By Susan Mudd
We’ve all been told to eat our veggies — especially the dark green ones — since we were little babes in high chairs. But ask people exactly why these plants are so good for us, and you’ll get vague answers like “helps prevent cancer” or “fiber is good for you.” Here’s something you can sink your teeth into: Some vegetables may protect and even reverse the damaging effects of diabetes on the heart, according to a report in Diabetes News.
Researchers at the University of Warwick in England isolated a phytochemical called sulforaphane, which is found in cruciferous vegetables, and tested its effects on human cells. (Cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and leafy greens.) When they tested sulforaphane on blood vessel cells that were damaged from diabetes, they found a 73 percent reduction in the activity of a free radical called Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS), which at high levels is very damaging.
The researchers also found that sulforaphane activates a protein that protects cells and tissues by increasing antioxidant activity and supporting the liver’s ability to detoxify free radicals. When the liver is healthy and able to handle the detoxification and elimination of free radicals, the immune system can better do its work, including protecting us from the kind of cell mutations that can lead to cancer.
Researchers caution, of course, that experimenting with blood cells incubated in a laboratory environment can not necessarily be extrapolated to what would happen in the human body. But these are promising findings. The next step is to find a sample population in which to study the effects of increased dietary intake of sulforaphane-rich foods.
Free radicals such as ROS are one of the causes of damaged blood vessels in diabetes. As the body attempts to repair the blood vessels, plaques form and blood vessel walls begin to narrow, resulting in both high blood pressure and the condition known as atherosclerosis. The arteries to the brain and heart are also affected, setting the stage for heart attack or stroke. People with diabetes are five times more likely to die from a cardiovascular event than those without diabetes.
So stock up on cruciferous veggies — and consider expanding your usual repertoire. Broccoli sprouts, which are very young germinations of broccoli seeds (similar in appearance to bean sprouts) may be the best choice, as they are packed with enzymes that help to increase levels of sulforaphane in the body. Lightly steaming or quickly sautéing vegetables are the best ways to cook them to guarantee that they retain their nutrients, so those heart healthy benefits will be passed on to you.
1 – Mayo Clinic. Nutrition-Wise: Fascinating connection between broccoli and reversal of diabetes complications. (Accessed August 28, 2008.)
2 – Xue, Mingzhan, Qingwen Qian, Adaikalakoteswari Antonysunil, Naila Rabbani, Roya Babaei-Jadidi, and Paul J. Thornalley. Activation of NF-E2-related factor-2 reverses biochemical dysfunction of endothelial cells induced by hyperglycemia linked to vascular disease. Diabetes News, August 2008. (Accessed August 25, 2008).