Broccoli contains a phytochemical that’s one of the most potent activators of cell-protecting enzymes known to science.
Switching on these enzymes boosts defenses against heart disease, neurodegenerative disease, diabetes and cancer. But the benefits don’t stop here.
This phytochemical also combats viruses and guards against respiratory illnesses. That means it would make a valuable addition to any immune support protocol you’re using to defend against COVID-19.
Harms Insects But Safeguards Humans
This amazing broccoli phytochemical is called sulforaphane.
Plants like broccoli release sulforaphane to protect against predators, such as insects that might feed on stems, leaves and florets. To insects, sulforaphane is toxic, but when humans bite into broccoli, sulforaphane triggers mild toxicity that — far from doing harm– actually triggers the production of protective enzymes that safeguard the whole body.
For example, these enzymes protect human cells against free radicals, toxins that damage DNA, inflammatory chemicals and even solar radiation.
Researchers first discovered sulforaphane’s super power three decades ago, when studies revealed sulforaphane stirs these enzymes or their genes into action, ramping up their activities to shield cells from harm.
Since then, lab studies have shown these enzymes protect against many different forms of cancer and a broad range of chronic diseases. Sulforaphane also targets microbes such as viruses.
Reduces “Viral Load”
Scientists from the University of North Carolina (UNC) studied the effects of sulforaphane-rich broccoli sprouts against the flu virus. They found that drinking a shake containing the sprouts reduced markers of flu viral load in the nose.
A follow-up study found the broccoli sprout shake enhanced production of peripheral natural killer (NK) cells. NK cells are immune cells that play a major role in the body’s ability to get rid of virally infected cells. (NK cells are also an important weapon against cancer, which is why broccoli and sulforaphane figure prominently in anticancer eating plans.)
The research team concluded that their virus finding “supports continued investigation into understanding how specific nutritional supplementation can enhance respiratory antiviral defense responses.”
Last year, scientists from the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences published research confirming the results of the UNC study. After their research into sulforaphane and the flu virus the Chinese scientists wrote, “naturalsulforaphane from broccoli seeds showed potential as an agent against influenza A virus infection.”
Meanwhile in Taiwan, a research team found sulforaphane suppressed hepatitis C virus replication. They wrote, “We believe that sulforaphane may serve as an antiviral agent or a potential lead compound for the development of new antiviral therapeutics.”
It’s important to note that none of the research into sulforaphane has been carried out specifically on the COVID-19 virus, so it isn’t possible to say with certainty that sulforaphane will offer protection. However, one of the dangers of the COVID-19 virus is that it can cause acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) that in some cases leads to death. In early research, sulforaphane is proving helpful in protecting the lungs against ARDS.
Inflammation and Respiratory Distress
A severe case of flu, pneumonia or COVID-19 can trigger acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). During ARDS a patients’ lungs become severely inflamed and can’t provide the body with enough oxygen to survive, so patients have to be put on a ventilator.
To most Americans who have been paying attention, this description sounds all too familiar. So it’s valuable to know there’s a food that can help.
In cell culture, sulforaphane diminished the inflammatory damage to the lungs caused by an ARDS-like lung inflammation process, and remarkably, doubled the survival time of rabbits with ARDS.
In a human study with smokers, a broccoli sprout shake reduced virus-induced markers of inflammation in the lungs.
New Help For Asthma
Sulforaphane has also been shown to enhance the detoxification of airborne pollutants that could damage the lungs.
And a study led by Johns Hopkins’ researcher Jed Fahey found sulforaphane increases lung protection in asthmatics. Dr. Fahey and his team believe the plant chemical is “a potential therapy to treat asthma.”
Dr. Fahey also led a team in the study of sulforaphane against Helibacter pylori (H. pylori)– the bacterium that’s strongly linked to peptic ulcers and stomach cancer. In this study sulforaphane demonstrated “dramatic protection” against H. pylori infection.
How to Get Sulforaphane
Broccoli sprouts contain the highest amount of sulforaphane found in food. They can be purchased from health food stores, or you can make your own from broccoli seeds.
For those not partial to either broccoli or the sprouts, you can also find sulforaphane in Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, and bokchoi. You probably recognize these as members of the cruciferous family.
A 2011 study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry found that eating the whole vegetable provides more sulforaphane than taking a supplement.
But here’s something you need to know: sulforaphane doesn’t just sit there in broccoli waiting to be consumed. It’s created when the broccoli is damaged. Specifically, a sulforaphane precursor, called glucoraphanin, mixes with an enzyme called myrosinase when you chew or chop the broccoli, resulting in sulforaphane.
Myrosinase is destroyed by cooking. So to be sure your broccoli dish contains useful amounts of the enzyme, you want to avoid over-cooking. Just stir fry it, steam it lightly or boil it for no more than five minutes. That way your broccoli will have enough myrosinase and glucoraphanin to react and form sulforaphane.
Study researchers found that chopping broccoli and then letting it sit for up to 90 minutes allows the most sulforaphane to develop. And it’s delicious in salads or dipped in a sauce without being cooked at all.
You can also find sulforaphane supplements such as Optimized Broccoli and Cruciferous Blend, available from the Life Extension Foundation; Avmacol, produced by Nutramax Laboratories; and BrocElite Plus from Epiceutical Labs.