Sulforaphane as a Supplement: What Does it Do?
Nature equips plants with robust defense systems to protect themselves from other organisms. One of these defenses is a naturally occurring compound called sulforaphane.
The chemicals, or polyphenols, have no negative effect on humans when ingested in reasonable amounts. In fact, some of these polyphenols, like sulforaphane, in precise amounts have actually proven to be good for humans. Like, really good.
Sulforaphane is a sulfur-rich, natural plant compound found in many cruciferous vegetables. This family of vegetables includes plants like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, bok choy, and kale. This compound is linked to a wide array of health benefits that include both heart and digestive health.
When the compound is still in the vegetable, it’s an inactive form called glucoraphanin. When the inactive form comes in contact with myrosinase, sulforaphane is activated. The Myrosinase enzymes are only released when a plant is damaged. So, to activate the sulforaphane, the vegetable must be cut, chopped, or chewed.
Vegetables are highest in sulforaphane when they are still raw. Raw broccoli has ten times the compound that cooked broccoli contains. To optimize the sulforaphane and keep from losing large amounts of it, experts recommend steaming vegetables for three minutes. Boiling or microwaving the vegetable results in the loss of nutrients.
Why Eat Sulforaphane or a Sulforaphane Supplement?
There are many potential benefits of consuming sulforaphane that are still being studied by researchers.
- Potential to increase immune function
- One study points to the potential for Sulforaphane to increase the body’s immune response against the flu. It boosts the production of natural killer cells that produce antiviral enzymes.
- Possible anticancer effects
- Cancer, a regularly fatal disease, is considered an uncontrolled growth of cells. Studies show that Sulforaphane has natural anticancer properties. In many trials, the compound reduced the size and number of different types of cancer cells. They might also prevent cancer by releasing antioxidant enzymes against carcinogens. The studies used concentrated forms of sulforaphane not found in fresh foods. Though, populations that eat more cruciferous vegetables have a lower recorded rate of cancer.
- Sulforaphane has chemoprotective properties. It inhibits carcinogens from binding to DNA. It’s anti-inflammatory, which is beneficial to cancer prevention because inflammation can play a role in some types of tumor formation. Researchers have evaluated the possible role of sulforaphane in cancer treatment and prevention becasue of these characteristics.
- One randomized, double-blinded study, published in 2020, looked at 40 adults in palliative chemotherapy with pancreatic cancer. The researchers reported that, though not statistically significant, the survival rate was higher in the treatment group during the first six months after intake compared to those in the placebo group. In addition, supplementation did not severely impact their self-care and overall abilities.
- Research published in 2019 studied the effects of sulforaphane supplementation on prostate cancer progression. Researchers put 49 subjects into two groups: a control group given soup made with standard broccoli and a test group that received soup containing broccoli with enhanced concentrations of glucoraphanin, respectively.
- After 12 months of eating a portion of broccoli soup each week, people in the test group had a dose-dependent reduction in prostate cancer progression.
- In addition, a 2016 study looked at the association between cruciferous vegetable intake and specific tumor biomarkers. Researchers evaluated 54 people scheduled for breast biopsies after abnormal mammogram findings.
- They found that total cruciferous vegetable intake was associated with decreased cell growth in breast tissue. However, other compounds in broccoli may have contributed to these findings.
More Sulforaphane Benefits
- May boost heart health
- Sulforaphane may reduce the risk of heart problems by reducing inflammation which leads to the narrowing of arteries. Some studies even found that sulforaphane reduced the high blood pressure in rats and had the potential to prevent heart disease.
- A 2015 paper reviewed how sulforaphane might be protective against cardiovascular disease. Both clinical studies and animal experiments demonstrated that sulforaphane is potentially protective against heart diseases. This includes both hypertension and atherosclerosis.
- Possible antidiabetic effects
- Type 2 diabetes is a disease that affects millions of people worldwide. It’s a malfunction in the transport of sugar from the blood to the cells. This makes it difficult to maintain a healthy blood sugar level. A study found that sulforaphane reduced fasting blood sugar levels by 6.5% and improved the A1c as well.
- A double-blind study in 2012 examined the effects of broccoli sprouts on insulin resistance in people with type 2 diabetes. Researchers analyzed glucose and insulin levels in 63 people who received placebo or broccoli sprout powder for four weeks. Results showed a significant decrease in serum insulin concentration and resistance in those receiving 10 grams per day of broccoli sprouts.
- Potential Anti-inflammatory
- While our body does need some inflammation, chronic inflammation is an issue of your body attacking its own cells. Rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, allergies, celiac disease, transplant rejection, and autoimmune diseases are all inflammatory. Sulforaphane works against inflammation, activating the Nrf2 pathway. It combats oxidative stress and inflammation throughout the entire body.
- Slow Weight Gain
- Sulforaphane is thought to reduce weight gain while eating a high-fat diet. A study showed that mice eating high-fat foods and sulforaphane were able to stop fat formation. It also reduced inflammation and oxidative stress caused by obsesity.
- Potentially Reduce the Effects of Muscular Dystrophy
- A group of disorders that cause progressive muscle weakening, Muscular dystrophy can cause death in severe cases. In a study of mice with muscular dystrophy, sulforaphane caused activation of the Nrf2 pathway which decreased muscle inflammation. In another mouse study, sulforaphane improved muscle function and reduced the oxidative stress on already-affected muscles.
What Can You Get Out of Eating Sulforaphane Foods?
Other studies have demonstrated several other possible uses for sulforaphane. Some of which include:
- A potential treatment for autism symptoms.
- A study found that daily doses of sulforaphane for 18 weeks improved symptoms of autism-like social interactions. After stopping the supplement, interaction and communication scores dropped back down to levels pre-supplementation.
- Another study, published in 2018, looked at autism treated with sulforaphane from broccoli. Fifteen children with ASD and related neurodevelopmental disorders participated in the 12-week study.
- The researchers studied behavior and social responsiveness to sulforaphane supplementation. After the 12 weeks, both behavior and social responsiveness improved; however, only the change in social responsiveness was significant.
- Possible protection against sun damage.
- Some studies show that the phytonutrient might actually protect against ultraviolet damage to the skin.
- May protect against brain damage.
- In a few animal studies, sulforaphane might be able to improve recovery and reduce decline after a brain injury.
- May improve constipation.
- In a study using broccoli sprouts, it was discovered that eating 20 grams a day for four weeks relieves constipation symptoms.
Sulforaphane Foods and Supplements
When ingested, sulforaphane activates an NRF2 pathway. This increases the expression of cellular protective genetics. They regulate things like:
- Essential for balance and detoxification.
- Haem oxygenase
- Broad protection against oxidative stress and redox regulating. It's an anti-inflammatory with immune-modulating properties.
- Quinone Reductase
- This redox regulating and detoxifying enzyme includes protection against oestogen quinone. It also stabilizes the p53 tumor suppressor protein
- Removal of heavy metals such as mercury and cadmium.
- Peroxisome proliferator-
- This is an activated receptor. It regulates adipogenesis and is a central integrator of glucose metabolism, energy homeostasis, and skeletal metabolism.
Where to get Sulforaphane?
For people with budgetary restraints, and a little extra time, self-grown broccoli sprouts are a great way to get sulforaphane. The sprouts are easy to grow. You just have to use a little bit of innovation to make it work for your home.
For supplies, you will need:
- Wide mouth quart size canning jars.
- Sprouter lids to fit the wide-mouth jars.
- Organic broccoli sprout seeds. Raab is not the same thing as broccoli seedlings, so be sure you are buying the right thing.
You can grow in a rotation of jars and freeze your sprouts as soon as they are ready to be picked. You can also store them in your refrigerator if you don’t plan to leave them for very long. Harvested every three days or so, the sprouts contain more of the essential nutrients when they are young.
You do not have to worry about heating the sprouts to increase the bioavailability of the sulforaphane. The sprouts digest just fine and heating them risks disabling the myrosinase enzyme, which you don’t want to do.
Fresh Broccoli Sprout Dosage
Studies showed that 140g of fresh sprouts slowed the doubling rate of a cancer biomarker by 86%. One hundred grams of fresh sprouts lowered serum triglycerides by 18%. It also reduced inflammation for type two diabetes. On average you want to aim to consume between 100-140 grams of fresh broccoli sprouts. This is based on an approximate equivalent of 1 gram of sprouts to 0.425mg of sulforaphane. The quart-size canning jars yield approximately 280 grams of fresh broccoli sprouts.
You probably don’t want to eat the sprouts straight. The best bet is to add them to smoothies with other ingredients to cover the flavor. Try not to juice them- this removes the prebiotic fibers essential to your gut’s microbiome.
If you don’t want to grow broccoli sprouts, you can purchase supplements instead. You need to be careful about which supplement you use. Many brands of supplements don’t contain the nutrients they claim to contain.
There are three ways to get sulforaphane:
- Pure Sulforaphane
A free-form stabilized version of sulforaphane called Prostaphane is sold in the United States under the name BROQ. Their capsules have 10 mg of sulforaphane. The dosage is usually 2 capsules a day after eating. Never take them on an empty stomach.
- Glucoraphanin + Myrosinase
Avmacol contains glucoraphanin extracted from broccoli seeds. It also includes myrosinase, the activation enzyme. Their regular tablet has 15mg of sulforaphane glucinosalate per tablet and the extra strength contains about 30mg. Due to the lower bioavailability of this product, the tablets are equal to 5.25mg per tablet of sulforaphane for regular strength, or 10.5mg per tablet for extra strength.
- Glucoraphanin only
This supplement contains glucoraphanin but no activation enzyme. Our guts usually contain enough bacteria to convert the compound into sulforaphane. Since everyone’s gut is different, this is the least optimal option.
Supplements are best for people at high risk for infection. Homegrown sprouts do have the potential for bacterial contamination. Sprouts processed into supplements are much less of a risk.
A Secondary Natural Source
Moringa is a powder made from the leaves of the drumstick tree. The leaves are harvested, dried, and powered with similar properties to sulforaphane. The compound in Moringa is called isothiocyanate. It can be used to make a cold brewed tea by adding moringa to room temp water and letting it stand for ten minutes. The suggested ratio is 1:100 powder to water.
For every 8 ounces of liquid, you would use 5 grams or ½ teaspoon of powder.
Do not make it into hot tea. The myrosinase enzymes within moringa are heat sensitive. You need to make room temp or cold tea to preserve it.
Precautions and Side Effects
Always be sure to speak to your healthcare provider before starting new supplements. While there is no established dose limit for sulforaphane, some evidence of toxicity has been found in higher doses.
When consumed in food form, sulforaphane is safe for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. When taken in concentrated supplement form, the effects on pregnancy are unknown. Always speak to your doctor before beginning a new supplement, especially if you are pregnant.