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Broccoli could help the brain heal

By Alex McNally , 19-Sep-2007

A substance found in broccoli could help preserve the integrity of a barrier protecting the brain following injury, according to an animal study.

Research published in the Journal of Neuroscience suggests the chemical sulforaphane, which is found in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, could help boost the condition of the blood-brain barrier if it is damaged. If the results are translated into humans, the study could come us another boost to broccoli, which has also been labelled as a superfood due to its high nutrient content. Indeed sales of superfoods are predicted to grow from €5,872m ($8,013m) in 2001 to €7,448m ($10,163m) by 2011 according to Datamonitor. This rise has been attributed largely to consumer demand for healthy food. Jing Zhao and his team looked at how sulforaphane treatment of uninjured and brain-injured rats increased cortical expression of Nrf2-driven genes.


The blood-brain barrier is a membrane structure that acts primarily to protect the brain from harmful chemicals in the blood, while still allowing essential metabolic function. The researchers found that: "Tight junction proteins are key to maintaining barrier integrity, and they decline after brain injury. "Sulforaphane attenuated the loss of these proteins as well as the loss of endothelial cells and also reduced the injury-related increase in barrier permeability and brain edema." The team added that in the rats: "Administration of sulforaphane increased activity of NF-E2-related factor-2 (Nrf2). Nrf2 binds to the antioxidant response element (ARE), influencing expression of so-called cytoprotective proteins."


NutraIngredients.com has not seen the full study prior to publication. Broccoli has been linked to a series of health boosting arenas in the past. A study in July suggested that eating more than one serving of broccoli and cauliflower a week may reduce the risk of prostate cancer by up to 45 per cent. Epidemiological and animal studies have shown that diets high in cruciferous vegetables result in less instances of certain cancers, especially lung, colon, breast and ovarian cancer, while the study suggests the veggies may also benefit prostates.


Writing in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, researchers from Canada and the US reported that an increased intake of cruciferous vegetables was associated with a 40 per cent reduction in prostate cancer risk, with broccoli and cauliflower singled out as offering most protection. "High intake of cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli and cauliflower, may be associated with reduced risk of aggressive prostate cancer," wrote lead author Victoria Kirsh from Cancer Care Ontario.


Over half a million news cases of prostate cancer are diagnosed every year world wide, and the cancer is the direct cause of over 200,000 deaths. More worryingly, the incidence of the disease is increasing with a rise of 1.7 per cent over 15 years.

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