What are isothiocyanates?
They are phytochemicals produced from the consumption of cruciferous vegetables (greens, cabbage, cauliflower).Why do they matter to me?
Tests performed in laboratories and in animal studies have shown that isothiocyanates:
What about human studies?
- Inhibit the development of cancer by stopping cancer causing chemicals from becoming active.
- Play an important role in protecting our cells from damaging distortions.
- Have been found to control the over activity of cancer cells when added to them in a test tube.
- Have been found to induce appropriate cell death in cancer cells.
- Have been found to have an anti-inflammatory activity (important for protection against heart attacks).
- Have been found to inhibit the development of chemically induced cancers of the lung, liver, stomach, small intestine, colon, and breast.
A small clinical trial in smokers found evidence that consumption of 170 g/d of watercress (rich in isothiocyanates), decreased the carcinogenic effects of tobacco.
A suppression of the activity in the blood that can lead to cancerous tumours has been shown in people who consumed 68g of broccoli sprouts (rich in isothiocyanates).
Chinese men with high levels of detectable isothiocyanates were at significantly lower risk of developing lung cancer over the next ten years than men with undetectable levels.
Some people are genetically pre-disposed to hang on to isothiocyanates in their bodies enabling them to get more protective effectsWhat’s sulforaphane?
Sulforaphane is a powerful isothiocyanate that has received a lot of attention. It is present in cauliflower and broccoli and in a lab has exhibited anticancer and antimicrobial properties.
Sulforaphane has very recently been shown to affect non-coding RNAs. Once considered to be 'junk DNA' are now thought to have a critical role in the spread of malignant cancer cells. Sulforaphane is now thought to exert a controlling effect on these RNAs keeping them 'normal' and slowing the process of cancer - for more info see the link below to "Dietary anti-cancer compound may work by influence on cellular genetics".
Sulforaphane is released when the plant is damaged so chop and chew well!
How can I get some?
Cruciferous vegetables, such as bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, spring greens, cabbage, cauliflower, horseradish, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, radish, swede, turnip, and watercress, are rich sources of isothiocyanates.
Cooking, particularly boiling will reduce the quantity of isothiocyanates available to our bodies so eat raw or steam gently to maximise the benefits.