We all know that eating vegetables is crucial for our health. However, there is one vegetable that stands above all the rest regarding its powerful health benefits – broccoli sprouts! In recent years, broccoli sprouts have emerged on the scene as a potent source of sulforaphane, an organosulfur compound found in cruciferous vegetables that has potent antioxidant effects. While sulforaphane is found in other cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and brussels sprouts, broccoli sprouts are by far the most abundant source. In this blog series, I will cover the numerous health benefits of broccoli sprouts and will give you step-by-step instructions on how you can start growing (and eating!) your own sulforaphane-dense broccoli sprouts at home.
What are broccoli sprouts?
Broccoli sprouts are three- to four-day-old broccoli plants that look like alfalfa sprouts but have the sharp taste of radishes. Broccoli sprouts are rich in glucoraphanin, a phytochemical that is the precursor to sulforaphane, a potent antioxidant compound. When broccoli sprouts are chewed, an enzyme in the sprouts called myrosinase is activated; myrosinase reacts with glucoraphanin to produce sulforaphane. While glucoraphanin is present in a wide variety of cruciferous vegetables, broccoli sprouts are the most abundant source; in fact, 3-day-old broccoli sprouts contain 10 to 100 times more glucoraphanin than mature broccoli! (1, 2)
Once sulforaphane has been produced in the body via the interaction of myrosinase and glucoraphanin, it activates Nrf2, a transcription factor that regulates gene expression. Once activated, Nrf2 travels to the nuclei of cells, where it interacts with the antioxidant response element (ARE) of specific genes to activate cellular defense mechanisms; these mechanisms have a wide array of beneficial effects on the body; research indicates that sulforaphane is a potent anti-cancer, hypolipidemic (lowers cholesterol), hypoglycemic (lowers blood sugar), immunomodulatory, antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and neuroprotective compound. Sulforaphane is also lipophilic, which means it can cross the blood-brain barrier to exert beneficial effects on brain tissue. In this first blog post on broccoli sprouts and sulforaphane, I'd like to focus on the effects of broccoli sprouts on symptoms of autism.
Sulforaphane from Broccoli Sprouts Reduces Autism Symptoms
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has exploded in prevalence over the past two decades. In 2000, 1 in 150 American children were diagnosed with autism; today that figure has changed to 1 in 68! There is a pressing need for effective, safe therapies for children with ASD that can help correct the core characteristics of the disorder, including impaired social interaction, restricted and repetitive behaviors, and gastrointestinal dysfunction.
Interestingly, recent research indicates that broccoli sprouts may be just the sort of treatment the autism community has been seeking! A 2014 double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized trial (the “gold standard” of scientific research) found that sulforaphane-rich broccoli sprouts significantly alleviated behavioral symptoms of ASD in young men between the ages of 13 and 27 years of age. Of the 26 subjects who took sulforaphane-rich broccoli sprout extract, 17 (65%) experienced statistically significant improvements in social interaction, aberrant behavior, and communication. (3) The researchers proposed that broccoli sprouts may help correct ASD symptoms by increasing the expression of genes that regulate “underperforming cellular signaling pathways” common amongst autistic individuals, such as the Nrf2 and glutathione pathways. Increased activity of these pathways alleviates oxidative stress, antioxidant deficiency, depressed glutathione synthesis, impaired mitochondrial function, elevated lipid peroxidation, and neuroinflammation, which are critical biochemical features of autism. (4)
Another study published in Molecular Autism found that 12 weeks of supplementation with a broccoli seed and sprout blend significantly improved social responsiveness and decreases urinary metabolites indicative of oxidative stress, inflammation, mitochondrial dysfunction, and gut microbiota disruption in autistic children. (5)
While broccoli sprouts may not be a cure for autism, this research suggests that they may be a useful adjunct therapy in the treatment of this complex condition. I am personally very excited to see what other research comes out on broccoli sprouts, sulforaphane, and their impact on autism! I will do my best to stay on top of the research and provide regular updates to you.
How to grow your own broccoli sprouts at home
The health benefits of broccoli sprouts appear to hinge on the regular consumption of them; in other words, broccoli sprouts are not a "quick fix," temporary treatment. To make broccoli sprouts a consistent, affordable part of your diet, I recommend growing your own at home! I recommend Food to Live Organic Broccoli Seeds, Ball glass jars with special sprouting lids (these allow for air flow and water drainage as you grow your sprouts), and a sprouting stand for each jar to facilitate water drainage – you don’t want to drown your sprouts in water!
Instructions for growing broccoli sprouts:
Add two tablespoons of broccoli seeds, such as Food to Live Organic Broccoli Seeds, to a wide-mouthed glass quart jar. Cover with a few inches of filtered water and cap with the sprouting lid. Store in a warm, dark place overnight.
8 hours later, drain off the water and rinse with fresh water. Drain the fresh water.
Place the sprouting jar upside down at a 45-degree angle on a sprouting jar stand. Place in sunlight.
Rinse and drain the sprouts every 8 hours for approximately 5 days, or until the leaves are dark green.
Once the sprouts are dark green, they are ready to eat! I recommend tossing them into salads and wraps. You can store the sprouts in a mason jar with a standard lid in the fridge.
Calculating glucoraphanin and broccoli sprout dosages
To determine the dosage range of glucoraphanin/sulforaphane used in the clinical trials I’ve mentioned here, let’s do a little math:
In the clinical trials, the dosage of broccoli sprout extract is standardized for glucoraphanin, the precursor to sulforaphane. Assuming (optimistically) that all the glucoraphanin will be converted into sulforaphane in the body by myrosinase, let’s use the glucoraphanin measurements that were provided.
In the urinary metabolites study, the subjects received broccoli sprout extract ranging in dosage from 222 micromol of glucoraphanin (GR) per day to 555 micromol/day, depending on their body weight. To find out how many mg of glucoraphanin that is, we need to use the following equation:
moles of x = grams of x/ molar mass of x
The molar mass of glucoraphanin is 437.493 g/mol
Taking the low end of the dosage range, 222 micromol GR per day, we get this equation:
0.000222 mol GR = x grams of GR/ 437.493 g per mol
When we work through this equation, we arrive at a dosage of 97.1 mg of glucoraphanin per day. This amount of GR is found in approximately 100 g of broccoli sprouts. This means you’ll likely want to consume at least 97 mg of glucoraphanin per day or 100 g of broccoli sprouts if your goal is to see improvements in autistic symptoms.
Using the same equation outlined above, the high end of the dosage range (555 micromol of GR/day) means you’d need to consume 243 mg of glucoraphanin or 248 g of broccoli sprouts.
You may need a small food scale to weigh your broccoli sprouts so you can get as close to the 100-248 grams of sprouts/day dose as possible.
I hope you’ve found this post helpful! Stay tuned for upcoming posts on the other health benefits of broccoli sprouts!
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