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You've heard that broccoli prevents cancer--should you take broccoli sprouts?

You may have heard that a substance found in Brassicas (such as broccoli) protects against cancer. But do Brassicas really help prevent cancers? And if they do, should you just eat more broccoli or should you consider taking this substance in another form?

The news about broccoli's cancer-preventive capabilities made news when the first George Bush was president (even though he wasn't a big fan of the vegetable). Then in 1992, Paul Talalay, MD and his research team at Johns Hopkins University discovered why broccoli fights cancer. A substance called sulforaphane glucosinolate (SGS) reduces the risk for some cancers. What was truly remarkable about this research was Talalay's team found that SGS was at least 20 times stronger in three-day old broccoli sprouts than in the mature vegetable.

There's nothing mysterious about SGS. It's an antioxidant--one of over a hundred different carotenoids. But unlike other carotenoids, it has a unique ability to "turn on" and boost Phase-2 detoxification enzymes. This sounds technical, but it's really not.

In May 2005, I talked about Phase-1 and Phase-2 detoxification ("Unless You Do It Right, Detoxification Can Cause More Problems Than It Solves"). If you don't still have that issue, you can read this article on my website:

Simply speaking, Phase 2 makes toxins soluble in water so they can be eliminated through liquid wastes. Many detoxification programs fall short of this and are not effective. They break down toxins (Phase 1) but don't emulsify them into easy-to-eliminate substances. These toxins can then be reabsorbed and cause more serious problems than if you did nothing. Phase 2 is the key to effective detoxification.

Obviously, anything than encourages Phase 2 detoxification can help your body get rid of carcinogenic substances that could lead to cancer. And research proves it.

For instance, a study from the University of Illinois found that SGS stops the growth of late-stage breast cancer cells. And it does much more. It actually causes cancer cells to destroy themselves.

I predict that further studies will reveal that Brassicas are beneficial in preventing other types of cancers. Meanwhile, we're finding that SGS also has a positive effect on cholesterol levels and vision.

Recent broccoli sprouts news

This year, a small Japanese study found that people who ate just three-and-a-half ounces of broccoli sprouts a day for one week had lower cholesterol and higher HDL (healthy cholesterol).

Another study at the University of Kyoto found that the SGS in broccoli protects cells in the retina against damage from both chemicals and UV rays of the sun. This means it protects against macular degeneration.

So, we know there's a valuable nutrient in Brassicas. Does this mean that you should take Broccoli sprouts or just eat more broccoli?

Sprout supplements vs. veggies

Like my good friend and mentor, Betty Kamen, who is celebrating more than 50 years of lecturing and writing books on nutrition, I always prefer food before supplements. There are so many Brassicas to choose from that it's easy to increase your SGS with a few dietary changes alone.

Here are just a few possibilities. Whip steamed cauliflower with garlic to make a mashed potato substitute. Add arugula to your salads. Make Asian sauteed vegetables with bok choy and Chinese cabbage. And, of course, eat more broccoli.

If you're at high risk for cancer, or if you've had cancer in the past, you may want higher amounts of SGS. Especially if you're not using anything else to stimulate Phase-2 detoxification. In this case, I'd suggest eating broccoli sprouts or drinking a Brassica tea.

You can find BroccoSprouts, one brand of broccoli sprouts, in many local health food stores. Just one ounce contains 73 mg of SGS. Teas with added SGS extract contain 15 mg of SGS per cup. This means you'd need to drink five cups of tea to equal one ounce (half a cup) of sprouts.

What about sprouts versus a serving of broccoli? Well, it takes more than a pound of broccoli a day (one-and-a-quarter pounds, to be precise) to equal the SGS in one ounce of broccoli sprouts. And what's more, not all sprouts contain the same amount. In fact, the levels of SGS can vary tremendously from product to product.

Make sure the sprouts you buy have the "Brassica Protection Products" seal on the label. This ensures you'll get a product that has a guaranteed high level of SGS. For more detailed information, look up Brassicas on the Internet at


DIM (Diindolylmethane) is a nutrient that's also found in Brassica vegetables. Some women with breast cancer, or at a high risk for this disease, take it because it blocks estrogen. If you have estrogen-receptor dominant breast cancer, DIM might be a good supplement to take. But if you want to protect yourself from a number of cancers that have nothing to do with estrogen, SGS, broccoli sprouts, or eating more Brassicas would be a better choice.

Singh, S. Cancer Research, March 2005.

Talalay, P. "Antioxidant functions of sulforaphane: a potent inducer of Phase 2 detoxification enzymes," Food Chem Toxicol, September-October 1999.

U.S. EPA. "Aceonitrile: Community right-to-know toxic chemical release reporting,"

Van Poppel, G., et al. "Brassica vegetables and cancer prevention. Epidemiology and mechanisms," Adv Exp Med Biol, 1999.

Yodoi, J. Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science, March 2005.
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Publication:Women's Health Letter
Date:Oct 1, 2006
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