It is well known that cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and watercress contain powerful anticancer compounds. But did you know that eating their respective sprouts can supercharge the health benefits? In sprout form these little three to four day old plants contain almost 100 times the level of cancer-fighting sulforaphane than the mature plants. The phytonutrients in these sprouts upregulate antioxidant enzymes and detoxification processes which clear toxic compounds from the body. And, that is just the beginning—read on to find out how sprouts knock the socks off cancer.
What’s in a Sprout
Isothiocyanates (ITCs), such as sulforaphane, are sulfur-containing compounds found in cruciferous vegetables. They support matrix metalloproteinase-9 (MMP-9) activity which reduces the breakdown of connective tissue within a cell that impede the expansion of existing tumors. Matrix MMP-9 plays important roles in tumor invasion and angiogenesis. Secretion of MMP-9 has been reported in various cancer types including lung, colon, and breast cancer.
ITCs also kill off cancer cells, including cancer stem cells, which is essential for combating cancer metastases. Isothiocyanates restrain certain pro-inflammatory compounds that are associated with chronic inflammation and cancer.
The ITC sulforaphane helps support the anti-inflammatory Nrf2 pathway which protects cells against oxidative and free radical activity. It supports the detoxification process by inducing Phase 2 detoxification enzymes, inhibiting the activation of pro-carcinogens, and by boosting cellular glutathione levels. Sulforaphane promotes cancer cell death and inhibits cancer cell proliferation. It also supports the immune system and in particular, increases Natural Killer Cell activity.
Sulforaphane also inhibits Helicobacter pylori, the bacterium that increases one’s risk of stomach and colorectal cancer. It is also anti-viral and has been found effective against the Epstein Barr Virus.
Quercetin, another potent antioxidant highly concentrated in sprouts, is a strong anti-inflammatory and prevents tumor cell growth. It also aids in the removal of excess estrogen from the body — it stimulates liver function to detoxify estrogen and other carcinogenic agents.
Lutein is another powerful antioxidant that neutralizes cancer-causing free radicals (it is also essential for many things, including eye health, protecting against macular degeneration, and for maintaining strong eye tissue). Lutein (and zeaxanthin) may be beneficial to cardio health by preventing hardening of the arteries.
Glutathione has been labeled the ‘mother of all antioxidants” due to its incredible ability to disarm free radicals, detoxify the body, and boost the immune system.
Broccoli sprouts are extremely high in cancer fighting activity, particularly against lung, colon, and breast cancers. Compounds in broccoli speed up the removal of estrogen from the body, helping to suppress breast cancer. They also target cancer stem cells, the cells responsible for metastasis.
Broccoli sprouts contain a high amount of the cancer-busting and immune boosting substance sulforaphane. They are also abundant in quercetin, glutathione, beta carotene, indoles, vitamin C, lutein, glucarate, and the metabolic substance DIM, which is a natural aromatase inhibitor.
Broccoli sprouts are rich in cholesterol reducing fiber and have anti-viral and anti-ulcer activity. They are also a super source of chromium that helps regulate insulin and blood sugar.
Sometimes called peppergrass, watercress is delicious and pungent. It is also one of the most nutrient-dense foods known. It is rich in beta-carotene and other carotenoids, including lutein. Watercress also offers significant quercetin, EGCG (Epigallocatechin Gallate), flavanols such a kaempferol, lycopene, idole-3 carbinol (13C), sulforaphane, as well as DIM. It is a good source of riboflavin, vitamin C, A and K, calcium, magnesium, vitamin E, and contains trace amounts of omega 3’s. Watercress is one of the best food sources of iodine for vegans.
Watercress also contains a high amount of PEITC (phenylethylisothiocyanate) which has been shown to protect DNA from damage. PEITC reduces the growth of breast cancer cells, triggers apoptosis (cancer cell death), and decreases angiogenesis. It inhibits the growth of HER2 expression as well as cancer metastasis.
PEITC (also found in some other cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli) deactivates mutant p53 in tumor cells but leaves normal p53 alone. P53 regulates cell division by keeping cells from growing and dividing too fast or in an uncontrolled way. A mutation in p53 is a permanent change in the nucleotide sequence of DNA. Loss of p53 function can be deleterious, and about 50% of all human cancers have a mutated p53 gene.
Watercress has antioxidant, antigenotoxic (the process by which chemical agents damage genetic information within a cell causing mutations), and anti-inflammatory properties.
Studies show that a regular intake of watercress has been associated with protection against breast, colon, and other cancers.
Watercress and broccoli affect all stages of cancer: initiation, proliferation, and metastasis. So, what’s not to love about these sprouts? Plus, it is a lot easier to consume a handful of sprouts than it is to down a pound and a half of broccoli or an enormous plate of watercress– which, for example, is the amount it would take to get an equivalent amount of sulforaphane.
Add sprouts to your smoothies; use on sandwiches, on top of pizza, in salads, and as a garnish for soups. I make wonderful gluten-free pizza crusts using cauliflower or garbanzo bean flour, and pile the pizza high with arugula and sprouts just before serving. Yum!
Just a reminder that while eating cruciferous vegetables is a important for optimal health, it is necessary to have sufficient iodine in the diet when consuming high quantities (including DIM).
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Elyn Jacobs is a breast cancer survivor and holistic cancer strategist who helps people make better, healthier, non-toxic choices. She emphasizes the critical nature of addressing the root cause of cancer and not just its presenting symptoms (such as the tumor). Elyn specializes in understanding the role of estrogen in breast cancer and debunks the myths associated. She is a Contributing Editor for The Truth About Cancer and was creator and host of the Survive and Live Well Radio Show on the Cancer Support Network. Elyn is on the Medical Advisory Board for BeatCancer.Org and is on the Advisory Board to the Radical Remission Project. Elyn was the former Executive Director of the Emerald Heart Cancer Foundation. Contact Elyn via her website. Elyn offers consults via Skype, phone or in person.