Many people are infected by a gut microbe, Helicobacter pylori, which left untreated can cause all kinds of health difficulties in the digestive tract, including gastritis, ulcers and even stomach cancer.
Recently, research has been done in Japan where there is high incidence of chronic H. pylori infection. Reearchers there gave H. pylori-infected subjects two and a half ounces per day of broccoli sprouts to eat over a period of two months. Another group of infected people consumed an equivalent amount of alfalfa sprouts which, although rich in phytochemicals, don’t contain sulforaphane which is a component of broccoli sprouts.
“The highlight of the study is that we identified a food that, if eaten regularly, might potentially have an effect on the cause of a lot of gastric problems and perhaps even ultimately help prevent stomach cancer,” says Jed W. Fahey, M.S., Sc.D., an author of the paper who is a nutritional biochemist at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
The study does show that eating a daily dose of broccoli sprouts reduced by more than 40 percent the level of H. pylori in the stool of infected people. There was no change in control subjects who ate alfalfa sprouts. The H. pylori levels returned to pretreatment levels eight weeks after people stopped eating the broccoli sprouts, suggesting that although the sprouts reduce H. pylori colonization, they do not eradicate it.
The discovery that sulforaphane is a potent antibiotic against H. pylori was reported in 2002 by Fahey and colleagues at Johns Hopkins. “Broccoli sprouts have a much higher concentration of sulforaphane than mature heads,” Fahey explains, adding that further investigation is needed to affirm the results of this clinical trial and move the research forward. The study, published April 6 in Cancer Prevention Research, builds on earlier test-tube and mouse studies at Johns Hopkins and elsewhere about the potential value of sulforaphane, a naturally occurring biochemical found in relative abundance in fresh broccoli sprouts.