Researchers in the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University have discovered yet another reason why broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables are so good for you: They contain a compound called sulforaphane that provides not just one, but two ways to prevent cancer through the complex mechanism of epigenetics.
Epigenetics is the study of genetic code and the way that diet, toxins and other forces can change which genes get activated. This can play a powerful role in everything from cancer to heart disease and other health issues.
Sulforaphane was previously identified as one of the most critical compounds that provide much of the health benefits in cruciferous vegetables, and scientists also knew that a mechanism involved was histone deacetylases, or HDACs. This family of enzymes can interfere with the normal function of genes that suppress tumors.
“It appears that DNA methylation and HDAC inhibition, both of which can be influenced by sulforaphane, work in concert with each other to maintain proper cell function,” said Emily Ho, an associate professor in the Linus Pauling Institute and the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences. “They sort of work as partners and talk to each other.”
The one-two punch, according to the doctor, is important to cell function and the control of cell division.
“Cancer is very complex and it’s usually not just one thing that has gone wrong,” Ho said. “It’s increasingly clear that sulforaphane is a real multi-tasker. The more we find out about it, the more benefits it appears to have.”
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 can aid in cancer prevention.