Benefits of Sulforaphane
This potent phytochemical is well studied for:
- promoting detoxification
- boosting the brain
- helping the body create cancer-fighting compounds
- supporting healthy heart function
- increasing glutathione as an Nrf2 activator
- promoting weight loss
- slowing aging by activating heat-shock proteins
- boosting liver function
- reducing inflammation and pain
- stopping and reversing hair loss.
Now, let’s break down each of those benefits to understand why:
Sulforaphane in broccoli sprouts boosts the body’s natural detoxification mechanisms in several ways. As an indirect antioxidant, it boosts the antioxidant capacity of cells rather than just by providing antioxidants (like astaxanthin and similar antioxidants do).
Sulforaphane activates the Nrf2 and ARE pathways (more on these below). This leads to increased cellular glutathione in the body. Since glutathione is the master antioxidant, this has far-reaching benefits for the body.
2. Brain Boosting
Sulforaphane is also really, really good for the brain. It is considered a nootropic (brain-boosting substance) because it has the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier.
Studies are underway in humans after mouse studies showed that this compound reduced depressive symptoms and anxiety. Other studies found that it increases neurite growth. This means that it may help damaged neurons repair after injury or from aging.
Additionally, randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled studies in humans have shown that sulforaphane may have the ability to improve autistic behavior checklist scores by 34%! The studies also showed improvement in social interaction and verbal communication in patients with autism spectrum disorder.
3. Protecting Against Cancer
We already know that Brassica vegetables help protect against cancer. In fact, eating just 3-5 servings a week reduces cancer risk by 30-40%, according to studies! This drastic reduction in cancer risk is a great reason to eat these veggies daily, but there are other cancer-protective benefits as well.
Sulforaphane has been shown to:
- target cancer cells while protecting healthy cells
- kill breast cancer cells, cervical cancer cells, liver cancer cells, prostate cancer cells, and colorectal cancer cells in clinical studies
- prohibit the growth of cancer cells while encouraging the growth of health cells
- inhibit skin cancer and bladder cancer development in mice studies
- increase the efficacy of anti-cancer drugs (meaning a lower dose can be used).
4. Supporting the Heart
We already know that sulforaphane is a potent antioxidant and that it increases the body’s own antioxidant producing capabilities. For this reason, it is very anti-inflammatory and can reduce reactive oxygen species by increasing oxygen levels. Both of these mechanisms make it good for the heart and may explain why studies show it has a heart-protective effect.
But sulforaphane also benefits the heart in a couple other ways. It releases hydrogen sulfide (H2S), when chewed. This compound donate sulfur where necessary and for this reason has a cardio-protective effect.
Studies also found that it helped reduce blood pressure levels in those with hypertension and lowered triglycerides.
Finally, sulforaphane reduced levels of total cholesterol, LDL-C, CRP, and LDH (in animal trials).
5. Increasing Glutathione as an Nrf2 Activator
Perhaps one of the biggest benefits of SFN is the activation of Nrf2. This benefit is tied to many of the benefits above, but deserves its own mention.
A special protein called Nrf2 lives in every cell of the body. When activated (by stress), it binds to ARE (Antioxidant Response Element), which is the switch that controls antioxidant production in the body. So when Nrf2/ARE activates, your body starts making glutathione and other antioxidants. This reduces inflammation and helps the body protect against disease.
Sulforaphane is a potent Nrf2 activator.
6. Promoting Weight Loss
As an Nrf2 activator, sulforaphane may also promote weight loss by “amelioration of obesity through enhancing energy consumption by browning of adipocytes, and reduction of metabolic endotoxemia through improving gut bacterial flora,” according to a 2014 study at Kanazawa University.
In other words, sulforaphane helps fight obesity by changing energy consumption in the body and by improving gut flora.
7. Slowing Aging by Activating Heat Shock Proteins
Sulforaphane activates heat-shock proteins in the body, especially HSP27. Heat-shock proteins can help slow aging and improve brain function. Sauna use also activates heat-shock proteins but chowing down on some broccoli sprouts is a good way to up levels of these proteins without the heat.
One study by the National Academy for the Sciences (U.S.) shows SFN mobilizes defenses that protect against cellular damage from UV light. This is why I increase my broccoli sprout consumption in the summer, so I can get the benefits of Vitamin D from the sun without worrying about aging more quickly from the sun exposure.
8. Boosting the Liver
SFN supports the liver by reducing oxidative stress. It also may improve alcohol tolerance and reduce the negative effects of alcohol by inducing aldehyde dehydroenases.
9. Reducing Inflammation and Pain
As you would expect, SFN can reduce inflammation and pain due to its antioxidant-boosting activity. But studies show that sulforaphane can have specific benefit against pain and inflammation when combined with high-quality turmeric or concentrated curcumin.
10. Stopping and Reversing Hair Loss
Dihydrotestosterone (DHT) suppresses hair growth and leads to androgenic baldness. SFN increases the production of enzymes in the body that break down DHT. In studies, SFN reduced DHT levels in the blood and reverse the suppression of hair growth.
Cautions & Downsides of Sulforaphane
There had to be a catch, right? Things that sound too good to be true often are. Thankfully, when it comes to sulforaphane and broccoli sprouts, the risks seem minimal compared to the benefits.
We still need more human studies on sulforaphane to know the long-term effects. Initial studies are divided. Some show no negative effects even at large doses. Other show an increase in long terminal repeats (LTRs) which may lead to mutations within genes.
Interestingly, most negative effects were found from mature broccoli or broccoli juice. For instance, one study on mature broccoli noted genotoxic effects at high doses, but the same results were not seen with broccoli sprouts. In another, a rat suffered liver toxicity after drinking extremely high doses of broccoli juice.
Anecdotal evidence shows that some people experience minor gastrointestinal discomfort when eating large doses of broccoli sprouts. Some experts speculate that this is from positive changes in gut bacteria, but it is still a good idea to start slow.
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