Broccoli sprouts have previously been shown to reduce blood pressure in rats with hypertension due to the presence of a compound called glucoraphanin (Grn+). Sprouts are the richest source of Grn+, containing up to 50 times more than mature broccoli.
The research, published on-line in the journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (doi:10.1096/fj.05-4889fje), used spontaneously hypertensive stroke-prone rats and showed that adult offspring also benefited from the effects, even if they hadn't even eaten a sprout.
"The offspring of females on Grn+ diet also had lower blood pressure and less tissue inflammation in adulthood regardless of diet, with offspring placed on a Grn+ diet having the best outcomes," said lead-researcher Professor Bernhard Juurlink, from the University of Saskatchewan in Canada.
Glucoraphanin, also known as sulforaphane glucosinolate (SGS), is the precursor of sulforaphane, which works by inducing the body's natural Phase 2 enzyme antioxidant defences.
"Phase 2 inducers promote the production of phase 2 proteins which either promote scavenging of oxidants or decrease the chance of these oxidants being formed in the first place," said Juurlink.
It is clear that the feeding of females during pregnancy was not merely a temporary effect but had profound physiological changes in the offspring. The question now, says Juurlink, is how this permanent change was instituted.
Juurlink said that human trials are planned in the near future. If the effects are reproducible in humans then by adding 200 grams of sprouts three times a week could ease the long term burden of cardiovascular disease, a condition that causes about 50 per cent deaths in Europe, and costs the EU economy about €169 billion per year.
In 1992 researchers from John Hopkins University School of Medicine were the first to isolate SGS, and subsequently created Brassica Protection Products to develop and commercialise the broccolis sprouts in the US.
In December British researchers announced the development of Super Broccoli, which contains three times the levels of sulforaphane than normal mature broccoli, but still less than that found in the three-day old sprouts.