Eat your broccoli! That's the advice from UCLA researchers who have found that a chemical in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables may hold a key to restoring the body's immunity, which declines as we age.
Published in this week's online edition of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, the study findings show that sulforaphane, a chemical in broccoli, switches on a set of antioxidant genes and enzymes in specific immune cells, which then combat the injurious effects of molecules known as free radicals that can damage cells and lead to disease.
Immune system aging sets you up for getting killed by pneumonia or flu or a bacterial infection picked up while at a hospital. In fact immune system aging probably makes us more vulnerable to cancer and people with especially capable immune systems are probably at much lower risk of getting cancer. So keeping your immune system younger yields a big benefit.
The UCLA team not only found that the direct administration of sulforaphane in broccoli reversed the decline in cellular immune function in old mice, but they witnessed similar results when they took individual immune cells from old mice, treated those cells with the chemical outside the body and then placed the treated cells back into a recipient animal.
In particular, the scientists discovered that dendritic cells, which introduce infectious agents and foreign substances to the immune system, were particularly effective in restoring immune function in aged animals when treated with sulforaphane.
"We found that treating older mice with sulforaphane increased the immune response to the level of younger mice," said Hyon-Jeen Kim, first author and research scientist at the Geffen School.
To investigate how the chemical in broccoli increased the immune system's response, the UCLA group confirmed that sulforaphane interacts with a protein called Nrf2, which serves as a master regulator of the body's overall antioxidant response and is capable of switching on hundreds of antioxidant and rejuvenating genes and enzymes.
Nel said that the chemistry leading to activation of this gene-regulation pathway could be a platform for drug discovery and vaccine development to boost the decline of immune function in elderly people.
Sulforaphane concentration in broccoli sprout (1153 mg/100 g dry weight) was about 10 times higher than that of mature broccoli (44-171 mg/100 g dry weight).
Extracts of 3-day-old broccoli sprouts (containing either glucoraphanin or sulforaphane as the principal enzyme inducer) were highly effective in reducing the incidence, multiplicity, and rate of development of mammary tumors in dimethylbenz(a)anthracene-treated rats. Notably, sprouts of many broccoli cultivars contain negligible quantities of indole glucosinolates, which predominate in the mature vegetable and may give rise to degradation products (e.g., indole-3-carbinol) that can enhance tumorigenesis. Hence, small quantities of crucifer sprouts may protect against the risk of cancer as effectively as much larger quantities of mature vegetables of the same variety.
Some Johns Hopkins researchers have even founded a company that sells teas fortified with sulforaphane.
|Share |||Randall Parker, 2008 March 11 08:23 PM Aging Diet Studies|