Sulforaphane is a chemical found in broccoli sprouts, as well as other cabbage-family vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, and kale. Some evidence hints that sulforaphane might help prevent cancer.
Sulforaphane is not an essential nutrient. It is found in especially high levels in broccoli sprouts.
Numerous observational studies have found that a high consumption of vegetables in the cabbage family is associated with a reduced risk of cancer, especially breast, prostate, lung, stomach, colon, and rectal cancer. 1 On this basis, scientists have looked for anticancer substances in these foods. Sulforaphane is one such candidate substance ( indole-3-carbinol , I3C, is another). In test-tube and animal studies , sulforaphane exhibits properties that suggest it could indeed help prevent many forms of cancer. 2-23,30
However, it is a long way from observational studies to reliable evidence of benefit. Observational studies are notoriously poor guides to treatment, sometimes leading to conclusions that are the reverse of what is ultimately found to be correct. 24,25 This is why most evidence is based on double-blind, randomized trials.
That said, there is some promising data to suggest that sulforaphane may help:
Keep in mind, these studies encompass both animals and humans. What works in animal studies may not translate into success for humans. Therefore, no specific conclusions can be drawn about sulforaphane use and its benefits. However, newer research has a better understanding of sulforaphane's properties and how it works in the body.
The proper daily intake (if there is any) of sulforaphane is not known. Typical recommendations range from 200 to 400 mcg daily.
No major adverse effects have been reported with sulforaphane supplements, but comprehensive studies have not been performed. Maximum safe doses in young children, pregnant or nursing women, or people with severe liver or kidney disease are not known.
NOTE: Sulforaphane has shown the potential for interacting with numerous medications. 26 For this reason, we recommend that people taking any oral or injected medication that is critical to their health or well-being avoid using sulforaphane supplements until more is known.
5. Pham NA, Jacobberger JW, Schimmer AD, et al. The dietary isothiocyanate sulforaphane targets pathways of apoptosis, cell cycle arrest, and oxidative stress in human pancreatic cancer cells and inhibits tumor growth in severe combined immunodeficient mice. Mol Cancer Ther . 2004;3:1239–48.
8. Fahey JW, Haristoy X, Dolan PM, et al. Sulforaphane inhibits extracellular, intracellular, and antibiotic-resistant strains of Helicobacter pylori and prevents benzo[a]pyrene-induced stomach tumors. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA . 2002;99:7610–7615.
15. Gamet-Payrastre L, Li P, Lumeau S, et al. Sulforaphane, a naturally occurring isothiocyanate, induces cell cycle arrest and apoptosis in HT29 human colon cancer cells. Cancer Res . 2000;60:1426–1433.
21. Conaway CC, Getahun SM, Liebes LL, et al. Disposition of glucosinolates and sulforaphane in humans after ingestion of steamed and fresh broccoli. Nutr Cancer . 2000;38:168–78. Erratum in: Nutr Cancer . 2001;41:196.
22. Steinkellner H, Rabot S, Freywald C, et al. Effects of cruciferous vegetables and their constituents on drug metabolizing enzymes involved in the bioactivation of DNA-reactive dietary carcinogens. Mutat Res . 2001;480-481:285–97.
27. Tortorella SM, Royce SG, Licciardi PV, Karagiannis TC. Dietary sulforaphane in cancer chemoprevention: the role of epigenetic regulation and HDAC inhibition. Antioxid Redox Signal. 2015;22(16):1382-1424.
28. Lee YJ, Lee SH. Pro-oxidant activity of sulforaphane and cisplatin potentiates apoptosis and simultaneously promotes autophagy in malignant mesothelioma cells. Mol Med Rep. 2017 June 15 [Epub ahead of print].
29. Tarozzi A, Angeloni C, Malaguti M, Morroni F, Hrelia S, Hrelia P. Sulforaphane as a potential protective phytochemical against neurodegenerative diseases. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2013 Jul 25 [Epub head of print].
Last reviewed December 2015 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
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