New research has discovered that a well-known compound in cruciferous veggies called glucosinolate has vigorous cancer-fighting properties. Glucosinolate is a biological compound found in almost all cruciferous vegetables in the Brassicaceae family including broccoli, kale, turnip, cabbage, cauliflower, rapeseed, mustard, and horseradish.
Yet, there’s so much more to this natural compound!
Let’s take a deep dive into glucosinolate and find out how it fights cancer and what other health properties it can imbue upon us!
What is Glucosinolate?
When you make that cauliflower pizza or steam some broccoli, you’re not only ingesting the flavor profile of the food, but also the biological profile of that food. And, when it comes to cruciferous veggies specifically, one such compound reigns somewhat supreme — glucosinolate.
Glucosinolates are actually inactive until they experience tissue disruption which initiates hydrolysis — a process in which “enzymes enhance molecular bonds with the addition of elements of water.” This process of hydrolysis unlocks “varying biological activities” and produce specific end products that are “the basis of the sensory characteristics typical of brassicas” — such as a bitter taste and pungent aroma — as well as their nutritional and health benefits.
These hydrolysis products include sulfur-containing compounds such as isothiocyanates — sulforaphane is included in this group! — as well as goitrin, thiocyanate ion, and nitriles some of which are known as antinutrients, while others are “considered to be responsible for the protective, anticarcinogenic effects of a cruciferous-rich diet.” The hydrolysis process and end products have also been found to be the originating sources of the “antifungal, antimicrobial, and insecticidal properties, and so contribute to the plant’s overall defense mechanism.”
How Glucosinolate Fights Cancer
While filled with vitamins and minerals, these glucosinolate-rich veggies are most well-known for their ability to fight cancer. How does it work?
“When you eat cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, the glucosinolates contained in them are broken down into compounds called metabolites. Metabolites are the naturally occurring substances that affect the pace of metabolism and trigger specific enzymatic reactions to help protect your cells from damage—including the damage that leads to cancer.”
It’s not only the populace that has found a new trend in plant-based eating and healing, but research has also taken an interest in plant-based healing properties.
In January 2009, a study entitled Cruciferous vegetable consumption and lung cancer risk was published on the American Association for Cancer Prevention: Cancer Epidemiology. A coordinated analysis “reviewed 31 epidemiological studies into the association between cruciferous vegetable intake and lung cancer risk and concluded that high intake may decrease the risk by anywhere from 17 percent to 23 percent.” When it comes to glucosinolates role, the analysis made note that “the anti-carcinogenic properties of cruciferous vegetables may be attributed to isothiocyanates derived specifically from glucosinolates,” which is supported by “several experimental and mechanistic studies.”
Another article published by the Department of Epidemiology at the Institute of Pharmacological Research in the Oxford Academic Annals of Oncology in 2012 reported that “the regular intake of cruciferous foods offered between a 17 percent and 23 percent reduction in the risk of colorectal, breast, kidney, esophageal, and oropharyngeal (mouth and throat) cancers.” The study spent a bit of time referring to the anticarcinogenic properties of isothiocyanate (ITCs) derived from broken down glucosinolates.
Lastly, in a May 2015 publication by the Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy at Rutgers entitled Dietary Glucosinolates Sulforaphane, Phenethyl Isothiocyanate, Indole-3-Carbinol/3,3′-Diindolylmethane: Anti-Oxidative Stress/Inflammation, Nrf2, Epigenetics/Epigenomics and In Vivo Cancer Chemopreventive Efficacy, the authors concluded that:
“Naturally occurring glucosinolates have been extensively used in … clinical studies, supporting the idea that dietary glucosinolates and their derivatives have potential beneficial effects for cancer prevention. In extensive mechanistic studies, robust chemopreventive effects have been observed by glucosinolate derivatives … demonstrating that they can modulate oxidative stress and inflammatory damage caused by exposure to various toxicants, such as environmental pollutants, carcinogens, dietary mutagens, and solar radiation, which can result in genetic mutations and molecular alterations that cause the initiation of carcinogenesis in normal cells.”
In short, glucosinolates not only fight preexisting cancer, but they also have the ability to protect against the stressors that cause cancer in the first place!
More Health Benefits of Glucosinolate
Along with fighting cancer, glucosinolates have also been found to act as “regulatory functions in inflammation, stress response, phase I metabolism, and antioxidant activities, as well as direct antimicrobial properties.” This means that beyond their ability to protect and fight cancer, cruciferous veggies have many other desirable health benefits.
Protection from Cardiovascular Disease
A study published in June of 2018 entitled Intake of glucosinolate and risk of coronary heart disease found that there was a slight decrease in risk of coronary heart disease in those that consumed a larger amount of glucosinolate-rich veggies. Not only did the participants consume more of these bioactive compounds, — as well as less red meat and a more diverse array of fruits and vegetables — but it was found that a “higher glucosinolate intake was associated with lower trans fat and a higher polyunsaturated fat-to-saturated fat ratio,” which are factors that either increase or decrease the likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease. Plus, it was also found that these individuals were also more physically active later in life, another factor that decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Glucosinolates are also well-known for their anti-microbial properties, referring to the act of “destroying or inhibiting the growth of microorganisms and especially pathogenic microorganisms.”
In June 2009, the Centre for the Research and Technology for Agro-Environment and Biological Sciences in Apartado, Portugal concluded a study entitled The antimicrobial effects of glucosinolates and their respective enzymatic hydrolysis products on bacteria isolated from the human intestinal tract. The study concluded that the byproducts of that hydrolysis process we spoke of earlier (such as isothiocyanates SFN and BITC) “have significant antimicrobial activity against Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria, and might be useful in controlling human pathogens through the diet.”
Simply put, glucosinolates potentially have the power to help fight bacteria in the human body!
Reduction in Inflammation
Inflammation goes hand-in-hand with a variety of chronic issues in the human body including cancer and cardiovascular disease. Luckily, along with their anti-microbial properties, cruciferous veggies are also well-known for their ability to fight inflammation and reduce the risk of other health issues.
When it comes to cruciferous glucosinolate-rich veggies and inflammation, you’ll want to take a close look at sulforaphane. This glucosinolate byproduct is an “anticarcinogen and antibacterial compound … which acts as a bodyguard by neutralizing free radicals, while also encouraging the production of antioxidant enzymes.”
On top of that, the National Cancer Institute compounded three different clinical studies that identified cancer-preventing properties of indole-3-carbinol — a byproduct of the hydrolysis of glucosinolate — one of which is its powerful anti-inflammatory effects. While the anti-inflammatory powers of glucosinolate are widely researched in cancer prevention and treatment, these properties have also been found useful in the treatment of other inflammation-related conditions such as Crohn’s disease.
It’s important to note that cooking your cruciferous vegetables may damage the glucosinolate compounds that you’re seeking to consume. On the other hand, cooking these veggies may increase other nutritional values. Therefore, try switching on and off between raw and cooked cruciferous veggies. Here are a few recipes to get you started on your glucosinolate-rich diet!
Raw Broccoli Flatbread
While eating raw broccoli may be a great way to get those glucosinolates, it can also wreak havoc on your digestive system. Broccoli is super tough which means it’s also harder to breakdown. This Raw Broccoli Flatbread recipe is the perfect compromise between cooking and completely raw. This recipe calls for a full two cups of raw broccoli florets — as well as glucosinolate-rich kale — which will be dehydrated along with a slew of aromatic herbs and flavorings.
Much like broccoli, cauliflower is another cruciferous veggie that may be difficult to digest raw. This Raw Cauliflower Creme Soup uses an entire small head of cauliflower (quite the helping of those glucosinolates!), soaked raw almonds, and healthy fat-filled coconut oil and olive oil. This creme soup begins the process of breaking down that cauliflower without adding heat that may damage the glucosinolates. Plus, with the addition of rosemary, nutmeg, salt, pepper, and sweet carrots, this soup is incredibly tasty and super palatable as a raw dish.
Slaw is not only a staple many American-based meals — a side of slaw at school or next to that burger or hot dog — but it’s also a wonderful way to consume raw cabbage, a glucosinolate-rich veggie. This Cabbage Slaw With Creamy Miso Dressing not only uses four cups of napa cabbage (sweet, crispy, and delicious!), but it trades out the traditionally sugar-rich mayonnaise dressing with this super healthy miso, olive oil, almond butter, and vinegar-based dressing.
We also highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 15,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!
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