Three-day-old broccoli sprouts mobilize the body’s natural cancer-fighting resources

Broccoli SproutsScientists at the John Hopkins School of Medicine have found a new and highly concentrated source of sulforaphane, a compound they identified in 1992 that helps mobilise the body’s natural cancer-fighting resources and reduces risk of developing cancer. "Three-day-old broccoli sprouts consistently contain 20 to 50 times the amount of chemo-protective compounds found in mature broccoli heads, and may offer a simple, dietary means of chemically reducing cancer risk," says Paul Talalay, M.D., J.J. Abel Distinguished Service Professor of Pharmacology.

The research suggested that broccoli can prevent the damage from ultraviolet light that often leads to skin cancer. And for those of you who can’t stand the stuff, you will surely appreciate that you would not even have to eat it!

In tests on people and hairless mice, a green smear of broccoli-sprout extract blocked the potentially cancer-causing damage usually inflicted by sunlight and showed potential advantages over sunscreens.

The product is still in the early stages of development. Among other issues to be worked out is how best to remove the extract’s green pigments, which do not contribute to its protective effects and would give users a temporary Martian complexion!

But scientists said the research represents a significant advance because the extract works not by screening out the sun’s rays – which has the downside of blocking sun-induced Vitamin D production – but by turning on the body’s natural cancer-fighting machinery. Once stimulated, those mechanisms work for days, long after the extract is washed away.

"Ultraviolet radiation is probably the most universal and abundant carcinogen in the world," said Paul Talalay of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, who led the research, published last week in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“And although the new study stops short of proving that broccoli extracts can prevent human skin cancer, it demonstrates ‘direct protection’ against that carcinogen” he said.

"It’s very important work – boosting production of the body’s own cancer-fighting mechanisms is a new and promising approach" said Michael Sporn, a professor of pharmacology at Dartmouth Medical School, who for nearly two decades headed the National Cancer Institute’s program on cancer prevention by means of natural products.

Broccoli’s rise from farm to pharma began in 1992 when Talalay and colleagues reported that broccoli – and especially three-day-old broccoli sprouts, they found later – is rich in sulforaphane, a compound that activates certain enzymes in the body.

Those "Phase 2" enzymes, such as glutathione S-transferase, can neutralize the DNA-damaging molecules that are created in the skin by the mix of oxygen and sunlight. They can also temper the inflammatory reactions that can turn precancerous cells into life-threatening tumors.

His team exposed areas of volunteers’ skin to intense ultraviolet light one to three days after the broccoli-sprout extract was applied to some areas. The extract was all but rubbed and washed away by the time the light exposure occurred, but by then the sulforaphane had turned on key genes in the skin cells, which beefed up production of Phase 2 enzymes.

Compared with untreated areas, spots treated with the extract had, on average, 37 percent less redness and inflammation – key measures of future skin cancer risk. Other tests have shown that mice treated with the extract get significantly fewer and smaller skin tumors after exposure to ultraviolet light.

Albena Dinkova-Kostova, co-leader of the new study with Talalay and now at the University of Dundee in Scotland, said several hurdles stand between the experiments and a broccoli-based anti-cancer skin cream.

Among them is the need to find the most effective concentration of sulforaphane, increase the active ingredient’s shelf life, and improve skin absorption of sulforaphane.

Then there is the extract’s green tint, which would be absent if the team were to synthesize the sulforaphane instead of getting it from sprouts. But that would raise safety and regulatory concerns.

"The advantage of starting with sprouts is that we all eat broccoli so we’re not concerned with toxicity issues," Dinkova-Kostova said, adding that she anticipated no problems getting the green out.

Extract of article by Rick Weiss Washington Post.


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