Dr. John Day
Dr. Day is a cardiologist specializing in heart rhythm abnormalities at St. Mark’s Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah. He graduated from Johns Hopkins Medical School and completed his residency and fellowships in cardiology and cardiac electrophysiology at Stanford University. He is the former president of the Heart Rhythm Society and the Utah chapter of the American College of Cardiology.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
7. Bok Choy
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.
Disclaimer Policy: This website is intended to give general information and does not provide medical advice. This website does not create a doctor-patient relationship between you and Dr. John Day. If you have a medical problem, immediately contact your healthcare provider. Information on this website is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Dr. John Day is not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your medical decisions.