Broccoli Sprouts

Broccoli Sprouts

For Patients & Caregivers

How It Works

Broccoli sprouts contain compounds that have anticancer effects. Further studies are warranted.

Broccoli sprouts are young broccoli plants. Lab studies show they contain compounds that have anticancer activities. Preliminary studies are being conducted to see whether there may also be some benefit in humans. Other studies suggest that broccoli sprouts can help eliminate environmental toxins and protect against some viruses and bacterial infections. However, more research is needed to confirm these effects.

Purported Uses
  • Cancer prevention
    Studies done in the lab and in animals show that broccoli sprouts contain sulforaphane, which has anticancer properties. In a study conducted in humans, broccoli sprouts were found to play a role in eliminating cancer-causing chemicals. Large-scale studies are needed to confirm such effects.
  • Cancer treatment
    Broccoli sprouts appear to have anticancer effects in the lab. Preliminary studies are being conducted to see whether there may also be some benefit in humans.
  • Bacterial infections
    Small studies in humans suggest that broccoli sprouts may help reduce inflammation of the stomach caused by the bacterium Helicobacter pylori.
Side Effects

Generally well tolerated in a few initial studies.

Digestive problems, nausea, and vomiting in a small study of patients with advanced pancreatic cancer.

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For Healthcare Professionals

Scientific Name
Brassica oleracea L. var. italica Plenck
Clinical Summary

Broccoli sprouts are young broccoli plants that are rich in glucoraphanin, a precursor of sulforaphane. Preclinical studies suggest that sulforaphane, an isothiocyanate, has anticancer effects against prostate (1), breast (2) (3) (16), and urinary cancers (4). It may also protect the skin from ultraviolet radiation (5). In mouse models, a prenatal/maternal broccoli sprouts diet appeared to offer greater preventive effects on breast cancer development compared with postnatal early-life treatment (17).

Broccoli sprouts consumption may also help reduce Helicobacter pylori-induced gastritis (6) (7), and protect against oxidative stress-induced upper airway disease (8) and DNA damage (9). In overweight subjects, long-term dietary consumption of broccoli sprouts reduced levels of inflammatory markers (18). Glucoraphanin extracted from broccoli sprouts might assist in the excretion of environmental toxicants (10). Other preliminary studies suggest broccoli sprouts supplementation may enhance antiviral responses (14) and that a broccoli sprout extract was safe and well tolerated in healthy volunteers (11).

Only a few studies have been conducted in cancer patients. In a feasibility trial among advanced pancreatic cancer patients, although some positive effects were noted, broccoli sprout capsule intake was difficult for some and may have increased digestive symptoms (19). In patients with prior melanoma, a broccoli sprout extract was determined to be well tolerated (15), but larger studies that evaluate its chemopreventive potential are needed.

Purported Uses
  • Cancer prevention
  • Cancer treatment
  • Infections
Mechanism of Action

Sulforaphane, the isothiocyanate present in broccoli sprouts, has been shown to block the initiation stage in carcinogenesis by inhibiting enzymes that convert procarcinogens to carcinogens, and inducing phase 2 enzymes that metabolize carcinogens to facilitate excretion. Induction of phase 2 enzymes occurs through antioxidant response element-driven gene expression, with targets including NAD(P)H:quinone reductase, heme oxygenase 1, and gamma-glutamylcysteine synthetase regulated by nuclear factor E2 related factor (13). Sulforaphane also suppresses cancer development through various molecular targets. It induces G2/M cell cycle arrest via cyclin-dependent kinases and triggers dose-dependent apoptosis and inhibits histone deacetylase by its metabolites in vitro (13). In a triple-negative breast cancer animal model, sulforaphane protection against cancer stem-like cell proliferation was attributed to suppression of the Cripto-mediated pathway and/or the Cripto/Alk4 protein complex (16).

In a small human study, broccoli sprout homogenates enhanced antiviral defense responses via peripheral blood NK cell activation and increased granzyme B production (14).

Adverse Reactions

Generally well tolerated in a few preliminary studies  (11) (15).

Digestive problems, nausea, and vomiting in a feasibility study of patients with advanced pancreatic cancer (19).

  1. Li Y, Zhang T, Korkaya H, et al. Sulforaphane, a dietary component of broccoli/broccoli sprouts, inhibits breast cancer stem cells. Clin Cancer Res. 2010;16(9):2580-2590.

  2. Munday R, Mhawech-Fauceglia P, Munday CM, et al. Inhibition of urinary bladder carcinogenesis by broccoli sprouts. Cancer Res. Mar 1 2008;68(5):1593-1600.

  3. Talalay P, Fahey JW, Healy ZR, et al. Sulforaphane mobilizes cellular defenses that protect skin against damage by UV radiation. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. Oct 30 2007;104(44):17500-17505.

  4. Moon JK, Kim JR, Ahn YJ, Shibamoto T. Analysis and anti-Helicobacter activity of sulforaphane and related compounds present in broccoli ( Brassica oleracea L.) sprouts. J Agric Food Chem. Jun 9 2010;58(11):6672-6677.

  5. Yanaka A, Fahey JW, Fukumoto A, et al. Dietary sulforaphane-rich broccoli sprouts reduce colonization and attenuate gastritis in Helicobacter pylori-infected mice and humans.Cancer Prev Res (Phila Pa). Apr 2009;2(4):353-360.

  6. Riedl MA, Saxon A, Diaz-Sanchez D. Oral sulforaphane increases Phase II antioxidant enzymes in the human upper airway. Clin Immunol. 2009;130(3):244-251.

  7. Shapiro TA, Fahey JW, Dinkova-Kostova AT, et al. Safety, tolerance, and metabolism of broccoli sprout glucosinolates and isothiocyanates: a clinical phase I study. Nutr Cancer. 2006;55(1):53-62.

  8. Park EJ, Pezzuto JM. Botanicals in cancer chemoprevention. Cancer Metastasis Rev. 2002;21(3-4):231-255.

  9. Clarke JD, Dashwood RH, Ho E. Multi-targeted prevention of cancer by sulforaphane. Cancer Lett. 2008;269(2):291-304.

  10. Castro NP, Rangel MC, Merchant AS, et al. Sulforaphane Suppresses the Growth of Triple-negative Breast Cancer Stem-like Cells In vitro and In vivo. Cancer Prev Res (Phila). Mar 2019;12(3):147-158.

  11. Lopez-Chillon MT, Carazo-Diaz C, Prieto-Merino D, et al. Effects of long-term consumption of broccoli sprouts on inflammatory markers in overweight subjects. Clin Nutr. Apr 2019;38(2):745-752.

  12. Lozanovski VJ, Polychronidis G, Gross W, et al. Broccoli sprout supplementation in patients with advanced pancreatic cancer is difficult despite positive effects-results from the POUDER pilot study. Invest New Drugs. Jun 27 2019. doi: 10.1007/s10637-019-00826-z. [Epub ahead of print]

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