Turns out our mothers may have been onto something when they told us to eat our vegetables — especially our broccoli.
A compound found naturally in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables may reduce some of the harmful effects of Type II diabetes in overweight adults, according to new research by Jed Fahey, a nutritional biochemist and an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and a team of researchers in Europe and the United States.
An article on the findings appeared in the journal Science Translational Medicine in June.
Fahey, who is director of the Cullman Chemoprotection Center at the medical school, served as an author of the study along with colleagues based in Sweden, Switzerland and elsewhere in the United States.
It isn’t the first time Hopkins researchers have illuminated the healthful powers of broccoli.
Fahey’s predecessor as director of the research center, the renowned pharmacology professor and experimental generalist Paul Talalay, isolated the compound sulforaphane as a phytochemical (a chemical produced by plants) in the early 1990s.
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Two years later, Talalay made international headlines — and sparked broccoli sales around the world — by demonstrating the compound’s effectiveness in boosting the body’s ability to resist cancer.
He and Fahey also showed that broccoli sprouts — three- to four-day-old broccoli plants — have 50 to 100 times the cancer-fighting power as the mature stalks typically sold in grocery stores.
Popular Science called the findings among the top 100 scientific discoveries of the 20th century, and researchers at Hopkins and elsewhere have since tested the chemical’s effectiveness in helping the body fend off pathologies from autism and osteoarthritis to Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
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This study was the first to test it against Type II diabetes, a chronic and increasingly widespread metabolic disorder that affects more than 29 million Americans and 420 million people around the world, according to the World Health Organization.
The world’s most common form of diabetes, Type II arises when the body can no longer properly use insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar. As a result, blood sugar levels soar.
The disorder increases a patient’s likelihood of developing heart disease, eyesight problems, kidney failure and stroke.
Though the study was comparatively small and short-term, the results are tentatively promising for the treatment of diabetes.
“This shows that sulforaphane is useful not only for cancer prevention but it also demonstrates anti-diabetes and many other activities,” said Fahey, who spent 15 years in the biotechnology industry before joining the Hopkins faculty at Talalay’s invitation in 1993.