A sulfur-rich compound, sulforaphane occurs naturally in cruciferous vegetables. Sulforaphane carries the chemical formula C6H11NOS2. It has been found that sulforaphane offers us several potent health benefits. In its inactive form it is known as glucoraphanin, which is a member of the glucosinolate family of compounds found in plants.

When glucoraphanin is exposed to myrosinase, it activates sulforaphane. Myrosinase belongs to an enzyme family that has a vital part in the plants' defence response system.

It is worth mentioning here that plants release myrosinase enzymes only when they are damaged. Once released, myrosinase enzymes become activated. In other words, to release myrosinase and activate sulforaphane, it is essential to cut or chop cruciferous vegetables. This enzyme is also released and activated when we chew cruciferous vegetables.

Sulforaphane is a phytochemical. In other words, it is a plant-based compound which is activated biologically when the human body breaks down its chemical constituents and frees the sugar molecule, glucosinolate. In plants, glucosinolate is bound to sulforaphane. Including this compound in our diet offers us a variety of health benefits. Most important among the benefits is its aptitude to work as an antioxidant. As an antioxidant, sulforaphane binds to the oxygen molecules of the detrimental free radicals that may cause damage to our cells. Owing to this special ability of sulforaphane, it naturally works to prevent the risks of developing cancer. Findings of several studies have specially hinted that this phytochemical has the ability to prevent the risks of developing breast cancer and prostate cancer.

It has been established that raw cruciferous vegetables enclose the maximum levels of sulforaphane. Findings of one study showed that raw broccoli contains ten times more of this phytochemical compared to cooked broccoli.

While cooking, it is always a better idea to steam vegetables for anything between one and three minutes, as this will help to retain the maximum levels of sulforaphane in them and thus provide us the maximum health benefits of consuming these vegetables.

Moreover, ideally vegetables should be cooked below 284°F because cooking at higher temperatures may lead to loss of glucosinolates such as glucoraphanin. This is the main reason why it is better to avoid boiling cruciferous vegetables or cooking them in microwave ovens. In order to obtain the maximum health benefits of consuming cruciferous vegetables, it is best to consume them raw or steam them lightly. This will help to retain the maximum levels of sulforaphane in the vegetables.

It is established that broccoli sprouts contain the maximum concentration of sulforaphane. However, this phytochemical is also present in various other vegetables belonging to the cruciferous family - turnips, radishes and kale. Another important point is that if you harvest broccoli sprouts prior to the plants becoming mature, the sulforaphane content of the sprouts will be anything between 30 and 50 times more compared to the mature plants. In order to reduce the chances of developing various forms of cancers in humans by 50 percent of the statistical average, it is essential that we consume at least an ounce (28 grams) of broccoli sprouts every week. This would be more beneficial than consuming 907 grams of mature broccoli, which is supposed to provide an equivalent amount of sulforaphane.

Incorporating vegetables containing sulforaphane in our diet offers several other health benefits. There is evidence that this phytochemical has the ability to prevent as well as treat arthritis, and also safeguard us from various respiratory ailments like asthma, lung disease and rhinitis. In fact, it has been found that drinking broccoli juice helps to stimulate the skin to produce an enzyme known as glutathione S-transferase. This enzyme works to counter various compounds that cause harm to the DNA, when the skin is exposed to ultraviolet (UV) rays from sunlight. Since sulforaphane offers beneficial effects against almost all health hazards to humans, which also includes heart disease and cancer, the medical community is deeply focused on it and is undertaking repeated studies to unravel new properties of this phytochemical.

Sulforaphane is present in nearly all cruciferous vegetables including arugula, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, collards, bok choy, cabbage, watercress, kohlrabi, radish, turnip and mustard greens. Among these vegetables, broccoli sprouts contain the highest concentration of sulforaphane.

Actually, there are very few things that are agreed on by all dietary experts. One of them is eating plenty of vegetables along with having enough sleep and ensuring that you have less stress. Consuming vegetables belonging to the cruciferous family may offer several other health benefits, but sulforaphane is certainly one important reason why you should eat these vegetables more often.

It is worth mentioning here that Brassica vegetables enclose a compound called myrosinase, which facilitates breaking down glucosinolates such as glucoraphanin into simpler substances such as isothiocyanates, which include sulforaphane.

Myrosinase as well as glucoraphanin are found in cruciferous vegetables, especially in broccoli sprouts. When you cut, chop, chew or blend raw broccoli sprouts, they combine, thereby creating sulforaphane. Describing it differently, broccoli sprouts enclose the compounds that are necessary for creating sulforaphane.

Health benefits

Sulforaphane offers us several health benefits. For instance, sulforaphane present in broccoli sprouts perks up the natural detoxification mechanism of our body in many different ways. In the form of an indirect antioxidant, sulforaphane also enhances the cells' antioxidant capacity, instead of just supplying antioxidants to the cells.

Sulforaphane triggers Nrf2 (Nuclear factor erythroid 2) and ARE (Antioxidant Response Element) pathways, thereby allowing more cellular glutathione into the body. As glutathione is considered to be a "master antioxidant", this offers extensive health benefits to our body.

In addition, sulforaphane is genuinely beneficial for the health and functioning of the brain. Sulforaphane is regarded as a nootropic or a substance that boosts the brain. This is owing to the fact that this phytochemical possesses the ability to pass through the blood-brain barrier.

Currently, studies are underway in humans, following studies on mice that revealed that this phytochemical helped to reduce anxiety and symptoms related to depression. Findings of other studies showed that sulforaphane also enhances neurite growth. In other words, this phytochemical may aid in repairing the damaged neurons owing to aging or injury.

Moreover, a number of double-blind, randomized and placebo-controlled studies undertaken involving humans have revealed that sulforaphane may also be able to enhance autistic behaviour checklist scores by as much as 34 percent. These studies further showed enhancement in verbal communication and social interaction in people enduring autism spectrum disorder.

We are already aware of the fact that consumption of Brassica vegetables is effective to shield us from developing various forms of cancer. Actually, consuming only three to five servings of these vegetables every week helps to reduce the risk of developing cancer by anything between 30 and 40 percent. This was established by some studies. Such sharp reduction in risks of developing cancer is one important reason why we ought to eat Brassica vegetables every day. However, these vegetables offer us several other cancer-protective benefits too.

Some of the cancer-protective benefits offered by sulforaphane are discussed briefly below.

Sulforaphane targets the carcinogenic cells, but does not cause any harm to the healthy cells of the body. In clinical studies it was found that this phytochemical works to eliminate cervical cancer cells, breast cancer cells, prostate cancer cells, liver cancer cells and abdominal cancer cells. At the same time, it prohibits growth of carcinogenic cells, while promoting healthy cell growth.

In studies undertaken on mice, it was seen that sulforaphane also holds back development of skin cancer and bladder cancer. At the same time, this phytochemical helps to augment the efficacy of drugs used for treating cancer. In other words, if you are consuming enough cruciferous vegetables and your intake of sulforaphane is high, you can use lower dose of anti-cancer drugs.

Sulforaphane itself is a potent antioxidant and it also enhances the body's capability to produce antioxidants. This is why this phytochemical is potently anti-inflammatory and possesses the ability to diminish reactive oxygen species, such as free radicals, by enhancing the levels of oxygen. These two properties of sulforaphane make it ideal for the health of the heart. This also elaborates why various studies have found that sulforaphane has the ability to protect the heart, thereby shielding us from various heart diseases.

In addition, sulforaphane is beneficial for the health of the heart is a number of other ways. When chewed, this phytochemical released a compound called hydrogen sulfide (H2S). Moreover, this phytochemical also donates sulfur whenever and wherever necessary. As a result, this compound also has cardio-protective effect.

Findings of studies have also shown that sulforaphane is helpful in lowering blood pressure levels in people suffering from hypertension as well as lowered the levels of triglycerides.

Last, but not least important, in animal studies it was found that sulforaphane reduces the total cholesterol levels, CRP, LDL-C and LDH.

One of the major benefits of sulforaphane is perhaps its ability to activate Nrf2 (a special protein). This particular benefit of this compound is associated with several other benefits that have been discussed above. However, this particular benefit deserves special mention.

Nrf2 is a special protein that is present in all the cells of our body. When this protein is activated due to stress, it attaches to ARE or Antioxidant Response Element, which acts as a switch that regulates production of antioxidants in our body. Therefore, when Nrf2/ARW is activated, it stimulates our body to commence production of glutathione as well as other antioxidants. As a result of this, inflammation is reduced and our body is reinforced to protect itself against diseases.

Sulforaphane as a potent Nrf2 activator

Sulforaphane is a very powerful Nrf2 activator and, hence, it may also encourage weight loss. According to a study undertaken by researchers at the Kanazawa University in 2014, sulforaphane promotes weight loss by alleviating obesity via enhancing consumption of energy by borrowing adipocytes as well as metabolic endotoxemia reduction by improving bacterial flora in the gut.

This means that sulforaphane facilitates the fight against obesity by altering the consumption of energy in the body and also by improving the bacterial flora in the gut.

Sulforaphane also triggers the heat-shock proteins (a family of proteins produced by cells of our body when they are exposed to stressful conditions) in the body, particularly HSP27. Heat-shock proteins possess the ability to enhance the functioning of the brain as well as inhibit the aging process. Use of sauna also triggers the heat-shock proteins. However, chewing down some broccoli sprouts is an excellent way to enhance the levels of heat-shock proteins even without exposure to heat.

Sulforaphane is also beneficial for the health of our liver as it works to reduce oxidative stress. In addition, this compound may also help in augmenting alcohol tolerance and, at the same time, diminishes the harmful effects of alcohol consumption by stimulating aldehyde dehydroenases.

The antioxidant boosting activity of sulforaphane also helps to reduce inflammation as well as pain. However, findings of recent studies have revealed that sulforaphane can be particularly beneficial in easing pain and inflammation when the compound is combined with concentrated curcumin or superior quality turmeric.

We are aware that dihydrotestosterone (DHT) not only restrains hair growth, but it also results in androgenic baldness (a common cause of hair loss in men as well as women). In such conditions, sulforaphane helps to enhance enzyme production in the body that works to break down dihydrotestosterone (DHT). In some studies, it was found that sulforaphane is effective in reducing the levels of DHT in the bloodstream and also reversing the inhibition of hair growth.

Cancer research involving sulforaphane has revealed that this compound puts off benzo-a-pyrene (a polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon) production in the body. In fact, benzo-a-pyrene can often be responsible for tumour growth in the stomach. In addition, sulforaphane can also work to inhibit Heliobacter pylori, a specifically vigorous type of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Additional research undertaken by scientists at Los Angeles-based University of California has revealed that sulforaphane works to encourage the functioning of the immune system in dendritic cells (DCs), which process antigens to shield the body from various infections. This is done by thwarting the reproductive activity of bacteria and viruses.