The Many Fascinating Broccoli Sprout Benefits for Brain Health and More

Fresh green broccoli sprouts on a white background by The Healthy RD
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Broccoli sprout benefits are numerous, and in part, come from a potent compound called sulforaphane. Sulforaphane easily crosses the blood-brain barrier which 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.

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What Makes A Broccoli Sprout So Special?

Broccoli sprouts have a strong antioxidant edge over mature broccoli.

Fascinatingly, broccoli sprouts’ 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. After all, food is medicine.

These little broccoli shoots have a 10-100 times more 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 sprouts’:

  • History
  • 16 brain benefits
  • Nutrition in broccoli sprouts
  • Sulforaphane in various foods and supplements
  • How to increase sulforaphane from broccoli
  • How sulforaphane protects the brain
  • Growing broccoli sprouts
  • Health risks

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History of Broccoli Sprout Benefits

In the 1990s, researchers at Johns 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 the development and growth of breast tumors in animal models. While humans are different, this sparked a lot of interest in the potential for broccoli sprouts to help many aspects of health.

Broccoli sprouts aren’t just nutritious.  Scientists have found out that broccoli sprouts could positively affect our genes. Broccoli sprout extract was also able to turn on 1,725 genes in the body  (NrF2-activating).

These genes are broadly thought to protect our cells, help detoxify our body, and turn up antioxidants 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 glucoraphanin which makes sulforaphane.

Glucoraphanin 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.

Keep in mind, that food preparation and growing conditions affect the sulforaphane amounts.

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

  1. Add radish to increase sulforaphane: Adding Daikon radish helped the frozen broccoli form sulforaphane in the body.
  2. Lightly steam your vegetables: for no more than 2 minutes.
  3. Don’t boil broccoli unless you add mustard seed:  Boiled broccoli has no sulforaphane due to the high temperature of the water
  4. 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 powder increased the body’s levels of sulforaphane by 4 times.
  5. Eating it with meat increases absorption by 1.3 times (total isothiocyanate)

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DIM in Broccoli and Broccoli Sprouts

Other broccoli and broccoli sprouts’ beneficial compounds are thought to help remove toxic hormones in the body.

These compounds, called indoles, including DIM, are best when you eat broccoli when it is raw.  I wrote about indoles in one of my first blogs.

How Does Sulforaphane Protect the Brain?

Sulforaphane is an antioxidant that easily crosses the blood-brain barrier. In the brain, it may reduce the effects of toxins. This is a big reason why sulforaphane is thought to 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.

Broccoli sprout benefits overview 

  • Reduces inflammation
  • Antibacterial
  • Reduces blood pressure
  • Helps cholesterol reduction
  • Reduces toxins
  • Improves memory
  • May improve social interaction and personality traits
  • Protects neurons
  • Reduces DNA damage
  • Nutritious food

Broccoli Sprout Nutrition Facts

Broccoli sprouts nutrients are abundant.

Per half cup, they contain:

Sulforaphane Brain Health Benefits

Infographic of broccoli sprout benefits for brain health and more that are described in the text by The Healthy RD

Broccoli Sprout Benefits: Sulforaphane Reduces Brain Toxins

Broccoli sprout’s benefits are seemingly endless. One of the ways they may help improve health is by decreasing toxic compounds in the body and the brain.

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 beverages increase 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 sprouts had reduced benzene (61%), and 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 also reduced airway allergic responses to diesel exhaust fuel in a small study of 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 the 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 the clearance of toxins potentially by increasing the phase 2 detoxification systems in the body while decreasing toxin-promoting systems in the body (phase 1).

Dr. FuhrmanBroccoli Sprout 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 benefit and do not harm in the case of autism.

Broccoli Sprout Benefits: 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-related protein was due to the modification in the  Aβ protein.

While these results still need to be confirmed in humans, the potential for benefits for reducing memory loss seems promising.

Broccoli Sprout Benefits: May 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.

The function of memory and decline in daily functioning occur 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 protects the structure and function of the neurons, including the dendrites.

Even though these studies are preliminary, there seems to be no harm in adding broccoli sprouts to the diet for people with schizophrenia.

Broccoli Sprout Benefits: May Protect from Stroke

Broccoli sprouts protect the brain from stroke damage by preventing blood-brain barrier damage, slowing damaged areas in the brain, and reducing memory and nerve-related damage in mice.

  • Decreased damaged tissue from stroke by maintaining the 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.

Human studies are still needed to determine if broccoli sprouts help prevent or treat strokes.

Broccoli Sprout Benefits for Blood Pressure

One of the ways that broccoli sprouts may help protect the brain is that they help reduce blood pressure.

For example, 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.

Another study of 40 patients with high blood pressure did not benefit from 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.

So it seems that broccoli sprouts help protect the brain by reducing hypertension.

Broccoli Sprout Benefits: May Reduce Anxiety and Depression

Inflammation is a common marker in people with mood disorders, including anxiety and depression.  Several studies up to this point show that the reduction of inflammation through dietary and supplement approaches benefits these debilitating conditions. These studies include broccoli sprouts.

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

Broccoli Sprout Benefits: Nerve 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:

  1. Supports the survival of neurons and encourages the formation of new neurons and synapses by increasing a beneficial compound called BDNF.
  2. Enhances glutamate and GABA receptors and restores spatial learning in rats.
  3. Reduces brain swelling in rats and prevents and treats blood-brain barrier disruption after brain injury.
  4. Prevented memory loss and increased the survival of brain neurons in diabetic rats
  5. Protected human neurons against prion-caused nerve toxicity in a Cell Study

Broccoli Sprout Benefits: 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.

Since memory issues are on the rise, a focus on broccoli sprouts could prove useful in the future.

Sulforaphane May Reduce Parkinson’s Disease Symptoms

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:

More research is needed in humans to confirm these findings in people with Parkinson’s disease.

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Broccoli Sprout Benefits: Reduces Cholesterol

High cholesterol is linked to brain dysfunction and damage.  Broccoli sprout data is very promising for reducing 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, and reduced triglycerides.
  • 10 grams of broccoli sprout powder per day reduced triglycerides, oxidized cholesterol, and increased HDL cholesterol in patients with diabetes.

If you are looking for a way to help naturally reduce cholesterol, broccoli sprouts are a good food to add to your usual diet.

Broccoli Sprout Benefits May Include Glucose Control

Many experts now coin the term Type 3 Diabetes to describe the damage 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 reduces the damaging effects of cholesterol on the pancreas and also improves 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 increase PPAR activity, which can improve glucose blood levels and cholesterol.

Bottom line:  broccoli sprouts’ benefits may include protecting the brain from the damage of glucose.

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 the heart. Here is what they found:

Bottom line: broccoli sprouts benefit our cardiovascular system, including the vascular system in the brain.

Broccoli Sprout Benefits: May Reduce Inflammation in the Brain

Diseases linked to inflammation may be reduced by activating a protein called Nrf2. These diseases include:

Broccoli sprouts benefit us by reducing inflammation compounds in the body.  They help support by increasing detoxification enzymes and reducing:

  • NFkB
  • PPAR
  • Glutathione
  • NrF2

Other ways sulforaphane reduces inflammation:

  • Protects cartilage from the damage of arthritis in a rat study
  • Inflammation markers decreased in patients with  H. Pylori.

Broccoli Sprout Benefits: May Reduce Brain Injury Symptoms

Three animal studies show that sulforaphane protects from traumatic brain and spinal cord injury if given directly after injury.  They found:

Research on people is needed to confirm these findings.

Broccoli Sprout Benefits: Antibacterial

Pathogenic bacteria are known to harm the brain. Preliminary results of broccoli sprouts’ benefits extend to our immune function.

  • Broccoli sprouts increase antibacterial enzymes in colon cells.
  • Sulforaphane reduced the growth of 23 strains of harmful bacteria and fungus in cell culture.

While broccoli sprouts are healthy in just about every way, it is always best to seek help from your healthcare provider if you have any medical issues.

How to Use Broccoli Sprouts

Fresh broccoli sprouts are probably best of all but can be hard to find.  When you do eat them, eat them slowly and chew them up well to optimize the amount of sulforaphane your body will absorb.

Supplements of broccoli sprouts are another option.

Research studies use a wide range of dosing for supplements.  They typically use between 500 and mg-10 grams of broccoli sprout extract per day.

Look for supplements of broccoli sprouts that contain myrosinase for the best absorption.

Broccoli Sprout Risks

No known side effects exist for broccoli sprouts.  They don’t have a negative effect on thyroid 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.

Equipment needed

  • Ball Mason Jars 1 Quart
  • Cheesecloth, tea towel, or sprouting lid
  • Rubber band or mason jar rim if not using a sprouting lid
    • can also use a sprouting kit with stands
  • Bowl or baking dish
  • Organic broccoli seeds

Day 1

Soaking

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 cheesecloth, tea towel, or sprouting lid on the jar. Then place the jar in a dark cupboard overnight or for 8 hours.

Days 2-5

Sprouting

Drain off the 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 Fahrenheit.  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 for how to use broccoli sprouts?  It’s simple!  Add broccoli sprouts to any:

  • Salad
  • Sandwich
  • Smoothie
  • Stir-fries
  • Veggie sides

Where to Buy Broccoli Sprouts and Seeds

Health food stores sell sprouted broccoli if you aren’t into growing your own.  It is a bit time-intensive.

Many online retailers also sell broccoli sprout seeds and supplements, such as:

  • Food to Live
  • Handy Pantry
  • Mum’s Sprouting Seeds Sprouting Kit
  • The Sprout House-certified organic broccoli seeds
  • Thorne Crucera-SGS – Broccoli Seed Extract for Antioxidant Support – Sulforaphane Glucosinolate
  • Brocsprout whole broccoli sprout capsules
  • KOYAH – Organic USA Grown Broccoli Powder
  • Avmacol (the brand used in clinical trials of autism)

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Bottom Line

Broccoli sprout’s 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.

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