Broccoli sprout benefits are numerous, and in part, come from a potent compound called sulforaphane. Sulforaphane easily crosses the blood-brain barrier where it can reduce the effects of toxins; this is a big reason why it is thought to protect neurons and the brain.
What are Broccoli Sprouts?
Broccoli sprouts are tiny broccoli plants that are about 4 days old. They look a lot like alfalfa sprouts and you can find them in most supermarkets today.
Broccoli sprouts are also easily sprouted at home.
Both full-size broccoli and sprouts are healthy, but broccoli sprouts stand apart for health.
What Makes A Broccoli Sprout So Special?
Broccoli sprouts have a strong antioxidant edge over mature broccoli!
Broccoli sprout sulforaphane potential is higher than any food. Let me break that down a little.
Sulforaphane is a type of isothiocyanate. Isothiocyanates give broccoli its pungent taste and also its medicinal power.
These little broccoli shoots have 10-100 times more of a potent substance called glucoraphanin than mature broccoli.
Glucoraphanin quickly changes when you chew the broccoli sprout up.
When chewed, an enzyme called myrosinase is formed. This enzyme changes glucoraphanin into the potent compound: sulforaphane.
Most of the health benefits of broccoli sprouts are tied to sulforaphane.
From here, when I talk about sulforaphane, it is the compound that sets the sprouts apart from all other foods.
In this blog, I will review broccoli sprout:
- 16 brain benefits
- Sulforaphane in various foods and supplements
- How to increase sulforaphane
- How sulforphane protects the brain
- Growing broccoli sprouts
- Health risks
History of broccoli sprout benefits
In the 1990’s, researchers at John Hopkins University were examining the effects of broccoli sprout extract on cancer.
What they found was remarkable: This little superfood was able to potently reduce development and growth of breast tumors in animal models.
Broccoli sprouts aren’t just nutritious. These scientists found out that broccoli sprouts could positively affect our genes. Broccoli sprout extract was also able to turn on 1,725 genes (NrF2-activating).
These genes are broadly thought to protect our cells, help detoxify our body, turn up antioxidant produced in the body, such as glutathione, coenzyme Q10, and more.
Sulforaphane from Foods and Supplements
Unlike some antioxidants in the body, sulforaphane from broccoli sprouts absorbs very well, at a rate of about 85%.
Broccoli sprouts are highly concentrated in glucoraffanin which makes sulforaphane.
Glucoraffanin is also found in much smaller amounts in the following foods: Brussels spouts, cabbage, cauliflower, bok choy, kale, collards, Chinese broccoli, broccoli raab, kohlrabi, mustard, turnip, radish, arugula, and watercress.
Research primarily uses broccoli sprout extracts and supplements because it is difficult for some people to consistently eat broccoli sprouts. Broccoli sprout benefits may be more consistent if eaten regularly or supplemented.
Broccoli Sprouts Versus Broccoli
Although broccoli is not nearly as good of a source of sulforaphane, there are a few ways to get more out of your broccoli. Logic would suggest the following tips will increase your sulforaphane from broccoli sprouts and other foods too.
5 Ways to Increase Sulforaphane from Foods
- Add radish to increase sulforaphane: Adding Daikon radish helped the frozen broccoli form sulforaphane in the body.
- Lightly steam your vegetables: no more than 2 minutes.
- Don’t boil broccoli unless you add mustard seed: Boiled broccoli has no sulforaphane due to the high temperature of the water
- Researchers found a way to prevent that problem: Add mustard seed to the water. For about a half pound (200 g) of broccoli, 1 gram of mustard powderincreased the body’s levels of sulforaphane by 4 times.
- Eating it with meat increases absorption by 1.3 times (total isothiocyanate)
DIM in Broccoli and Broccoli Sprouts
Other broccoli and broccoli sprouts beneficial compounds are thought to help remove toxic hormones in the body.
How Does Sulforaphane Protect the Brain?
Sulforaphane easily crosses the blood brain barrier where it can reduce the effects of toxins; this is a big reason why it is thought to be protect neurons.
Sulforaphane acts in many ways to increase a very potent cell protector in the body called Nrf2.
I’ve created an overview for you here because sulforaphane’s actions are so vast.
Overview of Proven and Potential Sulforaphane Benefits
- Reduces inflammation
- Reduces blood pressure
- Helps cholesterol reduction
- Reduces toxins
- Improves memory
- Improves social interaction and personality traits
- Protects neurons
- Reduces DNA damage
- Nutritious food
Broccoli Sprout Nutrition Facts
Broccoli sprout nutrients are abundant.
Per half cup they contain:
- 19 Calories
- 1 g Fat (primarily omega 3)
- 3 g Protein
- 2 g Fiber
- 4 g Carbohydrate
- 37 mg Vitamin C
- 78 mcg Vitamin K1
- 10 mg Phytosterols
- 1153 mg Sulforaphane
Sulforaphane Brain Health Benefits
1. Sulforaphane reduces brain toxins
How Do Broccoli Sprouts Detoxify?
Sulforaphane helps the body detoxify airborne pollutants, pesticides and heavy metals, by activating the detoxification systems, mainly the Phase 2 enzymes in the liver.
Studies show that sulforaphane in broccoli sprouts enhanced the detoxification process in various ways:
- Protects against diesel exhaust particles, ozone, and tobacco smoke, reducing pro-allergic effects typically caused by these toxins.
- Blocks DNA damage caused by toxins that bind to DNA, such as aflatoxin and arsenic.
Researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health studied the effects of broccoli sprouts on almost 300 people living in China. Why? China has some of the worst air pollution in the world.
Broccoli sprout beverage increased the body’s ability to clear out toxins from air pollution in a population of people heavily exposed to excessive air particulates.
Two hundred and ninety-one study participants were recruited and randomized to broccoli sprout beverage or placebo. Those given broccoli sprout had reduced benzene (61%), acrolein (23%) toxins in their blood.
Supplementation of broccoli sprouts over 2 weeks also reduced cancer-promoting substances in the blood over a 2 week period compared to placebo in 200 people with high exposure to air pollution.
Sulforaphane helped protect cells against damage caused by diesel fuel exposure in another study.
Standardized broccoli extract reduced airway allergic responses to diesel exhaust fuel in 27 people.
How is Acrolein connected to brain decline?
Patients with Alzheimer’s disease have high levels of acrolein in certain regions of the brain, including the hippocampal, parahippocampal and amygdala.
Acrolein is a toxin that increases oxidative stress in the body. We know that oxidative stress increases risk of nerve damaging diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Broccoli sprouts bind acrolein because they increase an antioxidant in the body called glutathione that helps neutralize acrolein.
Benzene Brain Toxin
Benzene may negatively affect the brain because it reduces levels of an important neurotransmitter called acetylcholine.
Acetylcholine levels are low in people with Alzheimer’s disease. It also reduced the overall immune function in mice. Benzene is also a known carcinogen.
We don’t know exactly HOW broccoli sprout extract reduces this toxin in the body.
One possibility is that broccoli sprouts increase clearance of toxins potentially by increasing the phase 2 detoxification systems in the body while decreasing toxin-promoting systems in the body (phase 1).
2. Broccoli Sprout Extract Benefits Autism Symptoms
Four clinical trials are showing remarkable benefits of broccoli sprouts for children with autism.
Here is what they found:
- 64% were much/very much improved by measures of autism symptoms at 30 weeks of supplements-double-blinded, randomized placebo-controlled trial that is ongoing.
- Self-reported (parents) improvement in autism symptoms in a small trial.
- Social responsiveness significantly improved and markers were identified related to response to treatment.
- A double-blinded trial of 29 boys aged 13-27, receiving broccoli sprout extract resulted in improved behavior, communication and social interaction. Once they were taken off broccoli sprouts, behavior returned back to baseline.
Although the studies are small, all consistently found broccoli sprouts benefits and does not harm in the case of autism.
3. Broccoli Sprouts May protect the brain from Alzheimer’s disease
Two mice studies have used sulforaphane from broccoli sprouts to reduce Alzheimer’s disease symptoms. Here is what they found.
Sulforaphane protected mice brains against amyloid β ( Aβ) deposits and also protected against Aβ toxicity by increasing a protective protein called p75. This protein is known to protect neurons.
The other study showed that sulforaphane improved memory in Alzheimer’s disease.
A cell study found that broccoli sprouts reduced Aβ more than other vegetable sprouts such as red cabbage, broccoli, or buckwheat.
The reduction in this Alzheimer’s related protein was due to the modification in the Aβ protein.
4. Broccoli Sprouts Reduce Schizophrenia Symptoms
Schizophrenia is a disease that is often rapid and progressive in people, and usually develops in young adulthood. This debilitating disease affects more than personality and mood changes.
Function of memory and decline in daily functioning occurs as well due to brain shrinkage. Some experts suggest that schizophrenia is related to inflammation and autoimmune processes that are affected by food, lifestyle and environment (epigenetics).
Broccoli sprouts are an appealing option for potential reduction in schizophrenia symptoms. Here is the proof we have so far.
A pilot study in 10 schizophrenia patients found that broccoli sprout extract improved learning tasks over an 8-week period
The new class of drugs for schizophrenia are called atypical antipsychotics.
Sulforaphane supplements had the effect of an atypical antipsychotic in a mouse model of schizophrenia.
The supplements improved memory and prevented memory loss into adulthood when the mice were given the broccoli sprout supplements as adolescents. Sulforaphane protected the structure and function of the neurons, including the dendrites.
5. Broccoli sprouts may protect from stroke
Broccoli sprout protected the brain from stroke damage by preventing blood-brain barrier damage, slowed damaged area in the brain and reduced memory and nerve-related damage in mice.
- Decreased damaged tissue from stroke by maintaining integrity of neurological function after stroke.
Broccoli sprouts reduced brain damage and motor deficit immediately and after a month after stroke in rats.
Sulforaphane reduced damage to neurons and reduced neuron cell death in a model of stroke by activating the NrF2 pathway.
6. Broccoli sprouts and blood pressure
Blood pressure was lowered in patients with diabetes undergoing treatment for H.Pylori infections using 6 grams of broccoli sprout powder per day over 28 days. Inflammation also decreased in this double-blinded, randomized, placebo-controlled study.
A study of 40 patients with high blood pressure did not benefit 10 grams of broccoli sprouts although they did have non-statistical improvements in systolic blood pressure 9 mmHG, and improved endothelial function.
For 14 weeks, the rats consumed broccoli sprouts that were either rich in glucoraphanin or depleted of glucoraphanin.
Rats fed sulforaphane had increased tissue antioxidants, lowered inflammatory levels, and improved heart health as demonstrated by decreased blood pressure and decreased inflammation in the heart, arteries and kidneys,
7. Broccoli sprouts may reduce anxiety and reduce depression
Inflammation is a common marker in people with mood disorders, including anxiety and depression. Several studies up to this point show that reduction of inflammation through dietary and supplement approaches benefit these debilitating conditions.
So far, a couple of animal studies have looked at broccoli sprouts and mood disorders Here is what they found:
- Broccoli sprouts reduce anxiety symptoms and depression in chronically stressed adult mice
- Depression-like symptoms were reduced due to long-term inflammation in mice
8. Broccoli sprouts increase nerve health and brain health
Most research is early, but very compelling in regards to broccoli sprouts benefits for nerve health. Here are some other areas of interest for nerve protection:
- Supports the survival of neurons and encourages the formation of new neurons and synapses by increasing a beneficial compound called BDNF.
- Enhances glutamate and GABA receptors and restores spatial learning in rats.
- Reduces brain swelling in rats and prevented and treated blood-brain barrier disruption after brain injury.
- Prevented memory loss and increased the survival of brain neurons in diabetic rats
- Protected human neurons against prion-caused nerve toxicity in a cell study
9. Sulforaphane may improve memory
Sulforaphane has positive effects on brain function if you consider the previous studies I discussed about Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, and autism. Here are a couple of studies that show further memory protection:
- Sulforaphane recovered memory in mice and rats after toxic exposure related brain damage.
- Sulforaphane improved memory after brain damage induced by carbon monoxide in rats.
- Reduced seizure activity in mice.
10. Sulforaphane may reduce Parkinson’s disease
Neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis don’t have proper activation of Nrf2 as a common problem.
Activated Nrf2 provides strong antioxidant activity within nerve cells.
Sulforaphane from broccoli sprouts potently activates Nrf2.
Animal studies of Parkinson’s disease and nerve protection so far show:
- Protected from nerve cell death
- Improved motor coordination
- Protects the production of dopamine in the brain
- Reduces DNA breakage
- Even reduced nerve cell toxicity in Huntington’s disease
11. Broccoli Sprouts Reduce Cholesterol
High cholesterol is linked to brain dysfunction and damage. Broccoli sprout data is very promising for cholesterol. So far:
- High-glucoraphanin broccoli reduced LDL cholesterol more than standard broccoli in a randomized trial in women with heart disease risk.
- Broccoli sprouts lowered total and LDL cholesterol, increased HDL cholesterol , reduced triglycerides.
- 10 grams of broccoli sprout powder per day reduced triglycerides, oxidized cholesterol, and increased HDL-cholesterol in patients with diabetes.
12. Broccoli sprouts may protect the brain from the damages of glucose
Many experts now coin a term Type 3 Diabetes to describe the damages of high blood sugar on the brain. Broccoli sprouts hold a lot of promise to help protect the brain. Several studies find benefits as follows.
Sulforaphane reduced damaging effects of cholesterol on the pancreas and also improved the function of the energy-burning part of the cell called the mitochondria.
10 grams of broccoli sprouts per day reduced insulin resistance in 81 patients with type 2 diabetes.
Eating a sulforaphane-rich diet prevents memory impairment and increases the survival of neurons in diabetic rats.
Broccoli sprouts increased PPAR activity, which can improve glucose blood levels and cholesterol.
13. May protect the brain by reducing atherosclerosis
The brain requires adequate blood flow and good circulation for proper function.
A diet that is rich in sulforaphane decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease. Various studies done on lab rats were promising for protecting and strengthening the heart.
Positive results were:
Atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, is linked to reduced memory and loss of brain function. Two rabbit studies were conducted to determine if sulforaphane would protect they heart. Here is what they found:
- Reduced inflammation and hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis)
- Restores blood vessel wall function
- Reduced heart damage after infarction
14. Sulforaphane may reduce inflammation in the brain
Diseases linked to inflammation may be reduced by activating a protein called Nrf2. These diseases include:
- ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis).
Broccoli sprouts reduce inflammation in the brain by increasing:
- Detoxification enzymes
Other ways sulforaphane reduces inflammation:
- Protects cartilage from the damage of arthritis in rat study
- Inflammation markers decreased in patients with H. Pylori.
15. Sulforaphane may improve brain injury symptoms
Three animal studies show that sulforaphane protects from traumatic brain and spinal cord injury if given directly after injury. They found:
- Sulforaphane was found to improve cognitive performance and reduce working memory dysfunction in 2 rats studies of traumatic brain injury.
- Sulforaphane reduced nerve damage from spinal cord injury.
16. Broccoli sprouts are antibacterial
Pathogenic bacteria are known to harm the brain. Preliminary results of broccoli sprouts show benefits.
- Broccoli sprouts increase antibacterial enzymes in colon cells.
- Sulforaphane reduced growth of 23 strains of harmful bacteria and fungus in cell culture.
How to use and supplement broccoli sprouts
Fresh broccoli sprouts are probably best, but can be hard to find. Eat them slowly and chew them up well!
Research studies use a wide range of dosing for supplements. They typically use between 500 mg-10 grams of broccoli sprout extract per day.
Look for supplements of broccoli sprouts that contain myrosinase for better absorption.
Broccoli Sprout Risks
No known side effects exist for broccoli sprouts. They don’t have a negative effect on thryoid function, which has been a concern for some people with thyroid disorders.
Broccoli sprouts have a fairly small amount of vitamin K1 relative to deep green vegetables like kale. If you are on blood-thinning medications check with your healthcare provider before eating broccoli sprouts.
Growing Broccoli Sprouts
It is really easy to learn how to grow broccoli sprouts at home and it saves a lot of money. It does take a bit of time and attention, but it is well worth it to get the sulforaphane benefits.
- Quart jar
- Cheesecloth, tea towel or sprouting lid
- Rubber band or mason jar rim if not using a sprouting lid
- Bowl or baking dish
- Organic broccoli seeds
Rinse the broccoli seeds in a colander, then place the seeds in your clean mason jar. Cover the seeds with a few inches of filtered water. Place the cheese cloth, tea towel, or sprouting lid on the jar. Then place the jar in a dark cupboard overnight or for 8 yours.
Drain off liquid and rinse the broccoli sprout seeds. Rinse the seeds at least 2-3 times a day. Turn that jar upside down and place it in your bowl or baking dish so that the seeds are moist but don’t sit in the water. Store at 60-70 degrees Farhenheit. Set your calendar to remind you to rinse the seeds because this is a key step for healthy sprouting.
Broccoli Sprouts Recipes
Need some recipe ideas of how to use broccoli sprouts? It’s simple! Add broccoli sprouts to any:
- Veggie sides
Where to Buy Broccoli Sprouts and Seeds
Health food stores sell sprouted broccoli if you aren’t in to growing your own. It is a bit time intensive.
Many online retailers also sell broccoli sprout seeds and supplements, such as:
- Broccoli Sprout Shop
- True Leaf Market
- Avmacol (brand used in clinical trials of autism)
Broccoli sprouts benefits appear to be vast for brain health. Studies are small, but numerous and compelling. It makes sense to eat broccoli sprouts several times a week and consider broccoli sprout supplements if eating them regularly isn’t realistic.
Heidi Moretti, MS, RD is The Healthy RD. A registered dietitian for 20 years, has a passion for functional nutrition and natural medicine. Has researched supplements and plants as medicine throughout her career. Loves helping people gain function and vitality by tackling root causes of illness.