It turns out Mom was right.
If broccoli or Brussels sprouts were frequently the last bits left on your plate as a child, Mom had good reason to encourage you to clean your plate and eat your vegetables.
Broccoli and Brussels sprouts belong to the Brassica or cruciferous family, which also includes cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, kohlrabi, mustard greens, rutabaga, turnips, bok choy, Chinese cabbage, arugula, horseradish, radish, wasabi, and watercress. This family of bitter greens and roots is quickly becoming the focus of scientists and cancer specialists alike due to the high amounts of glucosinolates that it contains.
Glucosinolates are sulfur-containing compounds that give these veggies their unique aroma and spicy zip of flavor.
Chewing or chopping raw cruciferous vegetables activates a class of plant enzymes called myrosinase, which then results in the formation of biologically active compounds called indoles and isothiocyanates. When you boil or excessively heat any member of the Brassica family, the amount of glucosinolates is reduced, and heat, as is true with any enzyme, inactivates myrosinase. This can diminish the amount of isothiocyanates that a vegetable delivers.
Friendly flora to the rescue!
Once again, the good bacteria in our gut save the day, as well as offer valuable nutrients. It turns out that even when the plant enzyme myrosinase is completed inactivated by heat, the beneficial microbes in the intestinal tract are able to facilitate the formation and absorption of isothiocyanates from glucosinolates. Try Body Ecology's Probiotic Liquids to get the healthy microflora your system needs.
If you have difficultly digesting raw food, try fermenting your cruciferous vegetables.
Not only does fermentation preserve the valuable enzymes found in raw food, such myrosinase, it also pre-digests the food, helping your to body assimilate as many nutrients as possible. In addition, fermentation supports the inner ecosystem of your gut and replenishes the healthy bacteria that live there. Body Ecology makes fermenting vegetables easy with Body Ecology's Culture Starter!
Body Ecology's Culture Startermakes it simple to ferment vegetables at home if you have a hard time digesting raw cruciferous vegetables. The fermentation process will help your body to easily absorb vital nutrients and boost the healthy bacteria in your gut to fight disease!
There are several different kinds of isothiocyanates.
All isothiocyanates are believed to play a role in cancer prevention by eliminating potential carcinogens from the body.
Wasabi, another member of the Brassica family, is responsible for the wealth of isothiocyanates available in LivAmend, a formula specifically geared towards strengthening the health of the liver.
The isothiocyanate that is derived from broccoli is called sulforaphane (SFN). This is the same isothiocyanate found in Brussels sprouts and in cabbage. Sulforaphane is particularly remarkable for a number a reasons:
- Through several biochemical pathways, isothiocyanates, and SFN specifically, protect cellular enzyme activity and induce cancer cell destruction.
- SFN has the ability to target cancer stem cells.
- SFN has been shown to heal the blood-brain barrier.
Scientists at the University of Michigan recently determined that sulforaphane both targets and kills cancer stem cells while also preventing new malignancies.
They injected SFN into mice with breast cancer and also tested sulforaphane on human breast cell cultures. In both cases, scientists found that the number of cancers cells dropped dramatically, with little affect on normal cells. The research implies that new avenues of cancer therapy are becoming available, as scientists discover ways to target and eliminate cancer stem cells, which could prevent the high incidence of reoccurring cancer. (1)
You may have heard of a leaky gut. There is also such a thing as a leaky brain.
As the story of the gut-brain connection unfolds, we are learning more about the close relationship and similarities between the enteric nervous system (the gut) and the central nervous system (the brain). Just like the intestinal walls in our digestive tract, the blood-brain barrier can become permeable and inflamed, leading to certain substances moving to where they should not be. (2)
The blood-brain barrier is a semi-permeable network of vessels that allows some substances to get through while protecting the brain and its environment from other substances, such as toxins and pathogens.
The condition of a leaky brain, or a completely permeable blood-brain barrier, leaves the brain susceptible to inflammatory reactions and is particularly significant in relation to autism spectrum disorders.
Recent studies have shown that sulforaphane keeps the blood-brain barrier intact and promotes healing. A team of researchers discovered that SFN reduces the loss of tight junction proteins, which are essential for maintaining the structure of the blood-brain barrier. SFN also reduces the loss of endothelial cells and minimizes permeability of the blood-brain barrier after injury or brain edema.
But what about the rumors that cruciferous vegetables antagonize the thyroid?
Two things are going on:
- Sometimes the hydrolysis of glucosinolates produces a compound known as goitrin, which has been found to interfere with thyroid hormone synthesis.
- Hydrolysis, the breakdown of indole glucosinolates, will also result in the release of thiocyanate ions, which has been reported to compete with iodine for uptake by the thyroid.
The Linus Pauling Institute notes that an 88-year-old woman went into a coma and suffered from hypothyroidism after consuming 2.2 - 3.3 lbs. of raw bok choy for several months. This is an extreme example that demonstrates certain active components of cruciferous vegetables may affect optimal function of the thyroid.
WHAT TO REMEMBER MOST ABOUT THIS ARTICLE:
Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and Brussels sprouts contain glucosinolates, which are sulfur-rich compounds that give these vegetables their unique flavor. However, when cruciferous vegetables are heated during cooking, it inactivates their healthy enzymes to reduce their overall health benefit.
Fortunately, the beneficial microflora in your intestinal tract can easily absorb these healthy compounds to give you the vital nutrients you need, and you can also ferment your cruciferous vegetables if you have a difficult time eating them raw. The fermentation process will preserve the valuable enzymes in cruciferous vegetables and pre-digest your food so that your body can receive all the essential nutrients that it is craving! Additionally, the healthy compounds found within cruciferous vegetables are also believed to prevent cancer by purging harmful carcinogens from the body.
- Oregon State University Linus Pauling Institute. http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/foods/cruciferous/.
- LePine, Todd. "The Gut-Brain Connection: An Inside Look at Depression." http://www.slideshare.net/metametrix/the-gutbrain-connection-an-inside-look-at-depression.
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