Greens for your gut
Friday 10 November 2017

Although the health benefits of eating green vegetables are well known, a new study has revealed that eating broccoli has particular benefits. The research suggests that eating the vegetable can help protect against diseases caused by inflammation of the gut lining, such as Crohn’s disease. 

Cruciferous vegetables

Researchers based at Pennsylvania State University, USA, found that mice fed with a broccoli-supplemented diet were better able to tolerate digestive issues such as a leaky gut or colitis (an inflammatory bowel condition).

The research suggests that that ‘cruciferous’ vegetables — such as broccoli, brussels sprouts and cabbage – contain an organic chemical compound called ‘indole glucosinolates’, which breaks down in the stomach into compounds including indolocarbazole (ICZ). This helps to maintain a healthy balance in the gut and enhance ‘host barrier’ function, said the researchers.

Good intestinal barrier function means that the gastrointestinal tract is helping protect the intestines from toxins and harmful microorganisms, while allowing nutrients to pass into the system.

This is not only good for the gut, but also for helping to prevent related conditions.

Lead author of the research, Gary Perdew, professor in agricultural sciences at Pennsylvania State University said: “There are a lot of reasons we want to explore helping with gastrointestinal health and one reason is if you have problems, like a leaky gut, and start to suffer inflammation, that may then lead to other conditions, like arthritis and heart disease.” He added: “Keeping your gut healthy and making sure you have good barrier functions so you're not getting this leaky effect would be really big.”

Study in mice

The researchers used two genetic lines of mice in the study: one line with a low ability to maintain a healthy balance in the gut, and the other with a high ability. Both groups of mice were given a 15% broccoli diet. Both groups were also given a chemical to induce digestive problems, mimicking colitis.

The mice with a higher ability to maintain balance in the gut were protected from the digestive problems, but the mice with the lower affinity were not protected and suffered toxicity and weight loss.

Human application

So it appears broccoli might help avoid some of these problems. But how much would you need to eat to see any benefit?

For humans, the equivalent effective amount would be eating about around half a kilogram of broccoli each day – the same as three and a half cups full.

“Now, three and a half cups is a lot, but it’s not a huge amount, really,” said Perdew. “We used a cultivar — or variety — with about half the amount of this chemical in it, and there are cultivars with twice as much.”

Other vegetables could have the same effect, but without having to eat quite so much. For example, brussels sprouts have three times as much of the chemical in them, which would mean a cup of brussels sprouts could get us to the same level.

However, the problem with this finding is that people with certain digestive conditions, such as colitis, are often warned to avoid too much roughage in their diets. The authors of the study therefore suggest research is carried out to determine the best ways for people to consume broccoli – or similar vegetables – and receive the same health benefits, without causing any other associated digestive problems from the fibrous vegetables.


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