Fighting Cancer, Autism And Neurodegenerative Diseases One Molecule At A Time

Most of us know eating our vegetables is good for us, but few are familiar with the copious benefits of the molecules that are contained within each vegetable.1,2,3 Take for example, sulforaphane, a molecule within the isothiocyanate group of organosulfur compounds.4,5,6 Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage all contain sulforaphane,7 among others including kale, cauliflower, radishes, broccoli raab, mustard, turnips, bok choy, collards, kohlrabi, arugula, and watercress.8 This molecule is currently being studied for its potential antioxidant properties, and how it relates to autism,10,11,12,13,14 neurodegenerative disorders, and cancers.15,16,17,18

In fact, one of the most interesting studies regarding sulforaphane was released just a few months ago.19 The authors of this study concluded that sulforaphane activates the Nrf2 pathway, which helps many inflammatory conditions, after looking specifically at sulforaphane’s effects on autism. With regard to other conditions, recent research into the effects of sulforaphane on cancer stem cells has drawn tremendous interest.20 Sulforaphane has also proven to be an effective chemoprotective agent in cell culture, in carcinogen-induced and genetic animal cancer models, as well as in xenograft models of cancer.21

Other studies have looked at sulforaphane’€™s potential effects on Alzheimer’€™s disease. Researchers have found that sulforaphane significantly increased the numbers of 5-bromo-2-deoxyuridine-positive neurons in the subventricular and subgranular zones.22 Though the molecule is not yet a definitive cure for any condition, the preventive potential of sulforaphane remains high, and should provide enough incentive to prioritize a healthy, Paleo diet rich in vegetables.

Sulforaphane has also shown a protective effect on the kidney mitochondrial complex,23 where damage is often induced by a high-fat diet. It is, however, worth mentioning that when researchers use the term ‘€˜high-fat’,€™ they usually are referring to a high-fat, as well as a high-sugar diet. In addition to this kind of protection, a wide variety of acute and chronic neurodegenerative diseases, including ischemic/traumatic brain injury, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’€™s disease, share common characteristics. These characteristics include: oxidative stress, misfolded proteins, excitotoxicity, inflammation, and neuronal loss. Sulforaphane has been shown to help combat nearly all of these characteristics.24 In essence, by eating kale and making other healthy food choices, you will not only avoid damage caused by a poor diet, but also simultaneously protect yourself against potential neurological conditions.

So, it seems that when your mother told you to eat your vegetables, she may have been more right than either of you realized. The sheer idea that by simply consuming broccoli, you may be helping to protect your brain against neurodegenerative disorders, or potentially even against cancer, is both a tantalizing prospect, and one more reason to eat a healthy, balanced diet. Though one molecule may not protect you against everything, consuming a diet rich with nutrients is arguably the best thing you can do to protect your own health.25,26,27 A Paleo Diet, which is rich with vegetables, high quality sources of protein, and healthy fats, will keep your body and mind in the best shape possible. Eat up!

Table of Contents


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This article originally appeared on The Paleo Diet.