The scientists in the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University have shown that sulforaphane found at fairly high levels in these vegetables is an inhibitor of histone deacetylase, or HDAC enzymes.
HDACs are a family of enzymes that, among other things, affect access to DNA and play a role in whether certain genes are expressed or not, such as tumor suppressor genes.
HDAC inhibition is one of the more promising fields of cancer treatment and is being targeted from both a pharmaceutical and dietary approach, said scientists.
"It's important to demonstrate that sulforaphane is safe if we propose to use it in cancer prevention or therapies," said Emily Ho, associate professor in the OSU Department of Nutrition and Exercise Sciences and the study's lead author.
"Just because a phytochemical or nutrient is found in food doesn't always mean its safe, and a lot can also depend on the form or levels consumed. But this does appear to be a phytochemical that can selectively kill cancer cells, and that's always what you look for in cancer therapies," Ho stated.
The findings were published in Molecular Nutrition and Food Research, a professional journal.