Sulforaphane, epigenetics and cancer

Sulforaphane, epigenetics and cancer
Sulforaphane is a chemical found in green cruciferous vegetables and sprouting seeds; it has proven epigenetic benefits and has been found capable of preventing and treating various cancers such as breast cancer, prostate cancer, colorectal cancer, bladder and oral cancer.  

Perhaps we should start with Dr. Young S. Kim, the head of Cancer and Nutrition at the largest Government cancer body in the world, the National Cancer Institute in the USA. She names Sulforaphane first in her list of natural compounds that can best prevent cancer recurrence. As always, we like to provide easy-to-read articles so, here, we will just give 'a taster' of the hundreds of studies on sulforaphane!

It appears that the first formal study on sulforaphane was that of Dr Jed Fahey of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine who showed that sulforaphane (sometimes spelled sulphoraphane in the UK) from broccoli sprouts was a strong chemo-preventative agent, protecting healthy cells against chemical carcinogenesis (1). 

Levels of sulforaphane in your greens

While cruciferous vegetables are all good providers of sulforaphane, broccoli leads the field. Broccoli contains vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. But it also contains carotenoids, polyphenols and especially, glucosinates and isothiocyanates.

Sulforaphane is 1-isothiocyanate-4-(methylsufinyl) butane. You produce this compound as soon as you cut or chew broccoli. The precursor in the vegetable is glucoraphanin, which converts on exposure to a enzyme in the broccoli called myrosinase. However, this enzyme seems to be damaged by cooking and freezing. With cruciferous vegetables, 'fresh is best'. Myrosinase is not produced by humans but certain gut bacteria can help out if you have a strong microbiome. The amount of sulforaphane in different cruciferous vegetables depends on local conditions, but broccoli always leads the way, with broccoli sprouts having up to 50 times more sulforaphane per gm.

What does sulforaphane do?

Quite simply, there is now a phenomenal amount of research on sulforaphane (2).

   * It has antimicrobial, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.

   * It prevents attack on your DNA from chemical carcinogens.

   * It has strong and multiple Epigenetic effects, modulating and altering gene expression; it inhibits histone deacetylase, methylation and micro-RNA modulation preventing message loss.

   * It inhibits angiogenesis and tumour invasion.

   * It reduces cell proliferation, causers apoptosis and cell cycle arrest.

Sulforaphane and breast cancer

In a meta-analysis of 146 studies (3), sulforaphane was shown to prevent breast cancer and to attack breast caner cells, restricting their growth, causing cancer cell death and that of breast cancer stem cells.

In research on TNBC, in vitro and in vivo, sulforaphane was shown to suppress the growth of cancer stem cells (6).

In a 2016 study, researchers from Oregon State University School of Medicine studied 54 women in a double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled clinical trial. They found that sulforaphane supplements were well tolerated and all the women's breast cancer markers fell indicating that sulforaphane could limit breast cancer progression in early breast cancer (7). The supplement was the equivalent of 1 cup of broccoli sprouts per day.

Sulforaphane and prostate cancer

In a French study (4) which followed men tasking either sulforaphane or a placebo, those taking sulforaphane had a PSA 38.5% lower than the placebo group. The PSA doubling time was 28.9 months for the sulforaphane group and 15.5 months for the placebo group. Sulforaphane consumption did incur some bloating in the test group of men.

In a part of the American ESCAPE Clinical Trial on men with prostate cancer on active surveillance, those taking broccoli soup containing sulforaphane had significantly lower changes of gene expression and lowered cancer progression than those men on a placebo (8).

Sulforaphane with colorectal cancer

In a Japanese study, (5) researchers noted that sulforaphane protects the stomach lining from H. pylori infection and that colorectal cancer incidence was inversely proportional to the intake of cruciferous vegetables.Taking mice and inducing colorectal cancer in them, the researchers noted that sulforaphane protected the asnimal from cancer by upregulating nrf-2 enzymes to protect gut lining cells. Sulforaphane also down regulated histone deacetylase activity causing cancer cell death and inhibiting spread.

Sulforaphane and leukemia
So how might sulforaphane work? Researchers from the Baylor College of Medicine in Texas tested the effects of an isolated and highly concentrated form of sulforaphane on human cell lines and mice affected by acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, a type of cancer that afflicts white blood cells, and most commonly in children. Led by Dr. Koramit Suppipat, the study involved applying sulforaphane to leukaemic cell lines and primary lymphoblasts obtained from paediatric patients.
The researchers concluded that sulforaphane effectively eradicates cancer cells by entering them and reacting with internal proteins to induce apoptosis, or cell death. At the same time, researchers observed that sulforaphane did not harm healthy cells when applied to cell lines obtained from healthy, cancer-free patients.
"With this cancer, we are in need of alternative treatments," explained Dr. Daniel Lacorazza, an assistant professor of pathology and immunology at Baylor, and one of the study’s contributors.
Sulforaphane and polyphenols are two of the main bioactive and epigenetic food groups underpinning the strength of The Rainbow Diet.

1.  J W Fahey et al. Broccoli sprouts: an exceptionally rich source of inducers of enzymes that protect against chemical carcinogens. Proc Natl Ac Sci USA; 1997 Sep 16; 94 (19) 10367-72

2. Sulforaphane in broccoli: the green chemoprevention!! Role in cancer prevention and therapy. D.B.Nandini et al; JOMFP, 2020, May-Aug 24.

3. Breast cancer prevention - Is there a future for sulforaphane and its analogs? Nutrients 2020 June 12(6); Dominika Kuran et al.

4. Effect of sulforaphane in Men with Biochemical Recurrence after Radical Prostectomy; Bernard G. Cipolla et al; Cancer Prevention research; August 2015

5. Chemoprevention against colon cancer by dietary intake of sulforaphane; Akinori Yanaka et al; Functional Foods in Health and Disease 

6. Cancer Prevention Research; March 2019; Nadia P Castro et al.

7. Oregon State University Feb 10th 2016.

8. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 15 April, 2019; ESCAPE, Randomised Controlled trial; Maria H. Traka et al.



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