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. Small 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 toxic pollutants. Large-scale studies are needed to confirm such effects.
  • Cancer treatment
    Broccoli sprouts appear to have anticancer effects in the lab. 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. Digestive problems, nausea, and vomiting were observed 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 have high amounts of glucoraphanin, a precursor of sulforaphane. Sulforaphane is a sulfur-rich compound known to benefit human health.

Few studies have evaluated the effects of broccoli sprouts. Consumption was found to help reduce Helicobacter pylori-induced gastritis (6) (7), but sulforaphane combined with standard triple therapy (proton pump inhibitor, clarithromycin, and amoxicillin) neither improved the eradication rate nor reduced the occurrence of adverse events (20). Intake of sprouts also protected against oxidative stress-induced upper airway disease (8), DNA damage (9); and long-term consumption reduced levels of inflammatory markers in overweight subjects (18). Other preliminary findings suggest supplementation with sprouts may enhance antiviral responses (14); and that glucoraphanin (10) as well as a broccoli sprout beverage (21) aid the excretion of environmental pollutants.

Broccoli sprouts have also been investigated for their potential anti-cancer properties. Sulforaphane demonstrated anticancer effects against prostate (1), breast (2) (3) (16), and urinary cancers (4) in preclinical studies, and may also protect the skin from ultraviolet radiation (5). In murine models, a prenatal/maternal broccoli sprouts diet appeared to offer greater preventive effects on breast cancer development (22) compared with postnatal early-life treatment (17).
In a feasibility trial involving 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). A broccoli sprout extract was found to affect changes in gene expression, but not prostate cancer biomarkers, in men undergoing prostate biopsy (23). 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 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 (11) (15).

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

Herb-Drug Interactions

A meta-analyses showed that consumption of cruciferous vegetables has a significant effect on CYP1A2 and glutathione S-transferase-alpha (GST-α), increasing the activities of these enzymes by 20-40% and 15-35%, respectively (24). It is not known if broccoli sprouts would have similar effects.

  1. Abdulah R, Faried A, Kobayashi K, et al. Selenium enrichment of broccoli sprout extract increases chemosensitivity and apoptosis of LNCaP prostate cancer cells. BMC Cancer. 2009;9:414.
  2. 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.
  3. Fahey JW, Haristoy X, Dolan PM, et al. Sulforaphane inhibits extracellular, intracellular, and antibiotic-resistant strains of Helicobacter pylori and prevents benzo[a]pyrene-induced stomach tumors. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. May 28 2002;99(11):7610-7615.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Hoelzl C, Glatt H, Meinl W, et al. Consumption of Brussels sprouts protects peripheral human lymphocytes against 2-amino-1-methyl-6-phenylimidazo[4,5-b]pyridine (PhIP) and oxidative DNA-damage: results of a controlled human intervention trial. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2008;52(3):330-341.
  10. Kensler TW, Chen JG, Egner PA, et al. Effects of glucosinolate-rich broccoli sprouts on urinary levels of aflatoxin-DNA adducts and phenanthrene tetraols in a randomized clinical trial in He Zuo township, Qidong, People’s Republic of China. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2005;14(11 Pt 1):2605-2613.
  11. 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.
  12. Park EJ, Pezzuto JM. Botanicals in cancer chemoprevention. Cancer Metastasis Rev. 2002;21(3-4):231-255.
  13. Clarke JD, Dashwood RH, Ho E. Multi-targeted prevention of cancer by sulforaphane. Cancer Lett. 2008;269(2):291-304.
  14. Muller L, Meyer M, Bauer RN, et al. Effect of Broccoli Sprouts and Live Attenuated Influenza Virus on Peripheral Blood Natural Killer Cells: A Randomized, Double-Blind Study. PLoS One. 2016;11(1):e0147742.
  15. Tahata S, Singh SV, Lin Y, et al. Evaluation of biodistribution of sulforaphane after administration of oral broccoli sprout extract in melanoma patients with multiple atypical nevi. Cancer Prev Res (Phila). Apr 24 2018.
  16. 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.
  17. Li Y, Buckhaults P, Li S, et al. Temporal Efficacy of a Sulforaphane-Based Broccoli Sprout Diet in Prevention of Breast Cancer through Modulation of Epigenetic Mechanisms. Cancer Prev Res (Phila). Aug 2018;11(8):451-464.
  18. 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.
  19. 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]
  20. Chang YW, Park YM, Oh CH, et al. Effects of probiotics or broccoli supplementation on Helicobacter pylori eradication with standard clarithromycin-based triple therapy.  Korean J Intern Med. 2020 May;35(3):574-581.
  21. Chen JG, Johnson J, Egner P, et al. Dose-dependent detoxication of the airborne pollutant benzene in a randomized trial of broccoli sprout beverage in Qidong, China. J. Am J Clin Nutr. 2019 Sep 1;110(3):675-684.
  22. Li S, Chen M, Wu H, Li Y, Tollefsbol TO. Maternal Epigenetic Regulation Contributes to Prevention of Estrogen Receptor-negative Mammary Cancer with Broccoli Sprout Consumption. Cancer Prev Res (Phila). 2020 May;13(5):449-462.
  23. Zhang Z, Garzotto M, Davis EW 2nd, et al. Sulforaphane Bioavailability and Chemopreventive Activity in Men Presenting for Biopsy of the Prostate Gland: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Nutr Cancer. 2020;72(1):74-87.
  24. Eagles SK, Gross AS, McLachlan AJ. The Effects of Cruciferous Vegetable-Enriched Diets on Drug Metabolism: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Dietary Intervention Trials in Humans. Clin Pharmacol Ther. 2020 Aug;108(2):212-227.
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