Broccoli contains a high amount of sulforaphane

Sebastian Grimm | 09.08.2021

Sulforaphane: What is it and how does it work?

Everything about the healthy broccoli extract

Sulforaphane: What effect does the plant substance from broccoli and co. achieve?

Have you ever heard of sulforaphane? Due to its considerable effect, the secondary plant substance has been the subject of increasing scientific research in the recent past. It is said to have not only a treating effect, but also a preventive one. We have taken a closer look for you and summarize what sulforaphane is and how it works.


What is sulforaphane?

It is a secondary plant substance that is found exclusively in various types of vegetables – for example, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower. It was first scientifically studied in 1992 at John Hopkins University in Baltimore. Today, current studies attribute many positive properties to the substance, including anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and antioxidant properties. Professor Talalay, a cancer researcher who published the first work on sulforaphane, got the ball rolling. His subsequent work is considered by many to be a milestone in the research of anticarcinogenic cabbage varieties.


What effect does science hope for that sulforaphane will have?

A plant containing higher levels of sulforaphane might be able to fight viruses, bacteria and fungal disease efficiently. Scientists in recent history have mainly studied its antioxidant properties. A distinctive feature of the substance is the fact that it neutralizes free radicals not in a direct way, but indirectly. Its contribution is made by the human liver, which activates detoxification enzymes. Studies already exist in the course of which the effect has been investigated in animals. Due to the indirect neutralization of free radicals, sulforaphane has an inhibitory effect on tumor cells and can, at least in animal studies, attack cancer cells that have been resistant to traditional drug therapies and chemotherapies.


Which plants and vegetables contain sulforaphane?

It is found in higher amounts in cruciferous vegetables in particular. This includes all cultivated cabbage varieties. If you are not yet sure which vegetables are included, you will find a small overview of the most well-known representatives below:


– Broccoli (especially highly concentrated in the sprouts)
– Cauliflower
– Horseradish
– Radish


History and origin of sulforaphane

The formation of the substance takes place naturally, thanks to a chemical process. For this, plant cells must first be damaged, which happens, for example, when an animal nibbles on them. Actually, the substance is a defense substance with which the plant tries to protect itself against herbivores.

Since the first studies at the beginning of the 1990s, much has been done in science. Among other things, research on sulforaphane is being conducted at Heidelberg University Hospital, more specifically at the Clinic for General, Visceral and Transplant Surgery located there. The physicians and scientists investigated the effect, particularly with regard to pancreatic carcinomas.


What role does sulforaphane play in the fight against cancer?

The popularity of these superfoods, which also include foods with milk thistle, is therefore no coincidence. The current study situation supports that positive effects could occur above all in the prevention of cancer, sometimes also in the supporting treatment. Scientists have not yet agreed on the dosage in which sulforaphane must enter the body in order to have an (optimal) effect.

An investigation of 80 studies determined that an above-average, regular consumption of the above-mentioned vegetables could reduce your risk of developing cancer. Particularly positive results were found with regard to stomach, colon and lung cancer. Another study, in which the effect was examined in mice, also came to positive results. The frequency and weight of breast tumors were reduced. Nevertheless, an official efficacy statement for sulforaphane food supplements has not yet been approved by the EU and products may not be advertised accordingly.


Back to the practice

Another interesting aspect is the integration of sulforaphane into traditional cancer therapies. Studies on the interaction between drugs such as sorafenib and sulforaphane took place at Heidelberg University Hospital. In these, it was determined that the natural plant substance enhanced the effect of the drug. Another particularly positive aspect is the fact that the plant substance enabled traditional cancer therapies to reach cells that had previously been unimpressed by them. For example, while sorafenib could only inhibit tumor growth in the short term, the effect was multiplied by the use of the plant substance.


Does sulforaphane also deliver benefits in the treatment of diabetes?

Diabetes, as much has long been known, has become a common disease. However, not every antidiabetic drug is suitable for every diabetes patient. Metformin, for example, is only suitable for around 85% of all diabetes patients affected by type 2, according to studies. A study comparing the effect of sulforaphane with that of a placebo again pointed to potential benefits. The portion of 97 subjects treated with the vegetable showed reduced blood glucose levels as the study progressed.


Might the vegetable power food even help with other diseases?

Foods containing milk thistle, cabbage and other power foods are supposed to make us healthier and more vital. It may also reduce the risk of serious diseases preventively or even, as just mentioned, support the treatment of these. Positive results from studies are also available in connection with stomach and intestinal diseases, for example gastritis or generally when the intestine is besieged with bacteria such as Helicobacter pylori. The bacterium does not necessarily lead to further intestinal diseases, but is considered a risk factor for stomach ulcers, gastritis and sometimes even stomach cancer.

There are also studies with positive results in connection with these diseases:


– Asthma
– Hay fever
– Alzheimer’s disease
– Arthritis
– Hair loss


For further explanation, it should be pointed out at this point that the study situation apart from specific cancer diseases is still very thin. After all, barely three decades have passed since sulforaphane was first isolated and researched, which is not necessarily a long time, at least in science. Nevertheless, the popularity of the plant substance, also in terms of the attention given among scientists, shows a positive trend.


About the dosage of sulforaphane

The vegetable substance is processed, apart from the vegetable actually containing it, for example in capsules – with 500 mg broccoli extracts, of which again 10% are allotted to Sulforaphane, which corresponds then to a daily dose. Taking sulforaphane in capsule form is also an alternative for people who are intolerant or sensitive to raw cabbage. The most common side effects of excessive consumption of cabbage include flatulence and bloating.

In the future, sulforaphane will undoubtedly continue to be researched intensively, sometimes even more so. The study results obtained in recent years and decades already indicate many positive properties. This is already interesting for scientists because of another explanation: actually, antioxidant vitamins are suspected of reducing the effect of chemotherapy in the body. In the case of sulforaphane, however, it appears that exactly the opposite is the case. From the scientists’ point of view, it will be important in the coming years and decades to find out why this is so and where the plant substance can still be used – either preventively and/or as a treatment.


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