“I do not like broccoli,” George Bush, Senior, once said, “And I haven’t liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I’m President of the United States and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli.”
If George Sr was trying to set an example for the American people, he “done em” wrong. In fact, broccoli is a wonder food. Past research has established the vegetable as helpful in preventing cancer, macular degeneration, heart attacks, strokes, and complications of diabetes. Now, a new study shows that broccoli also helps prevent chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD) — the fourth leading cause of death in the United States.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore found that patients with COPD had much lower levels of a certain gene known as “NRF2” when compared to subjects without the disease. In fact, the more advanced the COPD, the lower the levels of the gene. Because certain lung-protecting antioxidants depend on the NRF2 gene, when the levels of the gene decline so do the levels of the protective antioxidants. So, how in the world does broccoli affect genetics? Well, the Johns Hopkins researchers found that they could prevent decay of the NRF2 genes by introducing a substance naturally occurring in broccoli, called “sulforaphane.” By bolstering the supply of NRF2 genes, the sulforaphane simultaneously increased the supply of NRF2-dependent antioxidants and as a result, protected lung cells from damage caused by toxins and pollutants such as cigarette smoke, which the antioxidants remove from lung tissue.
This news is particularly important because COPD is so widespread, encompassing a group of lung diseases, such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis, in which victims experience blocked airflow and compromised breathing. As many as 24-million people in the US alone have the condition.
Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable, along with Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, horseradish, kohlrabi, and leafy greens including collards, bok choy, watercress, and kale. All vegetables in this family contain high levels of vitamin C and cancer-inhibiting phytochemicals, including the above-mentioned sulforaphane, as well as isothiocyanates, indoles, and dithiolthiones. Studies have found that these phytochemicals moderate the harmful effects of radiation, shrink tumors, and prevent the development of cancer in the first place.
For instance, a study from UCLA discovered that eating four servings of broccoli a week reduced the risk of colorectal cancer by 50 percent. And a 2005 study at Georgetown University discovered that mice exposed to high levels of carcinogenic tobacco components were far less likely to develop lung tumors when administered broccoli-derived isothiocyanates. A follow-up study found that the isothiocyanates targeted and killed off cancer cells in lung tissue while leaving healthy cells alone. Yet another mouse study (2004), from Gifu University in Japan, found that indole-3-carbinol — one of the phytochemicals in cruciferous vegetables –had strong anti-estrogenic properties and significantly reduced the incidence of endometrial tumors and cancers.
In 2001, researchers at Stanford University found that sulforaphane from broccoli activated enzymes that reduced the risk of prostrate cancer. In 2002, another experiment found that mice fed sulforaphane derived from broccoli seeds had 39 percent fewer stomach tumors than the control group, plus, they developed far fewer stomach infections and ulcers. The researchers in that case concluded that eating lots of cruciferous vegetables could actually “eradicate intracellular and resistant strains of Helicobacter pylori” and block the formation of stomach cancer.
These studies are just the tip of the iceberg. Dozens of other studies attest to the powerful anti-carcinogenic and health-promoting effects of these vegetables.
Which brings us back to George, Sr. He should have listened to his mother. Goodness knows where the US would be today had he (and later, his son) run on a platform of “Eat Your Broccoli.” Why, we’d all be calling that the Bush Doctrine now.
P.S. Broccoli sprouts (available in capsules) contain up to 100 times more anti-carcinogenic properties than the fully grown vegetable.