Photograph of sulforaphane under the microscope

Sulforaphane is a naturally occurring sulfur-containing isothiocyanate derivative that helps to mobilize the human body's natural cancer-fighting resources and reduces the risk of developing cancer. Within hours of being ingested, sulforaphane enters the bloodstream where it circulates widely to trigger the immune system response to carcinogens. The phytochemical acts by inducing a series of proteins termed phase 2 detoxification enzymes, which act as scavengers for cancer-causing molecules before they can damage DNA and promote cancer.

Broccoli, one of the least popular vegetables, contains relatively high concentrations of sulforaphane and appears especially beneficial in detoxifying enzymes in the body. The lackluster appeal of broccoli is probably due to the fact that one-quarter of the human population contains "supertaster" genes, which act on the tongue to detect bitterness in this and other similar Brassica vegetables.

In the past several years, scientists have discovered a new and highly concentrated source of sulforaphane. A team of researchers fed three-day old broccoli sprout extracts to groups of rats previously exposed to dimethylbenzanthracene, a powerful carcinogen. Rats that received the extracts developed fewer tumors, and those tumors that did grow on treated rats had smaller sizes and extended development times. Subsequent studies have determined that broccoli sprouts contain 20 to 50 times the amount of chemoprotective phytochemicals found in mature broccoli heads.

The lesson here: eat your vegetables. Regardless of how bitter they might taste, vegetables will lower your risk of developing many common cancers, such as malignancies of the breast, stomach, lung, and prostate gland.

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