Broccoli can lower the risk of bowel cancer

We knew broccoli was a superfood that helps fight cancer, but it was always feared that cooking the vegetable for too long prevented us from getting the full benefit.

However, researchers have discovered that eating three helpings a week can lower your risk of bowel cancer – even if it is overcooked.

Their findings show the body can still absorb the powerful cancer-fighting compound sulforaphane, using bacteria in the gut to release it from its parent chemical.

Professor Elizabeth Jeffery explained: ‘Many people overcook their broccoli, unwittingly destroying the plant enzyme that gives us sulforaphane.

Now we know the microbiota in our digestive tract can salvage some of this important cancer-preventive agent even if that happens.’

‘This discovery raises the possibility that we will be able to enhance the activity of these bacteria in the colon, increasing broccoli’s cancer-preventive power.’


Scientists had long suspected microbes in the intestines could perform this trick, but no one knew for certain.

However, after a trial on rats at the University of Illinois, Professor Jeffery said: ‘The presence of sulforaphane in measurable amounts shows it is being converted in the lower intestine and is available for absorption in the body.’

The discovery could lead to new treatments for bowel cancer.

The findings are published the journal Food & Function.

Broccoli is a high-fiber cruciferous superfood that contains a powerful cancer-fighting agent called sulforaphane. How to make it even healthier? Scientists say just add yogurt.

Researchers at the University of Illinois discovered that friendly bacteria in the gut, known as probiotics, work a crucial magic on digesting broccoli, helping to release and absorb sulforaphane into the body.


So that broccoli really packs a punch, they suggest feeding the helpful bacteria in your gut with prebiotics, such as fiber, to encourage their proliferation. Another idea is to eat broccoli with probiotics, “combining, say, broccoli with a yogurt sauce that contains the hydrolyzing bacteria,” said study researcher Michael Miller in a news release on October 22.

Broccoli is special in that it is a rich source of sulforaphane, and eating less than one daily serving of broccoli is shown to be enough to have an anti-cancer effect. “With many of the other bioactive foods you hear about, vast amounts are required for a measurable outcome,” said Elizabeth Jeffery, a University of Illinois professor of human nutrition.

Why make a good food even better? Because many people overcook broccoli, which destroys the plant enzyme that gives your body sulforaphane, said Jeffery. “Now we know the microbiota in our digestive tract can salvage some of this important cancer-preventive agent even if that happens.”

Results from the study will be published in the November issue of Food & Function.

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