The Beauty of Brassica's
Todays post is inspired by this beautiful purple broccoli bunch we received in our food box last night. Everyone's mum probably made them finish their broccoli before leaving the dinner table, and everyone probably resented this under appreciated nutritional powerhouse. What's so great about broccoli and its relatives anyway? How are they different form other green veggies?
Prepare to have your mind blown….
Broccoli and its relatives; Brussel's sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, bok choy, arugula, kale, horseradish etc, are members of the plant family Brassicaceae (also known as Cruciferae). They represent a group of especially potent healing foods with some very well studied phytochemicals (plant chemicals), that prevent cancer, protect us from environmental chemicals, heal our guts and help hormone balance.
1. They contain a class of sulfur compounds known as isothiocyanates. These are converted to sulforaphane when we chew or cut them up. Sulforaphane is a potent anti-inflammatory agent and heals the mucosa (lining) of the digestive tract, especially in people who are infected by the bacteria H. Pylori.
2. Cruciferous vegetables also contain compounds known as glucosinolates which are metabolized into indole-3-carbinol (I3C) and 3’3’-diindolymethane (DIM). These alter the way the liver metabolizes estrogen towards a safe estrogen metabolite (breakdown porduct), thus preventing various estrogen related cancers including breast cancer and cervical cell changes from forming.
3. Thiols and isothiocyanates present in these vegetables also directly prevent DNA damage while blocking the formation of tumors due to environmental toxins. In one rodent study, animals given I3C before exposure to breast cancer causing chemicals, DNA damage and cancer was reduced by 91%.
4. Sulforaphane up regulates the livers ability to clear environmental chemicals and is found in highest amounts in 3 day old broccoli sprouts (foreground of picture- sprouting post, coming soon!).
5. In men DIM helps block androgen receptors thus having an anti proliferative effect on prostate cancer cells.
6. Many studies have found that cruciferous vegetable consumption correlates to low cancer rates, however we are now realizing that people with a certain genetic variant are more protected by cruciferous vegetable photochemical than others.
I3C promotes apoptosis (cell death) by various mechanisms, but has found to be effective in breast, prostate, endometrium, liver, colonic, and white blood cell based cancers.
A few words of caution
While the cancer protective dose of I3C is between 6-7mg/kg, taking it as a supplement is contraindicated in pregnancy. Consuming 1/2 cup of cruciferous vegetables a day is recommended for women, but as heat destroys some of their medicinal properties, aim to eat them them raw or lightly steamed. While this amount is usually not a problem, consuming excessive amounts (ie. kale in a smoothie every day, plus broccoli for dinner and an arugula salad) may result decrease thyroid function and increase in serum TSH (blood test). Cruciferous vegetables are known as goiterogens and tend to bind up iodine, making it less available for thyroid hormone production. When eating cruciferous vegetables regularly, increase your intake of iodine (through seafood and seaweed-kelp or spirulina consumption). Interestingly Iodine also protects the breasts from cancerous changes, and seaweeds like kelp may inhibits binding of estrogen to receptors (thus being cancer protective), while also being high in other essential minerals.