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Study: Broccoli Good for Leaky Gut and Other Digestive Problems

Broccoli.Raw fresh broccoli on old wooden table.

by Paul Fassa
Health Impact News

Among cruciferous vegetables, which include cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussel sprouts, broccoli seems to be the most researched for its antioxidant, cancer preventative, and anti-carcinogen qualities.

A 2017 study at Penn State University was centered on how broccoli and cruciferous vegetables may affect gut health, including permeability or leaky gut and other gut disturbances.

Leaky gut or gut permeability has been brought to the forefront of medical concern since it has been determined to be a source of many other maladies. Two major reasons for this are:

1. It blocks nutrient absorption from the small intestines into the blood stream.

2. It allows toxins from ingested foods to escape the elimination process and enter the blood stream.

These two concerns align with what Dr. Max Gerson, who created the Gerson Therapy for cancer and chronic disease, had proposed circa 1950 as the major causes of cancer and other non-infectious diseases, insufficient nutrition and overwhelming environmental toxicity. More on leaky gut syndrome here [1].

2017 Study That Determined Broccoli Benefits Leaky Gut

Recent medical research has shown how the gut affects our overall health, beyond poor digestion.

The gut could be considered the center of good and bad health.

According to Penn State Professor of Agriculture Sciences Gary Perdew, who was involved with the study:

There are a lot of reasons we want to explore helping with gastrointestinal health and one reason is if you have problems, like a leaky gut, and start to suffer inflammation, that may then lead to other conditions, like arthritis and heart disease.

Keeping your gut healthy and making sure you have good barrier functions so you’re not getting this leaky effect would be really big.

The study [2]was titled “Dietary broccoli impacts microbial community structure and attenuates chemically induced colitis in mice in an Ah receptor dependent manner.”

Right away we’re stuck with a term within the study’s title – Ah receptor. The code AHR is used within the study. Simply put, Ah receptor or AHR is short for Aryl hydrocarbon receptor. It is found in the cells of many tissues and organs.

AHR binds various environmental pollutants that include dioxins and biphenyls, to mediate by DNA repair and/or rearrangement the carcinogenic effects of these toxic agents within cells where the binding occurs.

The researchers focused on indole glucosinolates contained in cruciferous vegetables, which the stomach breaks down into several other compounds. One of them is indolocarbazole or ICZ. If ICZ activates the AHR (Aryl hydrocarbon receptor in the intestinal lining, it enhances gut barrier function and inhibits gut lining inflammation).

If inflammation occurs in the gut or small intestines, it leads to permeability or leaky gut and other gut disorders such as IBS (inflammatory bowel syndrome) or diseases such as Crohn’s and colitis. Additionally, this inflammation can be the basis for other diseases in other organs, including cancer.

The researchers used two types of mice that were given substances to create digestive issues. One type of mice were genetically inclined to binding ICZ with AHR while the other genetic line of mice were not so inclined to bind ICZ with AHR.

Then they added their choice of cruciferous vegetable, broccoli, to their diets and discovered the mice more inclined to bind ICZ (indolocarbazole) from broccoli consumption benefited while the genetically impaired mice did not fare as well and experienced toxic effects.

Prof. Perdew mentioned that the amount needed for humans would be equivalent to 3.5 cups of broccoli, which seems a bit much. He added:

We used a cultivar, or variety, with about half the amount of this chemical [indole glucosinolates > ICZ] in it, and there are cultivars with twice as much. Also, brussel sprouts have three times as much, which would mean a cup of brussel sprouts could get us to the same level.

The United States Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, and the National Institutes of Health funded this study. (Source) [3]

The take away from this study is to include a variety of cruciferous vegetables, not just broccoli, and rotate them daily for a weekly diet high in cruciferous vegetables. Here’s a list of all those veggies considered cruciferous that can be lightly steamed with some organic butter and lemon added, baked (Brussel sprouts) or raw:

Dr. Josh Axe, commonly known as Dr. Axe, is a “food as medicine advocate.” Dr. Axe quoted a 1996 meta-study that reviewed 94 studies and concluded:

A high consumption of cruciferous vegetables is associated with a decreased risk of cancer. This association appears to be most consistent for lung, stomach, colon, and rectal cancer and least consistent for prostatic, endometrial, and ovarian cancer.

Dr. Axe also mentions glucosinates as the source of anti-carcinogenic and cancer preventing activity. Glucosinates are sulfur rich compounds that are:

Broccoli Sprouts Much More Potent than Whole Broccoli and More Convenient to Use

A 1997 Johns Hopkins study [5]determined that broccoli sprouts are anywhere from 10 to 100 times more anti-carcinogenic than mature broccoli, depending on which variety or cultivar. The usually acceptable claim is up to 50 times more potent than mature broccoli.

Ironically, their study pointed out that the sprouts have less indole glucosinolates than mature broccoli, which the recent Penn State study considered a good thing with the right genes. Evidently, the wrong genes can create an undesirable toxic effect as noted in that Penn State study. (Johns Hopkins Abstract) [5]

Their discovery led to Johns Hopkins researchers patenting broccoli seeds for sprouting and demanding fines for sprouting farmers who didn’t pay them royalties.

But they did not create the seeds nor did they hybridize them. They simply discovered how potent they were. The Johns Hopkins researchers went entrepreneurial and created their own seed company, Brassica Protection Products (BPP) in 1999.

By 2001, the five growers who had been sued by BPP went to the U.S. Federal District Court of Maryland with the question,

Can a plant long well known in nature and cultivated and eaten by humans for decades, be patented merely on the basis of recent realization that the plant has always had some heretofore unknown but naturally occurring beneficial feature?

Judge William A. Nickerson agreed that it couldn’t. He declared all three BPP patents invalid. Ruling that phrases in BPP’s findings such as, “rich in glucosinolates,” or “containing high Phase 2 enzyme potential and non-toxic levels of indole glucosinolates and their breakdown products …” simply describe the inherent properties of certain cruciferous seeds. (Source) [6]

This video below offers a very detailed and comprehensive coverage of broccoli sprouts with various methods of DIY sprouting near the end.

You can also buy broccoli sprouts hydroponically grown from just about any supermarket. The convenience of shoring your body up with more sulforaphane from broccoli glucosinolates than broccoli involves no preparation if you buy the seeds already sprouted.

But it’s better to sprout your own with organic broccoli seeds purchased online or from a good health food store. After sprouting organic seeds with purified water, which takes longer with broccoli than most other sprouts, you’ll have the convenience of adding them often to salads, sandwiches, and eggs.

Of course it’s wise to include all the cruciferous sources discussed in this article as dietary staples if you wish to use food as your first medicine. Here’s the short instructional video for sprouting broccoli.