In Part 1 of my blog series on broccoli sprouts, I discussed recent research on the beneficial applications of broccoli sprouts in the treatment of autism. In this post, I’ll cover the research on broccoli sprouts in the treatment of three additional neurological conditions – Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and traumatic brain injury.
Sulforaphane supports your brain
Sulforaphane, a potent phytochemical found in broccoli sprouts, is lipophilic (“fat-loving”) and readily crosses the blood-brain barrier. This unique property of sulforaphane means it can directly enter the brain and exert anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects on neural tissue. The neuroprotective properties of sulforaphane show great promise in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, and traumatic brain injury.
Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases
Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease are the two most common neurodegenerative disorders in the world. The classic pathological features of Alzheimer’s disease are an aggregation of amyloid plaques between neurons and neurofibrillary tangles inside neurons. Parkinson’s disease, on the other hand, features degeneration of dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra of the brain and the accumulation of alpha-synuclein inclusions, also referred to as “Lewy bodies,” inside neurons. Alzheimer’s disease causes a variety of cognitive, behavioral, and mood problems, whereas Parkinson’s disease causes motor problems, tremors, and difficulty with speech. Both disorders feature brain insulin resistance, neuroinflammation, oxidative stress, mitochondrial dysfunction. Unfortunately, the current treatments available for AD and PD are primarily palliative, limited to drugs and surgery, and fraught with side effects. As such, these diseases are associated with high morbidity and mortality. There is a pressing need for safe, effective interventions for these common neurodegenerative diseases. Interestingly, a growing body of research indicates that sulforaphane, a phytochemical found in broccoli sprouts, has potent neuroprotective properties in AD and PD and may even attenuate the neurodegenerative disease process!
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In an animal model of Parkinson’s disease, sulforaphane has been found to inhibit neurodegeneration by blocking DNA fragmentation and the activation of caspase-3, a protein involved in cell apoptosis that mediates the death of dopaminergic neurons in PD. (1) Sulforaphane protects dopaminergic cells by upregulating Nrf2, a transcription factor that regulates the expression of antioxidants in the body, thus combatting oxidative stress and neuroinflammation. (2) Activation of the Nrf2 pathway by sulforaphane increases endogenous levels of glutathione, the body’s premier antioxidant and detoxifying agent that is needed to alleviate neurodegenerative damage in AD and PD. By protecting neurons against oxidative stress and rogue apoptotic proteins, sulforaphane may both prevent and mitigate the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
Sulforaphane also has potent neuroprotective effects in Alzheimer’s disease. In mechanistic studies, it has been shown to inhibit amyloid-beta-induced neuronal death by activating Nrf2, and thus upregulating levels of intracellular glutathione and antioxidant enzymes. (3) It also enhances the activity of proteasomes, protein complexes that break down unneeded or damaged proteins such as misfolded amyloid-beta, the hallmark protein found in the AD brain. (4) Via these effects, sulforaphane alleviates cognitive impairment. (5)
Traumatic brain injury
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a form of brain dysfunction caused by an outside force, such as a violent blow to the head, that results in brain oxidative stress, antioxidant depletion, and neuroinflammation. TBI causes a wide array of physiological problems, including amnesia, difficulty thinking and concentrating, aggression, impulsivity, fatigue, and persistent headaches, just to name a few. By upregulating anti-inflammatory pathways and increasing antioxidant levels, including glutathione, sulforaphane has been found to improve cognitive function in an animal model of traumatic brain injury. (6, 7, 8) Clinical trials are needed to ascertain the effects of sulforaphane on other symptoms of TBI, such as the behavioral effects. While more research is needed, I still recommend that you consume sulforaphane-rich broccoli sprouts if you’ve ever sustained a head injury; the safety record of broccoli sprouts, combined with their affordability and numerous other health benefits, making them a beneficial, healing addition to your diet.
If you are looking to prevent or treat a neurodegenerative disease, or heal from traumatic brain injury, then you should include broccoli sprouts in your diet. While broccoli sprout supplements are available, I highly recommend growing your own because it is a far more prudent strategy. Check out Part 1 of my blog series for instructions on how to grow your own broccoli sprouts!.
Lindsay Christensen is a health writer and researcher with her B.S. in Biomedical Science and an Emphasis in Nutrition. She is currently pursuing her M.S. in Human Nutrition, with the intention of becoming a Clinical Nutritionist. Lindsay’s passion for natural health and wellness has been driven by her own experience in recovering from a serious chronic illness. She blogs about chronic illness recovery and her nature-inspired approach to nutrition and healthy living on her website, Ascent to Health: https://www.ascent2health.com/. In her free time, she can be found outdoors rock climbing and hiking, enjoying the beauty and healing power of nature.”