing apoptosis (programmed cell death) and other mechanisms.4
A byproduct of I3C is DIM. Both DIM and I3C have been shown to induce apoptosis in prostate cancer cells.5DIM has also shown anticancer effects in human cervical cancer cells6, bladder cancer cell lines7, colorectal cancer cells8, leukemia cells9, and cancer stem cells.10
Another compound derived from glucosinolates is sulforaphane which, like I3C, is also produced by the action of myrosinase when a plant is cut or chewed. Sulforaphane, which occurs in greatest abundance in broccoli sprouts, has been demonstrated to inhibit breast cancer stem cells.
In a study with mice that received implanted breast cancer tumors, sulforaphane reduced cancerous stem cells while not significantly affecting normal cells.11
Multiple Diseases and Aging Prevented By Cruciferous Vegetables
Sulforaphane has shown promise not only for various cancers, but for such diverse conditions as autism12, stomach ulcers13, asthma, COPD and allergic rhinitis14; osteoarthritis15, and vascular disease.16 The compound might even help reduce some of the effects of aging.
Research involving progerin, a defective protein occurring in high amounts in the cells of humans with the premature aging disorder known as Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome (HGPS), found that the administration of sulforaphane enhanced progerin clearance and reduced some damage induced by the disease.17
Extend Your Life. Eat Cruciferous Vegetables.
A study of 134,796 Chinese adults enrolled in the Shanghai Men’s Health Study and Shanghai Women’s Health Study associated increased cruciferous vegetable intake with a significantly lower risk of death over follow up.18
Participants whose intake was among the top 20% had a 22% lower risk of dying over a period of several years.
The Bottom Line
The next time you are tempted to push that boring piece of cauliflower or broccoli to the edge of your plate, remember that appearances can be deceiving.
Cruciferous vegetables and their numerous beneficial compounds are among the most exciting plant foods available, and their list of benefits continues to grow.
And for the finicky adults who just won’t eat their vegetables, broccoli, broccoli sprouts, and other cruciferous plants are available in the form of extracts.
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- Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2012 Jul 20;424(1):45-51.
- Clin Cancer Res. 2010 May 1;16(9):2580-90.
- Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2014 Oct 28;111(43):15550-5.
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- Aging Cell. 2015 Feb;14(1):78-91.
- Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Jul;94(1):240-6.