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More Information on Sulforaphane

What is Sulforaphane?

The discovery of Sulforaphane was made in 1992 by Dr. Paul Talalay and Dr. Jed W. Fahey of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Through their work they isolated a group of phytochemicals called glucosinolates of which Glucoraphanin, contained in broccoli sprouts, is converted to Sulforaphane by the action of the enzyme Myrosinase. Their studies revealed that sulforaphane acts as a long lasting antioxidant that detoxifies free radicals in the body. Further investigation has proved the level of these compounds are concentrated in broccoli sprouts. There have been numerous research studies since, investigating the action, effect and benefit of sulforaphane. FAQs (provided by Cell-Logic Pty Ltd)

What does Sulforaphane do?

Sulforaphane is a small molecule that is easily taken up by human cells. Once inside the cells, it acts as a ‘signaling molecule’, sending messages to other parts of the cell. One of Sulforaphane’s most important functions is that it supports activation of a ‘switch’ within the cell. This ‘switch’ (a special molecule known as Nrf2) releases a small fragment which then travels into the nucleus, the part of the cell in which the genes are housed. Once inside the nucleus, it locates the genes of the cell’s internal defense activities. In some cases, the DNA in sections of these genes can be completely ‘switched off’; in other cases, the genes may be just ‘lazy’ or ‘sleepy’. Certainly as we age or are unwell, the activity of these genes declines. In any case, Sulforaphane is capable of restoring the gene’s activity towards normal.

Is Sulforaphane Found in Broccoli?

In fact, there is no Sulforaphane found in Broccoli or any other Cruciferous Vegetable. However, the plant cell contains 2 different types of sacs that contain the 2 substances that produce Sulforaphane only when mixed together. When the plant is cut or chewed, the contents of the 2 sacs combine, producing a chemical reaction that leads to the production of the Sulforaphane. Sulforaphane itself is not stable for longer than about 30 minutes; therefore, the Sulforaphane must be produced just before consuming the broccoli. It is the effect of the enzyme, Myrosinase in one sac on the compound, and the Glucoraphanin in the other sac that combined produces the Sulforaphane.

What is the best source of Sulforaphane?

The highest source of Sulforaphane is not the broccoli vegetable itself, it is actually the broccoli sprout, which is between 20-50 times higher in Sulforaphane than the mature vegetable. For this reason, Broccoli Sprouts have been actively researched as a source of the cell-protective bioactive compound, Sulforaphane. Are Cruciferous Vegetables Considered to be Important? Health authorities across the world encourage us to consume more vegetables, recommending at least 5 serves of vegetables daily plus 2 serves of fruit. Research shows that, of all vegetables, the cruciferous vegetables have the most protective effect against humans developing serious illness. The very valuable cruciferous vegetables like broccoli make up less than 1% of average consumption. When we select vegetables, we should regularly include this family of vegetables.

Why Not Just Eat More Broccoli?

You could do this and science has shown that individuals who consume the highest amounts of the vegetable are less likely to develop certain illnesses. However, in practice, many people simply don’t eat enough broccoli to make a difference. More importantly, cooking the broccoli destroys the Myrosinase enzyme so essential for the conversion to Sulforaphane. Because the broccoli sprout is so much more concentrated than the vegetable, only a small amount of the sprout is needed daily to achieve what a large amount of raw or lightly-steamed broccoli vegetable could do.

The powdered broccoli sprout provides a more consistent amount of the bioactive potential because it is produced using conditions to standardize it. The broccoli vegetable supplies unpredictable amounts due to the conditions in which the plant is grown, the time it is stored before consumption and the manner in which it is cooked. A more certain intake occurs when consuming a regular quantity of a premeasured powder.

Why don’t the 2 sacs react in a powdered broccoli product, given that the powder been produced by milling the plant and the sacs must have already broken?

Enzymes such as Myrosinase can only react when they are in contact with water. Because the powder is dry, there can be no reaction. However, when the powder is added to a glass of water, the chemical reaction begins immediately and the Sulforaphane is produced. Sulforaphane is only stable over a short period, so it is always wise to consume the mixture as soon as possible and certainly within 30 minutes of mixing.

What is meant by the ‘Cell’s Defense System’?

Our body cells use many different processes to defend themselves against attack. Two of the most important of these protective processes are:

  • ANTIOXIDANT BALANCE: To provide the appropriate level of Antioxidant balance to stop free radicals from damaging the cell’s delicate systems.
  • DETOXIFICATION: To produce specialized Detoxification Enzymes that break down toxins quickly, before they have a chance to damage the cell. If these 2 fundamental mechanisms can be optimized within cells, the cell is likely to function normally. If the cells are healthy, then the individual will be healthy. This is why health care should ideally begin by correcting imbalances within the cells.

What is a ‘free radical’?

A ‘free radical’ is a chemical substance that is very unstable, usually because it is missing an electron in its outer layer. To try to become stable again, it attacks other chemicals, ‘stealing’ an electron from this other substance. This now makes the other substance unstable, so that it becomes a free radical itself.

Free radicals are found all around us in the environment in the form of pollution, radiation, hazardous chemicals, barbecued meat, cigarette smoke and so on. What is not so well-known is that our own cells are constantly producing large amounts of free radicals. These are produced just by eating, breathing and moving. They are a normal part of our existence. Not all free radical activity is harmful and the body uses them to send signals to other parts of the cells. It is when they are uncontrolled that they are dangerous to our health. This state of uncontrolled activity is what we call Oxidative Stress.

Uncontrolled, this creates a chain reaction of free radical activity and this chain reaction leaves a trail of damage wherever it goes. In human cells, the effect of such uncontrolled free radical activity is to damage the cell’s delicate structures. Many diseases are known to be associated with free radical damage. Scientists call this Oxidative Stress.

How do humans deal with Oxidative Stress?

Nature has provided the cell with a series of Antioxidant Enzymes whose task it is to quench (or neutralize) excessive free radical activity. These are very powerful antioxidants. The healthy cell also produces a constant supply of another Antioxidant compound, Glutathione, which bathes every part of the cell. Glutathione is also essential in the detoxification of drugs like paracetamol. Yet other kinds of Antioxidants are found in food, especially in brightly-colored fruits and vegetables. One of the reasons that Nutritionists recommend that we regularly consume a wide variety of brightly colored fruits and vegetables is so that we can obtain a variety of these Antioxidant compounds.

These food-derived Antioxidants have their most beneficial effects in the digestive tract, neutralizing the free radicals so commonly found in cooked, processed and preserved foods. Quenching free radicals in the digestive tract minimizes the numbers of these harmful substances entering the bloodstream. This is why it is a good idea to consume brightly-colored fruits and vegetables with a meat-containing meal or other foods such as deep fried foods where there is likely to be increased free radical activity.

I’ve heard that some Antioxidants are rated by their ORAC Value. What is this?

‘ORAC’ stands for Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity. This is a laboratory measurement to determine how well the food can quench free radicals in a test tube. Some of the Super fruits are known to have very high ORAC values and this can be valuable when quenching the free radicals in food. However, this test tells of nothing of how well these antioxidants might perform in the body’s cells.

More importantly, ORAC is not able to measure the Antioxidant capacity of the much more powerful Antioxidants we produce in our own cells. Foods like Broccoli Sprout which are capable of activating our own Antioxidant-generating ‘machinery’ don’t have high ORAC values. Where ORAC can be useful is that it can tell us that blueberries for example have a higher ORAC value than apples or that fruits like Amalaki, Acai and Pomegranate have very much higher ORAC values than most if not all other fruits. Sulforaphane’s far more powerful effect in generating cellular Antioxidants cannot be measured by ORAC. The ORAC test therefore gives a very misleading idea of the value of a food based on its Antioxidant capacity.

Nutritional Science has now moved beyond the ORAC concept and the science behind Sulforaphane confirms that.

What types of Antioxidants are increased under the influence of Sulforaphane?

One of the most important antioxidant molecules increased because of Sulforaphane’s presence in the cell is Glutathione. Glutathione is a bit like an ‘antioxidant bath’ within the cell. As long as there is adequate Glutathione in the cell, it is protected against many potentially-damaging molecules. Sulforaphane stimulates the production of many other Antioxidant compounds, each of which plays a special role in protecting the cell. Some of these other Antioxidant Enzymes stimulated by Sulforaphane have protective effects in specific types of cells such as nerve cells and heart cells.

The ideal Antioxidant support for human cells is a combination of brightly-colored fruits and vegetables together with Sulforaphane-induced Glutathione and associated Antioxidant compounds produced within healthy cells.

Sulforaphane activates the cell’s Detoxification Enzymes. What does this mean?

All cells produce waste materials because of their ordinary day-to-day activities. These wastes will poison the cell if it doesn’t detoxify and then eliminate them. Some of these waste products are so toxic that they must be neutralized before they can be passed out of the body. If these toxins aren’t controlled, continued cell damage will eventually lead to disease.

Of course, there are many toxic compounds that we are exposed to in the form of pesticide residues in food and water and pollutants in the air. The Detoxification Enzymes are Nature’s way of dealing with these toxins. These are a family of enzymes all specifically targeted at modifying the chemical structure of toxic molecules so that they can no longer damage cell structures. Research over the past 15 years has shown that the most powerful known natural substance capable of ‘switching on’ or ‘up regulating’ these Detoxification Enzymes is Sulforaphane.

This fact, coupled with its ability to enhance the cell’s Antioxidant status, means that Sulforaphane is one of the most important compounds available that we can use to enhance the defense mechanisms of human cells. How many different genes does Sulforaphane influence? To date, Scientists have found that there are around 200 genes of the cell’s defense system known to be influenced by Sulforaphane.

Sulforaphane is mentioned to be a substance with epigenetic effects. What does that mean?

The DNA in our cells contains all of the genetic information we inherited from our parents. Although we can’t change genetically-determined factors like our height and eye color, there are many aspects of our genetic make-up that we can change.

For example, we might believe that we have inherited a high risk of developing heart disease from our parents because one or both parents may have had this condition. However, it is very well-known that the risk of heart disease is closely related to our diet and lifestyle. A lifestyle based on a high fat diet and little exercise is likely to lead to heart disease whether or not we have inherited predisposing genes from our parents. So what do we have the power to change? Quite simply, a change of diet means that there are different food chemicals entering our cells. These food molecules can interact with our DNA and cause the DNA to be expressed in particular ways. Poor diet sends signals to our DNA that tend to shut down our cell’s internal defense processes. This, in time leads to the development of disease. The chemicals in a healthy diet send different signals to our DNWe have already seen that Sulforaphane activates the ‘switch’ in the cell that activates the cell’s internal defenses. Sometimes, we say that Sulforaphane talks to the DNA. We say that a substance that is capable of favorably interacting with our cellular DNA has an epigenetic effect. Sulforaphane has an epigenetic effect. To use the computer as an analogy, an epigenetic substance does not modify the DNA structure itself (the ‘hardware’) but it affects the way in which genes may be expressed. We might consider this to be like the ‘software’ of the gene. We can quite readily modify the ‘operating system’ software but we can’t change the hardware of the computer. So, although we inherit certain genetic characteristics that are hard-wired into our genes, we can influence the software of our DNA by the type of food and lifestyle data we ‘key in’ to our genes.

Changes in the expression of certain genes can affect the efficiency of many cellular processes, such as how readily we can detoxify alcohol or caffeine. It might also affect how quickly we recover from an injury or how quickly we age. These subtle changes in gene expression can be the difference between living a long and healthy life or in merely existing with a range of symptoms and illnesses that seriously compromise the quality of life. Epigenetics teaches us that food is not just a mixture of calories, proteins, vitamins, minerals and so on. Food is a dynamic ‘cocktail’ of thousands of different chemical substances that interact to varying degrees with the cell’s DNA. Even small amounts of phytochemicals (or plant chemicals) can have very powerful effects within the cell as they send signals that determine how a cell functions. This new and exciting branch of Nutritional Science opens up a whole new arena of personal health care, whereby individuals can take back control of their own health by carefully selecting foods for their epigenetic advantage.