Share this page

Health Library

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.

Requirements/Sources

Sulforaphane is not an essential nutrient. It is found in especially high levels in broccoli sprouts.

Therapeutic Uses

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

However, it is a long way from such 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 The problem is that they can’t show cause-and-effect—they only show association. It is possible, for example, that people who consume more cabbage-family vegetables share other traits that are responsible for reduced cancer rates. Consider the history of hormone replacement therapy. In the 1990s, scientists had concluded that estrogen prevents heart disease, based largely on observational studies that showed menopausal women who use hormone replacement have lower heart disease rates. When double-blind , placebo-controlled studies were performed, however, they showed that hormone replacement therapy actually increases heart disease risk. For all we know, we could be making a similar mistake with cabbage-family vegetables.

Certainly, it is too great a leap to jump to one constituent of such vegetables and advocate that substance for preventing cancer. Thousands of substances show anticancer properties in the test tube and fail to pan out in real life. The beta-carotene story is another instructive example. Not only did observational studies show that people who consume foods high in beta-carotene have less lung cancer, test-tube studies found that beta-carotene has anti-cancer properties. However, subsequent large double-blind studies found that beta-carotene supplements do not help prevent lung cancer, and might even increase risk.

The bottom line: At present, we cannot recommend sulforaphane for preventing cancer.

Therapeutic Dosages

The proper daily intake (if there is any) of sulforaphane is not known. Typical recommendations range from 200 to 400 mcg daily.

Safety Issues

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.

Interactions You Should Know About

If you are taking any medication that is critical to your health, do not take sulforaphane supplements except under physician supervision.

References

1.   van Poppel G, Verhoeven DT, Verhagen H, Goldbohm RA. Brassica vegetables and cancer prevention. Epidemiology and mechanisms. Adv Exp Med Biol . 1999;472:159–68.

2.   Singh SV, Srivastava SK, Choi S, et al. Sulforaphane-induced cell death in human prostate cancer cells is initiated by reactive oxygen species. J Biol Chem . 2005;280:19911–24. Epub 2005 Mar 11.

3.   Joseph MA, Moysich KB, Freudenheim JL, et al. Cruciferous vegetables, genetic polymorphisms in glutathione S-transferases M1 and T1, and prostate cancer risk. Nutr Cancer . 2004;50:206–13.

4.   Johnston N. Sulforaphane halts breast cancer cell growth. Drug Discov Today . 2004;9:908.

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.

6.   Tseng E, Scott-Ramsay EA, Morris ME. Dietary organic isothiocyanates are cytotoxic in human breast cancer MCF-7 and mammary epithelial MCF-12A cell lines. Exp Biol Med (Maywood) . 2004;229:835–42.

7.   Myzak MC, Karplus PA, Chung FL, et al. A novel mechanism of chemoprotection by sulforaphane: inhibition of histone deacetylase. Cancer Res . 2004;64:5767–74.

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.

9.   Hecht SS. Chemoprevention of cancer by isothiocyanates, modifiers of carcinogen metabolism. J Nutr . 1999;129:768S–74S.

10.   Verhoeven DT, Goldbohm RA, van Poppel G, et al. A review of mechanisms underlying anticarcinogenicity by brassica vegetables. Chem Biol Interact . 1997;103:79–129.

11.   Talalay P, Zhang Y. Chemoprotection against cancer by isothiocyanates and glucosinolates. Biochem Soc Trans . 1996;24:806–10.

12.   Nestle M. Broccoli sprouts in cancer prevention. Nutr Rev . 1998;56:127–30.

13.   Nestle M. Broccoli sprouts as inducers of carcinogen-detoxifying enzyme systems: clinical, dietary, and policy implications. Proc Natl Acad Sci. 1997;94:11149–51.

14.   Fahey JW, Talalay P. Antioxidant functions of sulforaphane: a potent inducer of Phase II detoxication enzymes. Food Chem Toxicol . 1999;37:973–979.

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.

16.   Solowiej E, Kasprzycka-Guttman T, Fiedor P, Rowinski W. Chemoprevention of cancerogenesis—the role of sulforaphane. Acta Pol Pharm . 2003;60:97–100.

17.   Frydoonfar HR, McGrath DR, Spigelman AD. The effect of indole-3-carbinol and sulforaphane on a prostate cancer cell line. ANZ J Surg . 2003;73:154–6.

18.   Chiao JW, Chung FL, Kancherla R, Ahmed T, Mittelman A, Conaway CC. Sulforaphane and its metabolite mediate growth arrest and apoptosis in human prostate cancer cells. Int J Oncol . 2002;20:631–6.

19.   Levi MS, Borne RF, Williamson JS. A review of cancer chemopreventive agents [review]. Curr Med Chem . 2001;8:1349–62.

20.   Brooks JD, Paton VG, Vidanes G. Potent induction of phase 2 enzymes in human prostate cells by sulforaphane. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev . 2001;10:949–54.

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.

23.   Kelloff GJ, Crowell JA, Steele VE, et al. Progress in cancer chemoprevention: development of diet-derived chemopreventive agents. J Nutr . 2000;130(2S Suppl):467S–471S.

24.   Kunz R, Oxman AD. The unpredictability paradox: review of empirical comparisons of randomised and non-randomised clinical trials. BMJ . 1998;317:1185–90.

25.   Kramer MS. Randomized trials and public health interventions: time to end the scientific double standard. ClinPerinatol . 2003;30:351–61.

26.   Kall MA, Vang O, Clausen J. Effects of dietary broccoli on human drug metabolising activity. Cancer Lett. 1997;114:169–70.



Last reviewed August 2013 by EBSCO CAM Review Board

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

Baptist Flame

Learn and Connect

Find A Doctor

Services

Locations

Baptist Medical Clinic

Patients & Visitors

Learn

Contact Us

Physician Tools

Careers at Baptist

Employee Links

Online Services

At Baptist Health Systems

At Baptist Medical Center

close ×