Liposomal Sulforaphane: A Broccoli-Based Antioxidant with Enhanced Absorption That Supports Health With Age
Found in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, kale, and Brussels sprouts, sulforaphane is a powerful compound known as an isothiocyanate. Sulforaphane supports health, in particular cognitive and cardiovascular, by acting as a potent antioxidant and participating in detoxification. However, supplemental sulforaphane’s potential is often curbed by its poor stability and bioavailability in the body.
One way to circumvent this issue is by using liposomal forms of sulforaphane. These nano-sized, bubble-shaped molecules have a unique structure that significantly boosts absorption and utilization in the body. With these tiny liposomes, we can get all of the benefits of sulforaphane — without ever eating one piece of broccoli.
The Skinny on Sulforaphane
Sulforaphane’s anti-aging and health-promoting properties are mediated through several processes, including reducing levels of oxidative stress — the accumulation of inflammatory compounds called reactive oxygen species (ROS) that damage our cells — and fighting body-wide inflammation.
As Dr. Rhonda Patrick, a leading researcher in longevity notes in her deep-dive on this broccoli-derived compound, sulforaphane is a potent modulator in the inflammatory process, helping to regulate gene expression in favor of decreased inflammation, improved glucose control, and DNA repair.
1. Sulforaphane Fights Oxidative Stress and Supports Healthier Inflammatory Pathways
Many isothiocyanate compounds — especially sulforaphane — stimulate a pathway known as Nrf2 (nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2). This signaling pathway activates downstream antioxidant enzymes that scavenge for free radicals and ROS that contribute to oxidative stress.
Sulforaphane has also demonstrated the ability to reduce the activity and movement of the pro-inflammatory gene-activating protein NF-κB (nuclear factor kappa B). As NF-κB activity controls the production of other inflammatory signaling molecules called cytokines, sulforaphane plays a role in fighting inflammation — an underlying cause of many age-related symptoms and conditions.
2. Sulforaphane Supports Cardiometabolic Health
An accumulation of cellular oxidative stress and inflammation is a significant contributor to poor cardiovascular and metabolic health, which is one reason why sulforaphane benefits the heart. Sulfur-based compounds like sulforaphane also support the heart and vascular systems by releasing the gas hydrogen sulfide, a cardioprotective compound that fights oxidative stress and prompts the formation of new blood vessels.
Cell-based and animal research has found that sulforaphane reduces excess body fat, lowers blood lipids like total and LDL cholesterol, improves insulin sensitivity, reduces blood pressure, and promotes better blood sugar control — all of which are highly related to cardiovascular and metabolic health.
3. Sulforaphane Bolsters Brain Health
Sulforaphane may also support brain health and cognition, as oxidative stress and neuroinflammation are involved in the development of cognitive disorders. Sulforaphane has been shown to reduce the activity of pro-inflammatory compounds within specific brain cells, which reduces neuronal loss.
Further, sulforaphane has been found to cross the highly selective blood-brain barrier and act on the brains of rats and mice. In animal models of poor cognition, sulforaphane reduces markers of neurodegeneration and improves scores on memory and learning tests.
4. Sulforaphane May Support Longevity
Additionally, sulforaphane may act on longevity pathways by delaying cellular senescence — when cells irreversibly stop dividing and lose function but remain in the body, secreting inflammatory compounds to nearby tissues.
In a recent study, sulforaphane increased the lifespan of aged worms by an average of 17% and boosted their mobility and appetite. However, we’d need additional studies in larger species to determine sulforaphane’s effect on human longevity.
The Lowdown on Liposomes
So, how do these tiny bubbles benefit sulforaphane absorption? The key to the success of liposomes comes down to their molecular structure — they consist of a double layer of phospholipids surrounding a liquid center. Phospholipids are fat-based compounds that make up our cell membranes, consisting of both a water-loving (hydrophilic) “head” and a water-hating (hydrophobic) “tail.”
This unique structure allows the outer-facing hydrophilic heads to attract water and form a closed system while their hydrophobic tails are safely inside the bubble. Because liposomes have a water-based center, the second layer of phospholipid heads line up to face the inside of the bubble. The double-layered bubble then safely protects the nutrient or compound inside — like sulforaphane — allowing it to travel through the harsh digestive tract and bloodstream until it meets our cells. From there, the liposome merges with our cell membranes and releases the inner nutrient contents into the cell.
The body recognizes and accepts liposomes because they are phospholipid-based, mimicking the fatty structure of our cell membranes. This means that sulforaphane can be directly delivered into cells without the threat of degradation or excretion in the urine before utilization.
Not Big on Broccoli? Try Liposomal Sulforaphane
If you haven’t listened to your mom’s pleas to please eat your broccoli, you can still get all of the cruciferous-related benefits without eating any of the vegetables (although we’d still recommend it!) Using liposomal technology with supplemental sulforaphane helps protect the compound until it gets where it needs to go, augmenting its abilities to support human health.
Although more studies are needed to determine the effects of sulforaphane on human cognition and longevity, the research is promising for metabolic health and fighting inflammation and oxidative stress.
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Qin S, Yang C, Huang W, et al. Sulforaphane attenuates microglia-mediated neuronal necroptosis through down-regulation of MAPK/NF-κB signaling pathways in LPS-activated BV-2 microglia. Pharmacol Res. 2018;133:218-235. doi:10.1016/j.phrs.2018.01.014
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