What if I told you there was a 100% natural substance with the astonishing power to kill cancer cells, clear brain fog, prevent alzheimer’s, and help with depression?
You might think that’s preposterous. But that’s not all. It can also help with obesity, build stronger bones, and even, perhaps, dramatically improve symptoms of autism.
You might scoff at the idea. Claim it a stretch at the very best, and a straight up lie at the worst.
There is such a thing. It’s called sulforaphane, and it’s backed by heaps of authoritative scientific studies. If there was an MVP award for the most powerful natural substance on earth you can bet sulforaphane would be sitting on the podium.
What is sulforaphane?
Most people haven’t even heard of the stuff. And that’s a shame, really. Because it has immense anti-cancer and antioxidant abilities.
We’ve long known it’s healthy to eat things like broccoli, brussell sprouts, bok choy and arugula. That’s because contain the precurser known as glucoraphanin. It wasn’t until the 90’s that we understood better why these things are so healthy. That’s because they contain an important compound known as glucoraphanin. The body converts glucoraphanin into sulforaphane, which then goes to work as a powerful anti-cancer and antioxidant.
Sulforaphane is part of the isothiocyanate class of phytochemicals and brings with it a massive range of benefits for your body. Let’s learn more about this super powerful substance.
Fact: Broccoli sprouts contain about 10x the amount of sulforaphane as broccoli. 100g of broccoli has around 44-150mg and 100g of broccoli sprouts has 1100+mg!
A number of prominent health figures, including Dr. Rhonda Patrick, see incredible potential in sulforaphane.
“I usually throw my sprouts in with a couple of ice cubes and some water, blend it, and then just slam a glass full of the stuff. It’s not as bad as it sounds, but also not delicious. If I was going to try to mix it with other things I would blend the sprouts first and let them sit for a few minutes to let the glucoraphanin -> sulforaphane conversion occur.”
10 incredible benefits of sulforaphane
Slow and prevent alzheimers
There is limited research concerning the positive attributes of sulforaphane, but there is evidence to suggest that it protects the brain and can reduce symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s is closely linked to the accumulation of amyloid beta in the brain. In carefully administered tests, sulforaphane slows the accumulation of this debilitating compound.1
Sulforaphane has been classified by some doctors as a panacea, which means it can help to treat or prevent almost any chronic disease. The molecule is also known for killing cancer cells, and can help people with underactive or overactive thyroids to balance thyroid gland activity.
If preventing cancer and alzheimer’s wasn’t enough, there’s sufficient evidence that sulforaphane can help slow and prevent the onset of arthritis. It works to block the expression of genes that promote degradation of muscle and bone tissue.2
As we learn more about depression and anxiety it seems like the immune system plays a key role.
Sulforaphane regulates the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines like IL-1, IL-6, Corticosterone and Tumor-Necrosis-Factor (TNF) alpha. When people were given higher levels of these cytokines, they reported feeling more depressed.3
Think about when you get a cold or flu. It’s hard to sleep well. You’re agitated. Can’t think straight. That’s in part because your brain is in an inflammatory state. Now lower that a bit, and imagine you still can’t sleep that well, you wake up feeling a bit foggy, go throughout the day unproductive, and feeling tired. Maybe those symptoms are a result of inflammation. And maybe that’s contributing to your depression.
So it makes sense that sulforaphane could help regulate your immune system, which in turn lets you sleep better, think better, and perform at a higher level.
Detoxifies the liver
In one study, researchers found significant improvment in biomarkers related to liver function when male patients were treated with glucoraphanin supplements.4 They concluded that daily supplementation “highly effective in improving liver function through reduction of oxidative stress.”
Cleans toxins from the body
In one study, titled “Rapid and sustainable detoxication of airborn pollutants by broccoli sprouts” patients who took a sulforaphane supplement saw a massive 60% reduction in benzene from their body in just 24 hours5. It’s not just benzene either, as the work concluded that sulforaphane likely purges the body from other toxins in the air. I like this study in particular because we know they used the broccoli sprout extract made under the supervision of Jed Fahey at Johns Hopkins University.
Remember, it works as one of the single most effective activators of Nrf2 pathways,which play a huge role in protecting our body against toxins.
Why is this so cool?
Well, so far there are NO, as in ZERO pharmaceutical therapies that work as well as sulforaphane to activate the nrf2 pathways. Not one. In other words, sulforaphane (and broccoli sprouts in particular) offers an unparalleled natural source of cancer/toxin fighting fuel!
A Natural Preventative Treatment for Cancer
This is the big one.
Some researches claim it can lower the risk of cancer by 30 to 40% and prevent it from coming back after remission. Individuals who consumed at least one serving of cruciferous vegetables each week had a lower risk of developing cancer of the breast, kidney, oral cavity, esophagus and pharnyx as well. For best results, you should eat three to five servings of broccoli every week, broccoli sprouts, or take a daily supplement of sulforaphane.
Even Cancer.gov extols the promise of sulforaphane and related isothiocynates on cancer:
“Indoles and isothiocyanates have been found to inhibit the development of cancer in several organs in rats and mice, including the bladder, breast, colon, liver, lung, and stomach. Studies in animals and experiments with cells grown in the laboratory have identified several potential ways in which these compounds may help prevent cancer…”
Improves + strengthens bones
Osteoporosis is a serious problem in our ever aging population and there’s solid evidence suggesting sulforaphane is a powerful way to slow the degradation of bones, and even promote new cartilage and bone growth. useful in reducing the degradation of cartilage, but also might influence bone metabolism and protect against osteoporosis.
As cells responsible for promoting bone growth die, your bones grow weaker, and researchers think sulforaphane’s ability to trigger the nrf2 pathway might be why it works to stop these important bone cells from dying7.
Sulforaphane may help treat autism
There are many theories about what causes autism. Some people have noticed that when an autistic person gets a fever, their symptoms often reduce.
One study stated, “we observed consistent and large improvements in behavior in the majority of sulforaphane-treated ASD” ((https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4217462/))
Another study wrote “The effects of SF supplementation appear clear and powerful to many caregivers. Their reports are striking.” ((https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5672987/)) In this study they remarked that 65% of participants given sulforaphane “improved significantly” while those on the placebo showed little change.
Sulforaphane may help with obesity through increased energy
Improvement of inflammation of the liver or adipose tissues and insulin resistance. In other words it helped boost metabolism by affecting the composition of the gut, and showed increased fat burning ability. While this study was done in rats, an not humans, it underscores a possible biological connection that might very well carry into humans. ((https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170307100402.ht))
What foods contain sulforaphane?
Sulforaphane is actually a byproduct of glucoraphanin, which is found in cruciferous vegetables. Those include broccoli, cabbage and broccoli sprouts.
However, the broccoli sprouts contain by far the highest concentration of this powerful compound. Actually 10x the amount in the same size of broccoli. These baby sprouts are jam packed with sulforaphane, which is why you may hear people like Rhonda Patrick singing their praises.
How much do I need to take?
Although sulforaphane is in cruciferous vegetables, it is most concentrated in broccoli sprouts. So the question is, how much broccoli sprouts do you need to eat to get enough sulforaphane?
The right broccoli extract dosage is dependent upon weight. Each sulforaphane dosage will be dependent on weight, but follows ranges that are between 0.1 – 0.5 mg / kg of bodyweight. A good marker to go by is:
- 7 – 34 mg for a 150 lb. person
- 9 – 45 mg for a 200 lb person
So let’s say somewhere around 30-50mg per person. If not every day, supplementing this much at least a few times per week is ideal.
Keep in mind, not everyone’s body converts sulforaphane at the same rate. Your body might convert 75% of glucoraphanin into sulforaphane, and your neighbor might only manage 15%. Some researchers believe the ability to process sulforaphane might be directly related to the gut flora, so supplementing with probiotics and eating a higher fiber diet might help increase your ability to soak up as much as possible.
Raw broccoli has on average 39% glucoraphanin bioavailability. Cooked broccoli has MUCH less, around 3-4%. So if you prefer cooked broccoli, just do what Rhonda Patrick does and sprinkle a teaspoon or so of mustard powder on it, which contains the necessary myrosinase to make the conversion happen.
This depends on your weight. In general somewhere between 7-34 grams for a 150lb person should do the trick, and you should consume that at least a few days per week. Dr. Rhonda Patrick keeps an array of seven jars of sprouts growing, so she can harvest around 200+ grams every day, in perpetuity. That may be a bit ambitious, so aim for a few doses per week. Anything helps though!
How to grow broccoli sprouts
Supplements are totally fine, but there’s a more economical way to get your dose of sulforaphane if you’re willing to put in a little effort.
Just grow your own broccoli sprouts! It’s actually very easy. Rhonda Patrick’s diet includes a rotation of seven jars, which she harvests and then freezes to use in smoothies.
How to grow your own broccoli sprouts at home
First you’ll need to load up on broccoli seeds. Amazon is your best bet, and they sell it by the pound for cheap.
Let’s break down the economics of growing at home versus buying at the store.
In the store a small container of sprouts costs $3.99. How much will a pound of broccoli seeds yield in sprouts?
- Get yourself a wide mouth Ball jar (or you can use these stackable sprout growing containers)
- and add 2 tablespoons of broccoli sprout seeds
- Cover the seeds with a few inches of filtered water.
- Place the jar somewhere dark and cool, like a cabinet and wait a day.
- Drain the water carefully, rinse the seeds, and add another few inches.
- Repeat this process for a few days and soon you’ll see the sprouts popping up.
Dr. Michael Greger said “growing your own broccoli sprouts is one of the most cost-effective ways to improve one’s diet.” and I think that’s a pretty good endorsement!
Get yourself a big bag of broccoli seeds and one of these nifty growing kits, with tiered that allow multiple stages of growing. That way you’ll have sprouts to harvest every few days without as much effort as the jar method.
Recommended sulforaphane/glucoraphanin supplements
There’s one big thing you should know when taking a broccoli or sulforaphane supplement.
They probably won’t
In Rhonda Patrick’s interview with Jed Fahey, arguably the leader in sulforaphane research, he warned listeners about the ineffectiveness of many supplements. First, most of the supplements don’t actually have sulforaphane in them. They have glucoraphanin.
Remember, that’s the precursor to sulforaphane. In order for the body to convert it into sulforaphane, you need a middle man, aka, the myrosinase enzyme.
Here’s a breakdown of how much sulforaphane your body gets from various sources:
- Raw broccoli sprouts: up to 70%
- Glucoraphanin + myrosinase: up to 35%
- Glucoraphanin supplements without myrosinase: around 10%
That being said, if growing your own broccoli sprouts seems like too much work, there are some reputable supplements to try.
As one of two brands vetted by Johns Hopkins, where Jed Fahey works, this is a solid choice.
This is the other supplement mentioned by Rhonda Patrick in her interview with Dr. Fahey. It’s not as readily available, probably due to the difficulty in finding enough suppliers of broccoli sprouts, but when it’s in stock it’s the top choice.
This seems to be a popular supplement and it’s fairly affordable, usually available for under $20. It actually contains the myrosinase enzyme, so it should convert into sulforaphane pretty well. The reviews are great, with people claiming it helped everything from COPD, to cancer to asperger’s.
This is probably the best and only supplement that contains actual sulforaphane. Sadly, it’s only available in France.
Each tablet contains 10mg sulforaphane. We hope they will bring this to the US sometime soon and will updated if/when that happens.
If you do choose a supplement, consider eating something like mustard seeds, arugula, daikon radish, or wasabi along with it, all of which have myrosinase to help the conversion.
Rhonda Patrick on Sulforaphane
Interestingly, studies have concluded that sulforaphane doesn’t have much effect on cells that are healthy. Treatment with sulforapane reduces the damage done to DNA and slows the rate of mutation of chemicals that bind to DNA to cause cancer.
When you were a kid, you probably turned your nose at broccoli despite the constant prodding from your mother. Turns out mother really does know best — eating your veggies really is good for you.