Broccoli Sprouts

A number of studies in the past have found that women with a high intake of cruciferous vegetables – such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage or kale – have a decreased risk of breast cancer.

Sulforaphane is a compound found in many of these cruciferous vegetables, and it may alone have value in cancer prevention: One of the first clinical studies to look at the effect of sulforaphane in women diagnosed with breast cancer was recently conducted by researchers at the Linus Pauling Institute. 

“Our original goal was to determine if sulforaphane supplements would be well tolerated and might alter some of the epigenetic mechanisms involved in cancer,” said Dr. Emily Ho, the principal investigator in this study from the LPI and also in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU.

This research was done with 54 women with abnormal mammograms who were scheduled for a breast biopsy and were studied in a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. They received either a placebo or supplements that provided sulforaphane. The amount of sulforaphane they received would equate to about one cup of broccoli sprouts per day, if eaten as a food.

“We were surprised to see a decrease in markers of cell growth, which means these compounds may help slow cancer cell growth,” said Ho. “This is very encouraging. Dietary approaches have traditionally been thought to be limited to cancer prevention, but this demonstrated it could help slow the growth of existing tumors.”

With more studies, it’s possible that sulforaphane or other dietary compounds may be added to traditional approaches to cancer therapy, whether to prevent cancer, slow its progression, treat it or stop its recurrence.

Additional support is needed to evaluate the dose, work with larger populations, and examine the responses of the cancer cells. Dr. Ho also would like to explore if food sources or supplements containing sulforaphane are the best way to get this compound to cancer tissues.