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Wednesday 26th June 2019

Broccoli helps clear lungs

18th April 2011

Researchers in the United States have found that broccoli may contain a compound that aids the lungs in a natural self-cleaning process.


The immune system sends white blood cells, or macrophages, to the lungs to remove debris and harmful bacteria, ensuring that they function properly.

Researchers are now looking at a compound found in broccoli as part of a treatment to help people with chronic lung disease.

Smokers, and people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lack this self-cleaning ability. This means they can often suffer from respiratory tract infections.

Macrophages are activated by a chemical trigger system in the lungs called NRF2, which is wiped out by smoking.

However, it can be restored by sulphoraphane, a chemical occurring naturally in broccoli, cauliflower and other cruciferous vegetables when they are broken or chewed.

Sulphoraphane has already proved successful at boosting the NRF2 pathway in defective macrophages from 43 patients studied at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.

According to lead researcher Shyam Biswal, it was able to reset defective macrophages from the lungs of 43 people with COPD.

After treatment, the macrophages were able to recognise and engulf two bacterial strains commonly found in COPD-linked infections.

COPD describes a range of severe inflammatory diseases of the lungs including chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

It is almost always caused by cigarette-smoking, and can arise even after a smoker has given up.

It is a progressive disease which can result in an early death from respiratory failure, and currently kills more than 30,000 people annually in the UK alone.

COPD is predicted to kill more than six million people worldwide by 2020, and is likely to be the world's third-biggest killer disease.

In related study, mice exposed to smoke for varying time periods between one week and six months were found to have more bacteria in their lungs, similar to those found in COPD.

Sulphoraphane boosted bacterial clearance in the mice, apparently by boosting the functionality of existing macrophages, rather than by activating new ones, researchers said.

Enzymes present in saliva and intestinal bacteria can convert sulphoraphone found in broccoli to an active form when the vegetable is chewed.

Study co-author Christopher Harvey said the dose of sulphoraphane received by people eating broccoli would vary from person to person, however.

He said further studies were needed in humans to establish whether a sulphoraphane-rich diet could boost immune defenses.

Biswal's team said it would be three years before they had any results from current phase 2 clinical trials of sulphoraphane in humans.

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