The Health Benefits of Sulforaphane

Antioxidant, Anticancer, Anti-inflammatory

cruciferous vegetables, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale in wooden bowl


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Sulforaphane is a chemical compound rich in sulfur present in cruciferous vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, arugula, broccoli, and broccoli sprouts. It is thought to help prevent cancers and combat free radicals as an antioxidant.

Other research points to sulforaphane as an anti-inflammatory and DNA protector. In food form, sulforaphane is in the inactive form of glucoraphanin, a glucosinolate plant compound. Sulforaphane can also be obtained in supplement form.

In cruciferous vegetables, sulforaphane is inactive, stored as glucoraphanin, which converts to the active form of sulforaphane by an enzyme called myrosinase. For this activation to occur, you need to chop, cut, or chew the vegetable. Your gut bacteria also produce myrosinase, so cruciferous vegetables interact with it in the digestive tract.

The supplement form of sulforaphane is not regulated, so dosages and safety concerns are not clear. However, some research points to the benefits of consuming sulforaphane.

To make the right decision for you, read about the possible benefits as well as the available information on side effects and discuss any concerns with your healthcare provider.

Health Benefits

Sulforaphane has been studied extensively for a wide range of health benefits. However, many of these benefits need further research to back them up. 

Anti-cancer

Arguably the most promising research behind sulforaphane is for its potential to combat prostate cancer. Studies in animals and humans show that sulforaphane consumption may reduce prostate cancer incidence and spread (metastasis).

Sulforaphane has also been studied to prevent and treat other types of cancers, such as gastric, breast, brain, blood, colon, and lung cancer. It is thought to help in various ways, including boosting the effects of other cancer treatments and causing cancer cells to self-destruct (apoptosis).

Cardiovascular Health

Research for sulforaphane’s contribution to heart health includes its potential to lower cholesterol levels and prevent cardiovascular disease due to its anti-inflammatory properties. Since this research was performed on animals, more is needed to prove these effects in humans.

Blood Sugar Regulation

Some studies have shown that sulforaphane can help regulate blood sugar levels, particularly for people with diabetes. A small human study showed that consuming broccoli sprout extract rich in sulforaphane reduced fasting blood glucose levels in obese patients with type 2 diabetes.

Skin Damage

The damage caused by UV radiation can lead to skin cancer. Sulforaphane has been shown to increase the body’s cellular defenses against skin damage caused by UV radiation.

In this study, researchers used a topical application of sulforaphane-rich extracts from broccoli sprouts on mice and humans. The extract increased enzymes in the skin that help to protect it from UV radiation. This research is limited, and more needs to be done to give a clear picture of sulforaphane’s skin-protecting properties.

Autism

A small study has pointed to sulforaphane as a treatment for autism spectrum disorder (ASD), showing that the compound improved behaviors.

The researchers believe the behavioral improvements are due to sulforaphane’s ability to protect against oxidative stress, inflammation, and DNA damage, all of which are thought to contribute to ASD. More supporting research is needed.

Osteoporosis 

Bone loss due to lowered estrogen levels after menopause or ovarian removal can lead to osteoporosis. Some research points to sulforaphane as a treatment that could increase bone formation and volume.

However, this research has been performed on animals, and more is needed to confirm the potential of sulforaphane for osteoporosis. 

Brain Health

Sulforaphane has been touted as a brain health compound, as some evidence suggests that it may prevent aging and brain deterioration and improve memory. Its also been associated with protecting the brain from oxidative stress that can lead to conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Huntington’s disease, and multiple sclerosis.

Other studies show that sulforaphane may help neurons survive, and it also supports the development of new ones. However, this research on brain health has been performed on animals, and more studies need to be done to support the claims.

Possible Side Effects

Sulforaphane is generally recognized as safe for adults and children, with little risk of side effects. However, some side effects have been reported. These include:

  • Insomnia
  • Flatulence
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea 
  • Nausea

Not enough research has been done to know all of the potential side effects, particularly if the supplement is taken over a long time or in high doses.

Dosage and Preparation

The supplement form of sulforaphane is typically found in capsule, tablet, or powder form. Most often, the supplement is extracted from broccoli sprouts, broccoli seeds, or broccoli plants. Sometimes sulforaphane is combined with enzymes that are thought to increase absorption levels. 

There are no daily intake recommendations for sulforaphane, and supplement packages recommend a wide range of suggested dosages. More research is needed to determine how much sulforaphane is safe and ideal to take.

What to Look For

Since the Food and Drug Administration does not regulate sulforaphane, it is hard to tell what type of dosage or quality to look for when choosing a supplement brand. If you plan on taking sulforaphane, speak to your doctor or a pharmacist to help you make your decision.

When possible, choose a supplement that has been third-party tested by NSF or USP.

Other Questions

Here are some of the most common questions about sulforaphane answered.

What Foods Naturally Contain Sulforaphane?

Cruciferous vegetables are the best food source of sulforaphane, in particular broccoli and broccoli sprouts. Other cruciferous vegetables that contain sulforaphane include:

  • Cauliflower
  • Arugula
  • Mustard greens
  • Collard greens
  • Bok choy
  • Kale
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Kohlrabi

How Should Sulforaphane Foods Be Prepared?

Cooking foods high in sulforaphane may lower the amount that is available in the vegetable. Therefore eating them raw might be your best bet. Raw broccoli, according to research, has up to 10 times more sulforaphane than cooked.

Of course, eating raw vegetables isn't always the most convenient or flavorful way to consume them. You can steam broccoli and still obtain plenty of sulforaphane. Steaming is thought to be better than microwaving or boiling.

How Do You Maximize Sulforaphane?

To get the most sulforaphane you may want to try consuming broccoli sprouts. The sprout form of broccoli contains much more sulforaphane—up to 10 times what is found in the full adult plant. You can buy broccoli sprouts, grow them yourself, or even buy a broccoli sprout powder.

Some research says that bringing broccoli florets and sprouts to room temperature before eating it significantly increases the formation of sulforaphane.

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