Just for a moment, imagine a line of Christmas tree lights with about 200 tiny bulbs attached. The end of the cord is plugged into the power point on the wall. When you throw the switch, all 200 bulbs are illuminated at once. It might surprise you to know that the cell’s internal defense system works in much the same way.
A small protein known as Nrf2 is the equivalent of the Christmas lights switch. But instead of lighting up lots of tiny bulbs, Nrf2 in the cell “switches on’ the cells own defense system. In fact, this gene activates more than 200 or so different genes, all of which code for different aspects of cellular defense. What’s even more exciting than the discovery of Nrf2 itself is the fact that scientists have identified substances that can activate Nrf2. The most powerful known substance that can activate Nrf2 is sulforaphane which comes from vegetables of the Brassica family.
Sulforaphane is a sulfur- rich compound found in cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, wasabi, watercress, cauliflower and many more but only broccoli is a significant source of sulforaphane. In these foods, it’s in the inactive form glucoraphanin that belongs to the glucosinolate family of plant compounds. Sulforaphane is activated when glucoraphanin comes into contact with myrosinase, a family of enzymes that play a role in the defense of plants.Myrosinase enzymes are only released and activated when a plant is damaged. Therefore cruciferous vegetables must be cut, chopped or chewed to release myrosinase and activate sulforaphane. Raw vegetables have the highest levels of sulforaphane. It is best to cook the vegetables below 284 F (140 C), as exceeding this temperature results in loss of glucosinolates like glucoraphanin. Steaming vegetables for one to three minutes may be the best way to optimize sulforaphane levels when cooking.
The potential benefits of sulforaphane is through the activation of the Nrf2 gene, which works at the DNA level to activate detoxification enzymes, antioxidants like glutathione and membrane efflux pumps to get rid of toxins. Current research shows that sulforaphane may have anticancer effects, antidiabetic effects, may protect against sun damage and brain damage and may improve constipation.
Consuming sulforaphane in amounts found in cruciferous vegetables is safe. Additionally, sulforaphane supplements are available. The recommended dosage is 400 mcg per day. It is important that you get the supplement from the right source as not all contain the right ingredients. The ideal product contains a high level of glucoraphanin along with an active enzyme which should have been retained through careful processing. Once the powder is consumed, moisture activates the process of converting the glucoraphanin to bioactive sulforaphane.
I believe that sulforaphane will be one of the longevity supplement that we will need for Healthy Ageing.
Reference: Switched On by Christine Houghton
Nutrition, Healthline by Daisy Coyle.