Broccoli is a Mediterranean cruciferous plant that packs a nutritional punch. This green vegetable is already touted as the natural wonder drug to ward off cancers, including breast cancer, bowel cancer, skin cancer and stomach cancer, as well as ulcers, gastritis and cardiovascular disease.
Another benefit of eating broccoli
Now experts at Linus Paul Institute of Oregon State University have come up with fresh evidence that broccoli could prevent certain kinds of cancer.
The experts verified that Sulforaphane, a primary phytochemical found naturally in broccoli, cauliflower, and other cruciferous vegetables, can safely kill cancerous cells in the prostate without harming body's healthy cells.
"Components of broccoli may have cancer-fighting properties," said lead investigator Professor Emily Ho, of the school's Linus Pauling Institute. "Broccoli contains a phytochemical called sulforaphane, that may be able to fight cancer."
"What's exciting about this new study that came out is that it doesn't have any effects on normal cells, which is really what you want in something that's trying to combat cancer," Ho said.
Sulforaphane specifically targets HDAC enzymes
Ho, who started researching the effects of broccoli on cancer in 2003, said the cancer-fighting compound Sulforaphane specifically targets an enzyme known as histone deactelyase, or HDAC for short.
HDAC enzymes, among other things, affect access to DNA and play a role in regulating the expression of genes that help fight cancer, such as tumor suppressor genes.
Inhibiting this enzyme is one of the more promising fields of cancer treatment, and scientists at various research facilities worldwide are focusing both on developing drugs and dietary approaches, scientists say.
"It's important to demonstrate that sulforaphane is safe if we propose to use it in cancer prevention or therapies," Ho said.
"Just because a phytochemical or nutrient is found in food doesn't always mean its safe, and a lot can also depend on the form or levels consumed,” Ho said. “But this does appear to be a phytochemical that can selectively kill cancer cells, and that's always what you look for in cancer therapies," she added.
Sulforaphane already proved effective in mouse models
Though previous studies have found sulforaphane instrumental in suppressing prostrate tumor growth in rodent models, no one has ever tested the safety of this compound.
"It is well documented that sulforaphane can target cancer cells through multiple chemopreventive mechanisms," the researchers stated in their study. "Here we show for the first time that sulforaphane selectively targets benign hyperplasia cells and cancerous prostate cells while leaving the normal prostate cells unaffected," the researchers noted in their findings.
“These findings regarding the relatively safety of sulforaphane to normal tissues have significant clinical relevance as the use of sulforaphane moves towards use in human clinical trials,” they added.
Ho and associates reported their findings in the journal 'Molecular Nutrition and Food Research.'