out our mothers may have been onto something when they told us
to eat our vegetables — especially our broccoli.
compound found naturally in broccoli and other cruciferous
vegetables may reduce some of the harmful effects of Type II
diabetes in overweight adults, according to new research by
Jed Fahey, a nutritional biochemist and an associate professor
at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and a team
of researchers in Europe and the United States.
article on the findings appeared in the journal Science
Translational Medicine in June.
who is director of the Cullman Chemoprotection Center at the
medical school, served as an author of the study along with
colleagues based in Sweden, Switzerland and elsewhere in the
the first time Hopkins researchers have illuminated the
healthful powers of broccoli.
predecessor as director of the research center, the renowned
pharmacology professor and experimental generalist Paul
Talalay, isolated the compound sulforaphane as a phytochemical
(a chemical produced by plants) in the early 1990s.
faith communities host challenges, health initiatives to
encourage healthier living
years later, Talalay made international headlines — and
sparked broccoli sales around the world — by demonstrating
the compound’s effectiveness in boosting the body’s
ability to resist cancer.
Fahey also showed that broccoli sprouts — three- to
four-day-old broccoli plants — have 50 to 100 times the
cancer-fighting power as the mature stalks typically sold in
Science called the findings among the top 100 scientific
discoveries of the 20th century, and researchers at Hopkins
and elsewhere have since tested the chemical’s effectiveness
in helping the body fend off pathologies from autism and
osteoarthritis to Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
pounds sensibly and making weight loss stick
study was the first to test it against Type II diabetes, a
chronic and increasingly widespread metabolic disorder that
affects more than 29 million Americans and 420 million people
around the world, according to the World Health Organization.
world’s most common form of diabetes, Type II arises when
the body can no longer properly use insulin, a hormone that
regulates blood sugar. As a result, blood sugar levels soar.
disorder increases a patient’s likelihood of developing
heart disease, eyesight problems, kidney failure and stroke.
the study was comparatively small and short-term, the results
are tentatively promising for the treatment of diabetes.
shows that sulforaphane is useful not only for cancer
prevention but it also demonstrates anti-diabetes and many
other activities," said Fahey, who spent 15 years in the
biotechnology industry before joining the Hopkins faculty at
Talalay’s invitation in 1993.
four years ago that Anders Rosengren and Annika Axelsson,
research endocrinologists at the Lund University Diabetes
Center in Sweden, reached out to Fahey for his help in getting
the study under way.
several colleagues had come across several papers suggesting
that sulforaphane — a compound that broccoli, cabbage, kale,
bok choy and other vegetables in the pungent cruciferous
category developed to protect themselves against unfavorable
and stressful conditions — might help human beings resist
Swedes’ thinking, in scientific terms, was simple.
has shown that sulforaphane, by its very molecular makeup, has
an unusual effect: it accelerates the body’s production of a
common but important protein known as Nrf2.
of Nrf2, in essence, is to regulate the creation of
antioxidants that repair stressed, damaged or decaying cells.
of sulforaphane kicks the creation of those antioxidants into
overdrive, bolstering at the cellular level the body’s
capacity to resist a wide range of malfunctions.
molecule [Nrf2] is responsible for shouting out to cells, ‘You’re
in trouble; you’re being attacked by sunlight, by
ultraviolet light, by toxins. You’ve got to up your game,
you’ve got to enhance your protective strategy,’"
Fahey said. "Nrf2 is a crucial regulator, and
sulforaphane is one of the most potent inducers of that
the liver of a normal person creates energy by producing
glucose, a type of sugar, and releasing it in regulated
amounts into the bloodstream, individuals with Type II
diabetes can produce as much as three times the needed amount.
malfunction occurs because a patient’s cells have been
weakened by exposure to stressful conditions, the Swedes
theorized, perhaps sulforaphane would help.
research proceeded in three phases.
they chose more than 3,800 drugs whose gene signatures they
saw as likely to match up well against the pattern of gene
expression associated with Type II diabetes.
found through a complex form of mathematical cross-referencing
that sulforaphane overlapped most closely with the diabetic
group then began working with Fahey, who is known for the
highly potent freeze-dried form of broccoli sprout extract he
creates at Hopkins.
of experiments using the extract showed that sulforaphane
reduced the overproduction of glucose in liver cells the
scientists had grown in a lab — and that it did the same in
the livers of rats with diabetes.
final step was to test sulforaphane in humans. The team
conducted a 12-week randomized study involving 97 adults with
Type II diabetes. About a third of them had a form of the
disease that the widely used drug metformin and recommended
lifestyle changes had failed to control.
researchers gave about half of the group a dose of the extract
each day, the rest a placebo.
who received the extract saw a decrease by an average of 10
percent in their glucose levels — enough, the team says, to
reduce complications in the eyes, kidney and blood.
with the least controlled cases of diabetes — and subjects
who were obese — saw the greatest drops. Subjects who were
not obese experienced no appreciable change.
Ho, a nutritional biochemist at Oregon State University, also
has studied the health effects of sulforaphane.
results of the study are "definitely promising" even
though "a more comprehensive study with a larger study
group is needed, especially to tease out long-term safety and
the sustainability of effects in patients," said Ho, the
director of Moore Family Center for Whole Grain Foods,
Nutrition and Preventive Health at Oregon State.
agreed that the study calls for follow-up.
want to see other people replicate your results or go them one
better," he says.
are more than enough to support the belief Fahey and his
Hopkins colleagues have long promoted — that science has
shown people don’t have to wait until they develop
full-blown illness to fortify their health.
balanced diet that contains plenty of well chosen whole foods,
he said — including broccoli sprouts, the cruciferous
vegetable with the most sulforaphane — can provide a range
of nutrients that work with the body to forestall illness and
extend our "healthspan" in life.
a patient man, Fahey struggles to hide his frustration when he
talks about Americans and their eating habits. Science clearly
shows that a diet centered on fresh, whole foods can ward off
fathom why so many people still have an appetite for junk
has been an uphill slog to convince people to eat a healthy
overall diet," he says. "We’ll keep trying to get
the word out."