Eating broccoli can help protect against heart disease and even undo the damage that diabetes wreaks on blood vessel cells because it contains a potent compound called sulforaphane.
Two studies conducted in 2008, one done by American researchers and the other by a British team, came to this conclusion.
Findings of a study conducted by a team from the University of Connecticut’s cardiovascular research center suggest that eating broccoli may trigger the production of proteins that protect against heart damage. The study was published in The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry in 2008.
For the study, rats were fed a broccoli extract for a month, and the effect on their heart muscle was then measured.
Compared with animals whose diet did not include the daily broccoli extract, the hearts of the ‘broccoli rats’ functioned better and displayed less damage when deprived of oxygen.
According to researchers, broccoli contains sulforaphane, which triggers production of the protein thioredoxin in the body. Thioredoxin protects against cell damage in the heart.
But the researchers said broccoli should be steamed lightly to achieve the most powerful effect: “If broccoli is overcooked it loses a lot of its protective effect,” said Professor Dipak Das, who led the research team.
Undo diabetes damage
That same compound found in broccoli—sulforaphane—also encourages the production of enzymes that protect the blood vessels and a reduction in the levels of molecules that cause significant cell damage, another study found.
Writing in the August 4, 2008 issue of the journal Diabetes, researchers said their findings suggest that eating broccoli could reverse the damage caused by diabetes to heart blood vessels.
Damage to blood vessels in people with diabetes is what causes these people to become up to five times more likely to develop cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and strokes.
In their study done on cultured blood vessel cells, researchers from the University of Warwick cultured human blood vessel cells (microvascular HMEC-1 endothelial cells) in low and high glucose concentrations of three and 30 mMoles.
They then tested the effects of sulforaphane on blood vessel cells damaged by the hyperglycaemia or high glucose levels associated with diabetes.
They did this by assessing increases in molecules in the body called Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS), because hyperglycaemia can cause the levels of ROS to three-fold and high levels of ROS can damage human cells.
They also assessed the effects of adding sulforaphane on multiple pathways of biochemical dysfunction, and other metabolic processes.
The Warwick researchers recorded a 73 percent reduction of ROS caused by hyperglycemia in cells treated with sulforaphane.
They also found that sulforaphane activated a protein in the body called nrf2—short for NF-E2-related factor-2—that protects cells and tissues from damage by switching on genes that increase antioxidants and a number of protective and metabolic enzymes.
“Our study suggests that compounds such as sulforaphane from broccoli may help counter processes linked to the development of vascular disease in diabetes, lead researcher Professor Paul Thornalley said.
Dr. Iain Frame, director of research at the charity Diabetes UK praised the research, saying it was encouraging the team had “identified a potentially important substance that may protect and repair blood vessels from the damaging effects of diabetes.”
But he cautioned that the research done on cells in the lab had to be confirmed by animal and human trials.
Dr. Thornalley agreed, saying “in the future, it will be important to test if eating a diet rich in brassica vegetables has health benefits for diabetic patients. We expect that it will,” he said.