Study Suggests Sprouts Block Ulcers and Cancer

Study Suggests Sprouts Block Ulcers and Cancer

Rx: broccoli for thestomach

RickWeiss The Washington Post

Wednesday,May 29, 2002
 

Badnews for those who can't stomach broccoli: New research suggests that broccoliis especially good for the stomach.

 

Acompound found in broccoli and broccoli sprouts appears to be more effectivethan modern antibiotics against the bacteria that cause peptic ulcers. Moreover,tests in mice suggest the compound offers formidable protection against stomachcancer - the second most common form of cancer worldwide.

 

Ifscheduled human tests confirm the findings, a daily snack of tangy broccolisprouts could become a medically indicated staple, especially in Asia, where theulcer bacteria and stomach cancer occur in epidemic proportions.

 

Thenew work, led by scientists at Johns Hopkins University, is the latest in a10-year series of studies on the cancer-fighting potential of broccoli. Itstarted in 1992, when a Johns Hopkins pharmacology professor, Paul Talalay, andhis colleagues showed that sulforaphane, a substance produced in the body from acompound in broccoli, could trigger the production of protective enzymes thatcan dispose of toxic chemicals. The so-called phase II enzymes can detoxifycancer-causing chemicals and are among the most potent anti-cancer compoundsknown.

 

Scientistshad known for years that cancer is less common in people who eat morevegetables, but the broccoli studies were among the first to point to aparticular chemical that might account for much of that protection. Thediscovery made big news, in part because it came soon after a comment byPresident George Bush about his personal distaste for broccoli, a culinary biasthat his son the current president has indicated he shares. Subsequent studiesfound that sulforaphane could prevent the development of breast and coloncancer, as well as other tumors, in mice. Then Talalay's team found that the keyprotective chemical compound in broccoli - glucoraphanin, which the body turnsinto sulforaphane- is at least 20 times more concentrated in three-day-oldbroccoli sprouts than it is in broccoli.

 

Asingle ounce of sprouts, 28 grams, has as much glucoraphanin as 500 grams ofcooked broccoli, offering a simpler and less flatulent means of consumingpotentially healthful quantities of the protective agent.

 

Talalayand a co-worker, Jed Fahey, founded a company to make the sprouts for grocerystores. So it was as economic stakeholders - limited under Johns Hopkins'sconflict-of-interest rules - that they and their collaborators began testing theeffects of sulforaphane on the bacterium Helicobacter pylori. The microbe, foundglobally but especially in Asia, causes ulcers and increases the risk of gettinggastric cancer threefold to sixfold.

 

Faheysaid the study arose after he learned that two employees at a broccoli sproutfacility with long-standing ulcers had apparently been cured after they took upsnacking on the sprouts.

 

Workingwith researchers from the National Scientific Research Center in Nancy, France,the team found that sulforaphane easily kills H. pylori, a microbe that isnotoriously difficult to eradicate even with combinations of two or threeantibiotics.

 

Inseparate studies involving mice that were dosed with a chemical known to causestomach cancer, mice pre-treated with sulforaphane had 39 percent fewer tumors.

 

Thefindings, published in Tuesday's online edition of Proceedings of the NationalAcademy of Sciences, do not mean broccoli can cure ulcers or prevent stomachcancer in people.

 

"Onequestion is, would you have to eat a ton of broccoli a day to get enough of thisto be effective?" said Frank Gonzalez, a scientist at the National CancerInstitute.

 

ButFahey said he was optimistic.

 

"Thelevels that are effective in test tubes are levels that could be achieved byeating a serving or so of broccoli sprouts, based on the chemistry weknow," he said. "This isn't one of those rat studies in which you need400 times the maximum amount a human could handle."

 

Talalaysaid the group was preparing to start a clinical trial in Japan to test thesprouts' effectiveness in people infected with H. pylori. About 80 percent ofJapanese adults harbor the microbe in their stomachs, one reason that gastriccancer is the No. 1 cancer killer in Japanese women and No. 2 after lung cancerin Japanese men.

 

Themicrobe is similarly common and deadly in many parts of the world whereantibiotics are unavailable or unaffordable, Talalay said.

 

"Gratifyingly,this is a dietary approach," he said, "which is the only approachfeasible or practical if you want to knock down the incidence of this veryserious disease in the parts of the world where it is most prevalent."