Sulforaphane a powerful tool to fight cancer, aging, and other inflammatory health issues

Sulforaphane has been shown to be an effective antioxidant, antimicrobial, anticancer, anti-inflammatory, anti-aging, neuroprotective, and anti-diabetic (R). It also protects against cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases (R).

Many test-tube and animal studies have found sulforaphane to be particularly helpful for suppressing cancer development by inhibiting enzymes that are involved in cancer and tumor growth (R, R, R).

According to some studies, sulforaphane may also have the potential to stop cancer growth by destroying cells that are already damaged (R, R).

Sulforaphane appears to be most protective against colon and prostate cancer but has also been studied for its effects on many other cancers, such as breast, leukemia, pancreatic and melanoma (R).

Sulforaphane may also help reduce high blood pressure and keep arteries healthy — both major factors in preventing heart disease (R).

Recent research shows that Sulforaphane can help control blood glucose levels in type 2 diabetic patients as effectively as the most commonly used prescription medicine Metformin (R).

Sulforaphane and Broccoli Sprouts

Sulforaphane (SFN) is an isothiocyanate. It is derived from glucoraphanin, found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and kale (R, R).

Glucoraphanin is stable, but when the vegetables are cut or chewed, it comes in contact with the enzyme myrosinase, that also occurs naturally in these vegetables, and Sulforaphane is formed(RR).

Unlike the glucoraphanin, sulforaphane degrades quickly (R).

The quantity of glucoraphanin varies greatly in different plants. In general, levels of glucoraphanin and sulforaphane are highest in broccoli sprouts (R), but 3 day-old sprouts can contain up to 100 times more glucoraphanin than in mature plants (R).

Sulforaphane  is rapidly absorbed, reaching peak concentration after 1-3 hours. (RR). Levels are back to baseline within 72 hours (RRR).

Daily consumption of cruciferous vegetables can maintain levels of Sulforaphane in the body, if properly prepared (R), however most people find  it is easier to take a daily supplement.

Sulforaphane activation of  AMPK pathway is key to wide range of benefits

There are many hundreds of studies of Sulforaphane’s  effect in fighting various disease and metabolic problems.  Activation or Inhibition of several different genes are described in how it manages to impact such a wide range of health problems.

As with vitamin antioxidants the notion that supplements act as “antioxidants” in human cells is called into question []. Emerging evidence suggests that the most effective supplement exert their intracellular effects not as direct “antioxidants” per se but as modulators of signaling pathways.

Compared with widely used phytochemical-based supplements like curcumin, silymarin, and resveratrol, sulforaphane more potently activates Nrf2 – which researchers call the “Master Regulator” of Cell Defense (R).

A list of genes and enzymes Sulforaphane influences is at the bottom of this page.

Perhaps even more meaningful is that like Metformin and Berberine (R), Sulforaphane strongly activates AMPK, which raises the intracellular NAD+ concentrations and activates SIRT1 which has been shown to have numerous disease fighting and anti-aging potential(R).

It’s possible many of the health benefits are at least partially related to this AMPK/NAD+/SIRT activity.

Here is a  short list of studies showing Sulforaphane activating AMPK to fight Cancer(R),Diabetes(R),Obesity(R),Neurological disease (R),Heart disease (R),HIV (R),Colitis(R).

Sulforaphane helps prevent and can even kill cancer

3-5 servings per week of Cruciferous vegetables decrease the risk of cancer by 30-40% (R).

Even ONE serving of cruciferous vegetables per week significantly reduced the risk of pharynx, colorectal, esophageal, kidney and breast cancer (R).

In vitro, Sulforaphane has been demonstrated to kill breast cancer cells (R),oral squamous cell carcinoma cells (R), colorectal cancer cells (R),  cervical, liver, prostate, and  leukemia cancer cells (RR), while having little to no effect on healthy cells (R)

Sulforaphane combats cancer by multiple mechanisms:

  • Sulforaphane reduces inflammation by inhibiting the NF-κB pathway(R).
  • Sulforaphane induces cancer cell death (R).
  • SFN inhibits Phase I enzymes that enable cancer cell growth (R).
  • SFN induces Phase II enzymes that clear  DNA damaging chemicals (R).
  • Sulforaphane thereby inhibits cancer cell proliferation  (R)

In addition to the numerous cancer fighting mechanism of Sulforaphane, it is also very effective at enhancing commonly used anti-cancer drugs such as    cisplatin, gemcitabine, doxorubicin, and 5-fluorouracil    , allowing for smaller dosages and limiting toxicity to healthy cells (R).

Sulforaphane helps lower Cholesterol


Clinical studies with humans has shown eating broccoli reduces LDL cholesterol.

Twelve healthy subjects that consumed 100 grams per day of broccoli sprouts lowered LDL cholesterol, increased HDL cholesterol, and improved maarkers for oxidative stress  (R).

Sulforaphane May Help Parkinson’s, Alzheimers, Huntingtons

In mouse models of Parkinson’s disease, Sulforaphane increased dopamine levels in the brain to alleviate loss of motor coordination(RRRR).

A buildup of amyloid beta ( Aβ ) peptides are thought to be the cause of Alzheimer’s disease.  Broccoli sprouts were shown to prevent amyloid beta buildup and cell death (RR).

Sulforaphane has also bee shown to reduce Aβ plaque, and lessens cognitive impairment in mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease (RRR).

Sulforaphane activates a protein that slows huntingtins disease in mice (R).

Sulforaphane Prevents and Combats Heart & Cardiovascular Disease


Observational studies in humans has shown those who eat 3-5 servings of cruciferous vegetables a week have a significantly decreased risk of cardiovascular disease (R).

Research with mice shows Sulforaphane decreases blood pressure (RR).

Rats that were given Sulforaphane after heart attack exhibited  reduced heart damage  (R).

Sulforaphane helps prevent atherosclerosis (R) and minimizes inflammation caused by hardening of arteries in mice (R).

Sulforaphane reduces formation of  blood clots and platelet aggregation in humans (R).

Lastly, Sulforaphane has proven beneficial in minimizing damage from strokes, with decreased brain tissue damage (R), and loss of neurological function (R).

Sulforaphane helps control Diabetes and fight  Obesity


In humans, eating Broccoli sprouts  increased  HDL cholesterol, and lowered  triglycerides, insulin, insulin resistance,oxidative stress, and C-Reactive Proteins (RRR).

Sulforaphane decreases incidence and severity of the following diabetes complications in mice (RR)

  • vascular complications .
  • diabetes-induced heart dysfunction
  • heart damage in mice
  • nephropathy
  • tissue damage

Mice fed a high fat diet to induce obesity that were subsequently treated with sulforaphane for 3 weeks had significantly less weight gain, and improved insulin resistance, glucose and cholesterol levels (R,R).

Sulforaphane is Antiviral

Eating Broccoli sprouts increase the bodies natural anti-virus response and reduce influenza (R, R).

In vitro, Sulforaphane  combats  influenza, HIV, Epstein-Barr virus (R) and hepatitis C virus (R).

Sulforaphane Combats Bacterial and Fungal Infections

Human β-defensin-2 (HBD-2) is a key part of our defense against bacterial invasion. Sulforaphane increases HBD-2 in response to  to 23 of 28 bacterial species (R).

Cystic fibrosis patients have increased levels of Mycobacterium abscessus.  Treatment with Sulforphane of such macrophages  significantly decreased bacterial burden (R).

Sulforaphane Combats Inflammation

Nuclear Factor Kappa-B (NF-kB) is a well known driver of inflammation. Sulforaphane greatly decreases NF-kB activity (R).

As previously mention, Sulforaphane very strongly activates Nrf2, which lowers inflammation (RR).

Sulforaphane May Combat Depression and Anxiety


Inflammation has been recognized as one of the causes of depression. By reducing inflammation, sulforaphane can help combat depression.

Repeated SFN administration reverses depression– and anxiety-like behaviors in chronically stressed mice, likely by inhibiting the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and inflammatory responses to stress (RR).

In another study, it was shown that Nrf2 deficiency in mice results in depressive-like behavior, while the induction of Nrf2 by sulforaphane has antidepressant-like effects (R).

Also, dietary intake of glucoraphanin during the juvenile and adolescent periods in mice prevents the onset of depression-like behaviors at adulthood (R).

Sulforaphane Protects the Brain and Restores Cognitive Function

Sulforaphane increases neuronal BDNF in mice, a factor that supports the survival of existing neurons and encourages the formation of new neurons and synapses (R).

SFN reduces brain inflammation in various animal models of pathogen-induced neuroinflammation and neurodegenerative disease (RRRR).

Sulforaphane promotes microglia differentiation from pro-inflammatory M1 to anti-inflammatory M2 state. This reduces brain inflammation and restores spatial learning and coordination in rats (R).

Sulforaphane is beneficial in various pathological conditions:

  • SFN improves cognitive performance and reduces working memory dysfunction in rats after traumatic brain injury (R).
  • SFN attenuates cognitive deficits in mouse models of psychiatric disease. Also, the intake of glucoraphanin during the juvenile and adolescent periods prevents the onset of cognitive deficits at adulthood (R).
  • SFN alleviates brain swelling in rats, by attenuating the blood-brain barrier disruption, decreasing the levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, and inhibiting NF-κB (R). SFN also increases AQP4 (a water channel protein) levels, thereby reducing brain swelling (R).
  • SFN prevents memory impairment and increases the survival of hippocampal neurons in diabetic rats (R).

Sulforaphane recovers memory in mice and rats with chemically induced memory impairment (RR R).

SFN exerts positive effects against brain damage induced by acute COpoisoning in rats (R).

Sulforaphane protects human neurons against prion-mediated neurotoxicity (R).

Insufficient NRF2 activation in humans has been linked to neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (R). SFN, as a potent Nrf2 activator, may help in the treatment of these diseases.

Sulforaphane Improves Symptoms of  Autism

Sulforaphane activates several genes that lower inflammation and protect cells from oxidative stress and DNA damage, which are much higher in those with Autism (R).

In a clinical trial of 29 young men with  moderate to severe autism (age 13-27), Sulforphane treatment over 13 weeks resulted in a 35% improvement in disruptive behavior(R).

Sulforaphane relieves Gastrointestinal inflammation, colitis, and ulcers

Aspirin and NSAID’s are very effective at relieving pain, but can damage stomach lining and even cause ulcers.  Sulforaphane has been shown to protect agains such damage in mice (RR,R).

Sulforaphane has also been shown to increase Nrf2 and decrease inflammation in mice with colitis (R,R).

Sulforaphane May be Beneficial in Airway Inflammation and Asthma

Sulforaphane received airway inflammation and asthma symptoms in mice  (R)

Broccoli sprout extract  relieved airway inflammation in humans exposed to vehicle exhaust levels similar to those on a Los Angeles freeway (R).

But in other studies,  broccoli sprouts did not alleviate symptoms of asthma (R),  COPD (R) or ozone-induced airway inflammation (R).

Sulforaphane Can Be Beneficial in Arthritis

We previously pointed out that Sulforaphane strongly activates Nrf2, which relieves inflammation in many conditions.  In additions, sulforaphane was found to inhibit metalloproteinases that cause osteoarthritis and cartilage destruction (R).

Sulforaphane also decreases inflammatory cytokines, reducing symptoms of arthritis in mice (R).

Sulforaphane Protects the Eyes

Sulforaphane protects photoreceptor cells from excessive light exposure damage  (R) and  degeneration (R) in humans, and light-induced retinal damage in mice (R).

Sulforaphane protects human retinal cells and delays onset of cataracts (R), and helps prevent complications after cataract surgery (R).

In mice, sulforaphane helped maintain vitamin A and C levels in retinal cells to prevent damage from oxidative stress (RRR).

Negative Side Effects

Possible liver Toxicity at extreme dosages

There has been a single report of liver toxicity in one individual that consumed over 800 ml per day of broccoli juice for 4 weeks, but function returned to normal wishing 15 days or discontinuing the juice (R).

Note this individual was making juice from mature broccoli plants which have many different active substance and are not recommended for source of glucoraphanin/sulforaphane as the young sprouts have up to 100 times higher glucoraphanin levels.

Maximizing Bioavailability

Glucoraphanin Sources

Broccoli has the highest amounts of glucoraphanin of any vegetable, but it is also found in Brussel sprouts, Kale, Cabbage, Bok Choy, and several others (R).

As previously mentioned, young broccoli sprouts have up to 100 times more glucoraphanin than mature broccoli, making them ideal sources if you want to grow or purchase them (RR).

Myrosinase also required

Remember, Sulforaphane is only formed when it comes in contact with the enzyme myrosinase, by chewing or chopping or other processing.

Myrosinase is a fragile enzyme that is quickly damaged by heating (boiling over 1 minute), or freezing (R).

Many Supplements do not provide active Myrosinase

Broccoli has long been known to provide many health benefits and as such, broccoli sprout supplements are not new to the market.  Unfortunately, many of these were developed before researchers realized the Myrosinase + Glucoraphanain = Sulforaphanin  equation required great care in processing to protect the Myrosinase.

As a result, most broccoli supplements do not provide ANY active myrosinase  (RR).

Sulforaphane was found to be 7 times greater in fresh broccoli sprouts vs supplements with inactive myrosinase  (R).

Glucoraphanin powder with inactive tyrosinase can be combined with a good source of tyrosinase such as broccoli sprouts or mustard seeds to greatly increase Sulforaphane absorption (R).

Mustard seed

The myrosinase found in broccoli is quite fragile and inactivated by freezing or heat. A much more robust form of myrosinase  is found in Mustard seeds. The addition of powdered mustard seed to heat processed broccoli dramatically increases sulforphane (R).

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Sulforaphane activates genes and enzymes that stimulate antioxidant production:

  • inhibits Phase I enzymes CYP1A1, CYP1A2, CYP1B1, CYP2B2 and CYP3A4 (RR).
  • activates (RR). SFN reacts with Keap1, thereby releasing Nrf2 from Keap1 binding (R).
  • increases other Phase II enzymes: NQO1, GSTA1, and HO-1 (RRRR).
  • blocks SXR (R).

Sulforaphane inhibits inflammation:

  • inhibits NfkB (RRR).
  • inhibits TNF-α (RR), NLRP3, IL-1β, IL-18 (R), IFN-gamma and IL6 (RRR).
  • inhibits IL-17 (RR).
  • inhibits TGF-β/Smad (R).
  • increases IL-10 (RRR), IL-4, Arg1, and YM-1 (R).
  • inhibits NO, iNOS and COX-2 (RRR).
  • silences Th17/Th1  (RR).
  • inhibits IL-23 and IL-12 (R).
  • inhibits MMP-9 (RR).
  • inhibits LDH and PGE2 (R).

Sulforaphane changes gene expression:

  • Sulforaphane inhibits DNMT1 and DNMT3A (R)
  • SFN is one of the most potent (histone deacetylase) HDAC inhibitors found to date (R).
  • SFN inhibits HDAC1, HDAC2, HDAC3, and HDAC4 (RR).
  • SFN decreases miR-21 and TERT (R).

Sulforaphane induces cell death (apoptosis) in cancer:

  • SFN activates caspase-3, caspase-7, caspase-8, caspase-9 (RR).
  • SFN decreases anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 (R) and Bcl-XL (R).
  • SFN increases pro-apoptotic Bax (R).
  • SFN induces p21 (CDKN1A) (R) and p53 (R).
  • SFN inactivates PARP (R).
  • SFN decreases HIF1A (R).
  • SFN decreases β-catenin (CTNNB1) (R).

More on Sulforaphane and Cancer

The mechanisms of SFN effects on cancer cells have been well studied. It suppresses the proliferation of cancer cells via diverse mechanisms including cell-cycle arrest, apoptosis induction, ROS production, and manipulation of some signaling pathways (166). SFN inhibits proliferation of PC-3 cells in culture in concentrationand time-dependent manner. Singh et al. (167) showed that oral administration of SFN led to >50% reduction in PC-3 xenograft tumor volume in SFN-treated mice in 10 days and more than 70% reduction in 20 days after starting treatment with no effect on body weight.

They also reported that SFN changes the Bax: Bcl-2 ratio, activates caspases 3, 8, and 9, and cleaves and inactivates PARP protein. The authors proposed that SFN induces apoptosis in PC-3 xenograft tumors in a p53-independent manner through cytoplasmic and mitochondrial pathways. Liquid chromatography–mass spectrometry (LC-MS) analyses performed by Rose et al. (17) showed the presence of 7-methylsulphinylheptyl isothiocyanates in watercress (Rorippa nasturtium aquaticum) extract and 4-methylsulfinylbutyl nitrile and 4-methylsulfinylheptyl isothiocyanates in the broccoli extract. Their investigations showed that these compounds contribute to the inhibitory effects of broccoli and watercress extracts on the invasion of MDA-MB-231 cancer cells through suppression of MMP-9 activity.

Treatment of HEK293 cells with different concentrations of SFN with and without TSA, as a HDAC1 inhibitor, leads to the increase in TOPflash reporter activity without affecting b-catenin protein levels. Further studies showed that this increase is due to the decrease in HDAC activity and consequently the increase in histone acetylation following SFN treatment (168).

It has been demonstrated that mamosphere formation in breast cancer cells is dependent on E-cadherin expression (168). It is showed that SFN could target breast cancer stem cells. The mammosphere formation test on two cancer cell lines, MCF7 and SUM195, indicated that SFN could reduce the proportion of cell with stem cell properties, and this was further supported by ALDEFLUOR assay. In vivo examination results of SFN effects on xenograft SUM159 cells in NOD/SCID mice were consistent with the in vitro results. More importantly, cells derived from SFN-treated primary tumors could not produce secondary tumors, while cells derived from the nontreated primary tumors rapidly produced the secondary tumors in the contralateral mammary fat pad of the same mice (168).

Aldehyde dehydrogenase activity is a stem cell marker for enriching tumorigenic stem/progenitor cells (169,170). Five mmol/L of SFN led to >80% reduction of ALDH-positive SUM159 cells in vitro, and daily treatment of xenograft of SUM159 tumors with 50 mg/kg of SFN for 2 weeks led to 50% reduction in tumor size through the reduction in ALDH-positive SUM159 cells by 50%, with no effect on body weight (171). ApcMin/C mice consumed SFN in their diet have fewer tumors with lower sizes in comparison with a control group, albeit, immunohistochemical (IHC) staining revealed that the b-catenin expression was not affected by SFN consumption (172).

Furthermore, the effect of SFN treatment on selfrenewal contributing to signaling pathway, Wnt pathway, was examined by analysis of b-catenin and some other downstream genes at mRNA and/or protein levels (171).
Treatment of T24 bladder cancer cells with SFN results in induction of miR-200c expression (173).

Previous studies demonstrated that miR-200c targets the E-cadherin repressors ZEB1 and ZEB2. Ectopic expression of miR-200c resulted in upregulation of E-cadherin in cancer cells (174). Therefore, treatment of T24 cells with SNF led to E-cadherin induction and EMT suppression (173). However, it seems that these results depend upon cell type and treatment conditions. Although clinical trials seem necessary, there is a large body of investigations about anticancer effects of SFN, and the explicit point is that SFN inclusion into the diet promises a safe and confident strategy.

Another active ingredient of broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables is Indole-3-carbinol (I3C) that has anticancer effects too. Meng et al. (175,176) reported despite a somehow prohibiting effect of I3C on cell attachment in vitro, and I3C could also suppress the invasion and motility of cells. The effect of I3C on cellular metastasis was also evaluated by injecting treated cells into the tail vein of mice and tracing surface metastasis in the lung of the sacrificed animal. Their results indicated that I3C treatment reduced the metastatic capability of the cells.