A cancer preventing compound in broccoli, first isolated a decade ago at Johns Hopkins, may protect against a much broader spectrum of diseases.A new study shows that the compound, sulphoraphane, helps cells defend themselves for two or three days against highly reactive and toxic molecules called oxidants.
Unlike standard anti-oxidants that use the molecular equivalent of hand to hand combat, broccoli's compound is a covert operative that works indirectly.Oxidants are like molecular hit men, damaging DNA and killing cells, eventually leading to cancer, retinal degeneration, atherosclerosis and other ocnditions unless they are neutralised.
According to the investigators it turns out that sulphoraphane's anti-cancer properties and its indirect anti-oxidant effects are both due to its ability to make cells create a diverse group of enzymes, called "phase 2" enzymes, that protect against cancer by blocking select chemicals from becoming carcinogens.
The scientists studied sulphoraphane's effects on a variety of cell types and oxidants in laboratory experiments, they report in a recent issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Sulphoraphane is particularly abundant in three-day-old broccoli sprouts.