#232 The Best 12 Foods to Reverse Aging with Sulforaphane

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Reverse Aging with Sulforaphane

Could sulforaphane be the best superfood you have never heard of?  If so, that would make broccoli sprouts the healthiest food on this planet.  In this article, I’ll share the science behind why sulforaphane may be the best way to reverse and prevent almost every medical condition.  I’ll also reveal the best 12 foods to reverse aging with sulforaphane.

What is Sulforaphane?

Sulforaphane is a sulfur-containing food molecule that reverses aging, stops inflammation, kills cancer, protects the brain, and puts an end to cardiovascular disease.  While sulforaphane is found naturally in cruciferous vegetables, these vegetables must be prepared and eaten in the right way to maximize the bioavailability of sulforaphane.  And it is this special preparation that explains why broccoli sprouts have so much more sulforaphane than all of the other cruciferous vegetables combined.

The Top 10 Effects of Sulforaphane

1. Slows Aging

Sulforaphane turns on your genes which make Nrf2.  Studies show that Nrf2 is the master protein in the body to slow aging by activating whatever longevity genes you may have.

While you have probably never heard of Nrf2, there have now been more than 5,500 scientific studies published on Nrf2.  What we do know is that Nrf2 prevents the cells in your body from growing old by protecting them from inflammation, free radicals, and the many other things that wear your cells out over time.

2. Stops Inflammation

Chronic over stimulation of the immune system causes inflammation.  Chronic inflammation in turn causes rusting of our bodies.

Inflammation that is never turned off is one of the root causes of premature aging, autoimmune disease, arthritis, cancer, dementia, and heart disease.  Through activation of Nrf2, studies show that sulforaphane stops inflammation and recalibrates the immune system to function properly again.

3. Fights Cancer

Cancer is perhaps the most feared of all human conditions.  And when it comes to cancer fighting foods, sulforaphane seems to be the best.

People eating the most cruciferous vegetables have long been known to have very low rates of cancer.  In studies, sulforaphane is incredibly effective in stopping most forms of cancer in animals.

Based on how effective sulforaphane is in destroying cancer in the laboratory, researchers are now studying it in humans.  For example, there are now 12 studies assessing the cancer fighting effects of sulforaphane in humans.

4. Protects Your Brain

No one wants to lose their memories.  As I discussed in blog number 81, BDNF or brain derived neurotrophic factor, is the most important protein to have around in your body if you want a sharp brain throughout your life.

Fortunately, studies show that sulforaphane also boosts BDNF.  Perhaps this boost in BDNF helps to explain why studies of diabetic rats, who are known to quickly develop dementia, can preserve their memories with sulforaphane.

5. Protects Your Heart

It has often been said that you are only as old as your arteries.  Indeed, your biological age is directly linked to how much plaque is in your arteries.  If you can keep the plaque out, your body will stay young.

When it comes to staying young and preventing cardiovascular disease, you need more sulforaphane.  As with cancer, many studies have reported that those people eating the most sulforaphane from cruciferous vegetables live longer and are much less likely to get heart disease.

Specifically, sulforaphane prevents atherosclerosis or plaque build up.  For example, in one interesting study researchers pumped rabbits full of the highest cholesterol containing food they could find.  Despite a diet literally off the charts in cholesterol, the rabbits who were also fed sulforaphane foods didn’t get hardening of their arteries.

6. Sulforaphane Detoxifies

If you do a quick Google search you will find many ads for ways you can detoxify your body.  Sadly, most of these are scams.

If you really want to detoxify your body then you need sulforaphane. For example, sulforaphane has been shown in studies to detoxify pesticides on our food.

For those of you who like barbecued meat, but don’t want to increase your risk of cancer from the heterocyclic amines that form when you cook meat, eat sulforaphane foods with your meat. Studies show that sulforaphane can block up to 60% of these heterocyclic amines cancer causing compounds.

Studies also show that sulforaphane can detoxify the polluted air we breath into our bodies.  In fact, one interesting study from a very polluted city in China showed that broccoli sprout juice detoxified the chemicals found in polluted air.  Specifically, broccoli sprout juice detoxified 61% of benzene, which is a known carcinogen from air pollution.

7. Keeps You Thin

If you want to gain weight really fast, just eat the Standard American Diet (SAD).  The Standard American Diet makes it almost impossible for anyone to maintain a healthy weight.  This is because all of the sugars and processed carbohydrates screw up countless metabolic and hormonal pathways in your body.

In an interesting study, researchers put mice on the Standard American Diet.  Not only did these mice quickly become very obese, they also became insulin resistant, had sky high cholesterol levels, and developed atherosclerosis.

Where this study gets interesting is that sulforaphane blocked the effects of the Standard American Diet.  In other words, hunger hormone levels dropped so the mice weren’t always so hungry and lost weight.  Insulin metabolism normalized.  Blood pressure and cholesterol levels dropped and atherosclerosis was reversed.

8. Reverses Diabetes

Diabetes, or high blood sugar levels, is one of the fastest ways to age your arteries.  Exciting new research is showing that sulforaphane may ultimately become the best diabetes drug.

Indeed, in a recently published study, researchers from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden enrolled 97 obese people with type 2 diabetes.  They then randomized these people to either broccoli sprouts or placebo.

After just 12 weeks, those people randomized to broccoli sprouts had blood sugar readings 10% lower than those randomized to a placebo.  Probably the best part of this study is that researchers didn’t see all of the side effects that you would expect to see from the typical diabetes drug.

9. Lowers Cholesterol

Across the world, studies show that the longest lived groups of people all have low cholesterol levels.  This is probably because when cholesterol levels are low, aging of your arteries slows to a crawl.

While few people want to take a statin drug to reduce high cholesterol, one possible alternative could be broccoli sprouts.  Indeed, in one study broccoli sprouts reduced LDL or bad cholesterol by 7%.

Of course, if you have already been prescribed a statin don’t stop it.  In fact, don’t ever act on anything I share in an article without talking to your physician first.

10. Treats Depression and Anxiety

More and more studies are pointing to inflammation as the cause of depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions.  As sulforaphane is a powerful anti-inflammatory compound, then one would expect sulforaphane to help depression and anxiety.

While there aren’t any good studies showing that sulforaphane treats depression and anxiety in humans, it certainly seems to help mice with their depression and anxiety.  Indeed, studies show that by blocking excessive inflammation in mice, sulforaphane makes mice less stressed and happier.

Does Sulforaphane Have Any Side Effects?

Fortunately, I have never seen any side effects from eating too many cruciferous vegetables in my cardiology practice.  However, just because I have never seen any doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen.

For example, there is a theoretical risk of developing a thyroid goiter from eating too many crucriferous vegetables.  Despite this theoretical risk, I could find no studies showing that this happens in people who are eating a healthy diet which includes adequate amounts of iodine for optimal thyroid function.

Other possible side effects reported in the medical literature include DNA disruption from massive quantities of broccoli sprouts.  Likewise, there was a case report of liver toxicity from drinking huge amounts of broccoli sprout juice.

How Do You Maximize Sulforaphane from Your Vegetables?

Cutting or chewing cruciferous vegetables unlocks sulforaphane.  However, cooking cruciferous vegetables destroys sulforaphane.  Thus, to unlock sulforaphane it is best to eat cruciferous vegetables raw.

The Best 12 Foods to Reverse Aging with Sulforaphane

As you undoubtedly have learned by making it this far in the article, raw cruciferous vegetables are the key to unlocking sulforaphane.  However, when it comes to sulforaphane, not all cruciferous vegetables are created equally.  Below, are the top foods for sulforaphane.

1. Broccoli Sprouts

Of all the foods studied, broccoli sprouts have the highest amount of sulforaphane.  Indeed, studies show that broccoli sprouts have anywhere from 10 to 100 times the amount of sulforaphane than do the mature broccoli plants.

Fortunately, it is easy and very inexpensive to sprout your own broccoli at home.  Most people just do it inside of their kitchen window.

For those of you who prefer not to sprout your own broccoli, there are other options.  For example, our local Whole Foods grocery store sells broccoli sprouts.

2. Broccoli

While mature broccoli lacks the mega dose of sulforaphane that the sprouts do, it still has a lot of sulforaphane.  In fact, of the cruciferous vegetables, broccoli and cauliflower pack the most.

3. Cauliflower

As with broccoli sprouts, I was also surprised to learn that cauliflower sprouts are also high in sulforaphane.  However, as no one that I know eats cauliflower sprouts, just sticking to the adult form will still give you a good dose of sulforaphane.

4. Kale

Kale is another one of my favorite foods that I eat on most days.  Nutrient for nutrient, it is hard to find a food that packs in more than kale.

5. Brussels Sprout
6. Cabbage
7. Bok Choy
8. Collards
9. Mustard
10. Watercress
11. Arugula
12. Turnips

Practical Tips

Based on thousands of medical studies, sulforaphane may be the best superfood.  As these studies are so convincing, I make it a practice to include several cups of raw broccoli, kale, or cauliflower into my diet every day.  This practice fits well with the many studies showing that people eating cruciferous vegetables live longer and have less cancer and heart disease.

As we really don’t know what the upper limit of sulforaphane is that we can safely enjoy, I don’t eat broccoli sprouts that often.  This is because I haven’t seen any long-term studies of people getting mega doses of sulforaphane from broccoli sprouts.  Until these studies are done, I’ll play it safe and reserve broccoli sprouts as an occasional treat.

What is your take on broccoli sprouts?  I would love to hear from you.  Please leave your thoughts and questions below.

As always, I’ll try my best to answer every question as quickly as I can.  If you want to learn more about how food choices prevent disease and promote longevity, please be sure to read our new book, The Longevity Plan, subscribe to our free weekly newsletter, or listen to our podcast.

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21 Comments
  1. I have two questions:
    1. If broccoli sprouts have such a high level of sulforaphane relative to mature broccoli, will “baby kale” have much higher amounts relative to mature kale? I find baby kale so much more palatable.

    2. I’ve read in several places that steaming broccoli until it’s bright green doesn’t destroy most of the sulforaphane, but actually makes it more bioavailable than eating the broccoli raw, but it’s when you overcook it is when you destroy it. I’ve read this in several sources (including Andrew Weil).

    • Hi Diane,

      Great question on the baby kale. I, too, prefer baby kale to the mature plant. However, I couldn’t find any research comparing the sulforaphane levels of baby kale to adult kale. As with broccoli and cauliflower, I suspect that the most sulforaphane is probably with sprouts but once again I couldn’t find any research on this so it is probably best not to try this at home.

      There are indeed some data reporting that if broccoli is very steamed that it doesn’t destroy sulforaphane. And, as you pointed out, lightly steaming may make other nutrients (not sulforaphane based on the studies I reviewed) more bioavailable.

      Hope this helps!

      John

  2. Very interesting info, thank you.

    My concern though is I have a tendency towards hypothyroidism (not officially diagnosed, but TSH sometimes starts creeping up towards 4 and I try to keep it under 2) – and I have heard that these same healthy vegetables can increase that response, as you alluded to in the mention of goiter.

    I assume a moderate amount daily will not be harmful, but I wondered if there were any studies that addressed this. I have usually been cooking these vegetables to avoid the thyroid effects, but now I see this is destroying the sulforaphane. Can’t win!

    • Hi Nancy,

      While there are theoretical thyroid effects of cruciferous vegetables, I have never seen them with people eating a healthy diet which includes the recommended daily amount of iodine. I also have never seen any studies reporting thyroid effects to be a real problem with eating cruciferous vegetables.

      Hope this helps!

      John

  3. I like raw kale and cabbage etc. Just read Dave Asprey: The Bulletproof Diet- he warns agains eating cruciferous vegetables raw, because of their oxalate content. What do you mean obout that?

    Johanne

    • Hi Johanne,

      Thank you so much for reading. Despite the concerns raised by many Internet “health” sites, I could find no scientific studies reporting that eating raw cruciferous vegetables are bad for you.

      If you are concerned about oxalates in food, then cruciferous vegetables are not that high on the list. The highest oxalate foods include chocolate, nuts (especially almonds), green leafy vegetables (especially spinach), and berries.

      It is true that there is a small percentage of people that have to worry about oxalates in their diet. These would be the people prone to kidney stones. However, I should also mention that those people eating a mostly plant-based diet (which have a lot of oxalates) also have a much lower risk of kidney stones than the general population.

      Hope this helps!

      John

    • Hi Anna,

      I personally have never grown broccoli sprouts. Rather, I have just purchased mine at Whole Foods. However, from what I have heard, it is relative easy to grow your own.

      Here is a link to the Urban Organic Gardner website which gives step-by-step instructions on how to grow broccoli sprouts. As I have never done this myself, I have no idea how it will turn out. If you decide to give it a try, please post your results.

      Hope this helps!

      John

  4. I take organic sulfur. Is there any Sulforaphane in that? Thanks for bringing so much good-sense information to my in box. I like it so well I share with others (who don’t have a computer).

  5. I love sprouts but have never tried broccoli. But, I have some auto immune disease, maybe lupus. The last time I ate a lot of sprouts I had one of the worst flares I have ever had. I learned later that there is an enzyme in sprouts, especially alfalfa that triggers lupus flares. I don’t know if broccoli would do the same but I have been leery of sprouts ever since.

    • Hi Chris,

      Given your bad reaction to sprouts in the past, it would probably be best to check with your rheumatologist before trying broccoli sprouts.

      Thanks for reading!

      John

  6. If cutting the vegetables doesn’t destroy sulforaphane, can most of these vegetables be incorporated into a cold smoothie? If so, what’s the best way to make it palatable – including a banana?

    • Hi Mike,

      Raw cruciferous vegetables go great in smoothies! When these vegetables are cut up, whether be in your mouth, by a knife, or the blender, it releases sulforaphane.

      Yes, throw in some fruit as well for your smoothie. Bananas are great. So are berries.

      Enjoy!

      John

    • I throw even the leaves of the plants into my smoothies, so I get a lot of variety and don’t miss out on the great nutrients cruciferous plants offer. I put in apple as well as frozen banana chunks.

  7. I’m a breast cancer survivor, and I recently began eating about 1/2 cup of broccoli sprouts/daily (suggested by my daughter).

    Is this a safe dose?

    • Hi Marie,

      Congratulations on beating cancer!

      Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any long-term studies on the safety of broccoli sprouts. While almost of the studies on broccoli sprouts are extremely positive, there were a couple of studies that raised some concern that it could perhaps disrupt DNA. Thus, my suggestion would be to check with your oncologist on this one.

      Hope this helps!

      John

  8. Hello Dr. Day,

    I am excited to try broccoli sprouts and will begin adding them my super green smoothies of which I drink 2 per day, which includes copious amounts of fresh, organic raw broccoli, kale, chard, beets, cucumber, radishes and spinach.

    Lynn

  9. Growing broccoli sprouts was incredibly easy. Unfortunately, something about them didn’t agree with my digestive system. Whereas I have no trouble with broccoli or kale.