Broccoli Boosts Aging Immune Systems

broccoli, cruciferous vegetableA chemical in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables may help to restore your immune system as you age. UCLA researchers found that the chemical, sulforaphane, switches on a set of antioxidant genes and enzymes in specific immune cells, which fight the damaging effects of free radicals.

Free radicals are a supercharged form of oxygen that can cause oxidative tissue damage -- for example, they can trigger the inflammation process that causes clogged arteries. Oxidative damage is thought to be one of the major causes of aging.

According to researchers, treating older mice with sulforaphane increased their immune response to the level of younger mice.

The ability of sulforaphane to reinvigorate the immune system abilities of aged tissues could play an important role in reversing much of the negative impact of free radicals.
Dr. Mercola's Comments:
Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, kale, turnips and cabbage are full of very powerful disease-fighting compounds, one of which is sulforaphane. This is one compound that appears to be quite a hard worker in keeping your body in top condition.

For instance, sulforaphane has been found to:
  • Boost cell enzymes that protect against molecular damage from cancer-causing chemicals.
  • Increase your liver's ability to detoxify carcinogenic compounds and free radicals. This in turn protects against cell mutations, cancer and other harmful effects.
  • Mobilize, or induce, your body's natural cancer protection resources and help reduce your risk of malignancy.
  • Trigger the production of phase II enzymes, which are among the most potent anti-cancer compounds known.
And now in this most recent study, it appears that sulforaphane also plays a role in preventing oxidative stress. While some level of oxidative stress is a normal result of your body processes, many, many factors, from pollution to obesity to mental stress, can cause an excess of free radicals in your body -- and this is associated with various chronic diseases and aging.

Sulforaphane, however, seems to stimulate a variety of antioxidant defense pathways in your body that can actually fight oxidative stress and slow down the decline in your immune system that happens with age, at least in this study on mice.

In theory, this means that eating vegetables that contain sulforaphane could quite literally slow down the hands of time.

Of course, I know that the burning question on everyone’s mind is …

How Much Broccoli do I Need to Eat?

The amount of nutrients in any vegetable are rarely set in stone. The quality of the soil, how they’re grown (organically or conventionally), how fresh they are, and how they’re cooked all play a role. But, generally speaking, are you wondering how much broccoli you would need to eat to get some of the health benefits mentioned above?

Well, a team of researchers from Johns Hopkins University attempted to calculate how much broccoli you would have to eat in order to produce a significant degree of protection against cancer. They found that you would have to eat an average of about two pounds of broccoli a week in order to reduce, say, your risk of colon cancer by about 50 percent.

However they also ran into problems with this estimate, as depending on the factors I listed above, some broccoli turned out to be “high-inducers” of certain enzymes that provide protective benefits, while others were “low-inducers.” And when the researchers analyzed 22 varieties of fresh broccoli, and seven brands of frozen, their enzyme-inducing abilities varied significantly.

So what’s a health-conscious person to do?

Eat Some Broccoli Sprouts

If you’re looking for the variety of broccoli that will pack the most nutritional punch, broccoli sprouts are as close to a “sure thing” as you will get. Because sprouts are just beginning their growth process, they are packed with high concentrations of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and more. The nutrition in sprouts is so concentrated that they are said to be among the healthiest ways to consume vegetables, and broccoli is no exception.

According to the researchers at Johns Hopkins, just 5 grams (0.17 ounces) of broccoli sprouts contain concentrations of the compound glucoraphanin (a precursor to sulforaphane) equal to that found in 150 grams (5.2 ounces) of mature broccoli.

So you would need to eat 30 times the amount of mature broccoli to get the same nutritional benefits as one serving of broccoli sprouts.

Broccoli is NOT Good for Everyone

As the old saying goes, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure, and this saying can definitely be applied to food. Broccoli may be great for you, or it may push your biochemistry out of balance. How do you know which it is for you? By finding out your nutritional type.

Nutritional typing is based on your genetics, biochemical makeup, family history, and your own interaction with your environment, and it is the only system that customizes nutrition based on the way your body reacts to food.
And, as always, listen to your body when it comes to broccoli. Personally, I do not care for broccoli, and that is a giant clue. I am a protein nutritional type, and broccoli pushes my biochemistry in an unhealthy direction.

If you don’t care for broccoli either, no worries. There are plenty of other vegetables and vegetable sprouts out there that offer just as much nutritional punch as broccoli. So find the varieties that you love, and that correspond to your nutritional type, and indulge in those freely.