WebMD Health News
Louise Chang, MD
April 6, 2009 -- Munching on broccoli sprouts may help protect the stomach from the germ responsible for many cases of gastritis, ulcers, and stomach cancer.
A new study shows that eating 2 1/2 ounces of three-day-old broccoli sprouts every day for at least two months may offer at least some protection against the bacterium Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), one of the most common bacterial infections in the world.
Researchers say it’s the first study to show a beneficial effect of broccoli sprouts on a bacterial infection behind stomach cancer.
Broccoli sprouts are much higher than mature broccoli heads in delivering a biochemical called sulforaphane, which has previously been shown to have potentially anticancer effects. The compound appears to work by triggering the body, especially the gastrointestinal tract, to produce enzymes that protect against damage-causing chemicals and inflammation.
"We know that a dose of a couple ounces a day of broccoli sprouts is enough to elevate the body's protective enzymes," researcher Jed W. Fahey, MS, ScD, of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, says in a news release. "That is the mechanism by which we think a lot of the chemoprotective effects are occurring.”
In the study, published in Cancer Prevention Research, 48 Japanese adults (average age 55) infected with H. pylori were randomly assigned to eat 2 1/2 ounces of broccoli sprouts or an equal amount of alfalfa sprouts every day for two months.
The results show that the participants who had eaten broccoli sprouts had significantly lower evidence of H. pylori presence in stool studies and breath tests. They also had less evidence of inflammation in the stomach than participants given the alfalfa sprouts.
H. pylori level returned to previous levels after the men stopped eating the broccoli sprouts. Researchers say that suggests that the sulforaphane in broccoli sprouts appears to reduce H. pylori colonization in the gut but does not completely get rid of it.
In addition, a second experiment in mice that showed that H. pylori-infected mice that drank broccoli sprout smoothies for eight weeks had less gastritis (inflammation of the stomach) and more activity of enzymes that protect against cell damage.
"What we don't know is whether it's going to prevent people from getting stomach cancer. But the fact that the levels of infection and inflammation were reduced suggests the likelihood of getting gastritis and ulcers and cancer is probably reduced," Fahey says.
Fahey discloses that he is the co-founder of a company that produces broccoli sprouts and is licensed by Johns Hopkins University. No funds from the company were used to support this study.
SOURCES:Yanaka, A, Cancer Prevention Research, April 2009; vol 2: pp 353-360.News release, American Association for Cancer Research.News release, Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions.
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