Researchers at Oregon State University have discovered another reason why the “sulforaphane” compound in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables is so good for you. It turns out that sulforaphane provides not one but two ways to prevent cancer.
The key word is “epigenetics.” Epigenetics, where a lot of medical research is going these days, refers not just to our genetic code, but also to the way that diet, toxins and other forces can change which genes get activated, or “expressed.” This, in turn, plays a big role in major illnesses such as cancer and heart disease.
(Here are some more cruciferous-cancer-fighters: Cauliflower, Kale and Cabbage Could Fight Cancer.)
Years ago, science found that sulforaphane was a critical compound in the healthy benefits of cruciferous vegetables. Scientists also knew that a mechanism involved consisted of “histone deacetylases” (HDACs). This family of enzymes can interfere with the normal function of genes that suppress tumors.
HDAC inhibitors, such as sulforaphane, could help restore proper balance and prevent the development of cancer. This is one of the most promising areas of much cancer research. But now we have a second epigenetic mechanism, called “DNA methylation.”
I know it sounds quite technical, but these are the details when we talk about preventing cancer.
It appears that broccoli influences both DNA methylation and HDAC inhibition, which work together to keep your cells safe. This one-two punch is important to cell function and the control of cell division — which, when disrupted, is a hallmark of cancer. You could say that cruciferous vegetables are multitaskers.
DNA methylation is the normal process of turning off genes. It also helps control what DNA material gets read when cells communicate with each other. Cancer, aging, heart disease, and immune problems may also be linked to this process being disrupted.
Broccoli and its cruciferous cousins prevent such disruption. That is the second leg of their cancer-preventative nature. The latest study was made specifically on prostate cancer cells, but they suggest that the results may apply to colon and breast cancer as well.
Sulforaphane is particularly abundant in broccoli, but also found in other cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower and kale. Both laboratory and clinical studies have shown that higher intake of cruciferous vegetables could aid in cancer prevention.