Lung protection from broccoli?15th September 2008
A substance called sulforapane, which is found in broccoli and brussel sprouts may have a protective effect in people with serious lung disease.
Recent research has found that the substance may limit the damage to the lungs in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Around 30,000 people die annually in the United Kingdom alone of COPD, which is often caused by smoking.
In the study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine by scientists in the United States, sulforapane was found to increase the activity of the NRF2 gene in human lung cells, which protects cells from damage caused by toxins.
Brassica vegetables like broccoli and cabbage have also been linked to lower risk of heart attack and stroke. Sulforapane was also found recently to help prevent damage to blood vessels cause by diabetes.
A team from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine studied smokers with advanced COPD, finding significantly lower activity of the NRF2 gene, which is responsible for turning on several mechanisms for removing toxins and pollutants which can damage cells.
They showed that sulforapane was able to restore reduced levels of NRF2 in cells exposed to cigarette smoke.
Researchers said the findings could pave the way for future treatments for COPD based on the mechanism that boosts NRF2 activity.
Study leader Shyam Biswal said the gene should be targeted as a novel strategy to increase antioxidant protection in the lungs and its ability to improve lung function in people with COPD tested.
A spokeswoman for the British Lung Foundation agreed, saying that studies so far had only taken place in the test tube, and that further research was needed in humans.
But she welcomed the Johns Hopkins study as important for the three million people in the UK suffering from COPD, because of the additional data it provided about the balance of oxidants and antioxidants in the lungs.
Studies in mice have already shown that disrupting the NRF2 gene caused early onset severe emphysema, one of the conditions suffered by COPD patients.
Increasing the activity of NRF2 may lead to useful treatments for preventing the progression of COPD, the researchers said.
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