Did you know cauliflower, broccoli and their family members may reduce your stroke risk?


While the botanical family of vegetables, known as Brassica, has a great reputation as cancer fighters, there’s new research, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, showing that they may also lower the risk of having a stroke.

Brassica is the botanical name for illustrious group of vegetables which includes such members as arugula, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, assorted cabbages including Chinese, green, red and Savoy, cauliflower, collards, horseradish, kale, kohlrabi, mizuna lettuce, mustard greens, radish, rapini, rutabaga, turnips and watercress. Even wasabi, the hot Japanese horseradish, belongs to this clan. Phytochemically speaking, cruciferous vegetables, as they’re also known, are certainly a powerful family containing a wide range of extremely potent disease prevention compounds.

The study, conducted on older women, provided evidence linking vegetable intake, particularly brassica members, of healthier carotid arteries. The carotid artery is the one which supplies blood to the brain. When this artery is thickened or narrowed, the risk for having a stroke rises. Those who ate the most vegetables, especially broccoli, cauliflower and their kissin’ cousins, had fewer plaques in their carotid artery.

The authors point out that a diet high in vegetables, such as in a Mediterranean-style diet, may delay the progression of artery plaques. But what’s interesting to note about this research is that while all vegetables may offer some protection, scientists are beginning to find out the various mechanisms of how each may defend against stroke. Cardiovascular disease is one with many factors or mechanisms that contribute to the chance of having a heart attack or stroke. The health of your endothelium (artery lining), inflammation, and elevated blood cholesterol levels are just a few examples of these factors.

The take away here is to eat lots of vegetables (we keep hearing this, don’t we?)! But put an added focus on the Brassica family. And if you’re at risk for certain cancers, there’s even more reason to include them.

Though Brassica or cruciferous vegetables provide a cornucopia of phytonutrients that may play a role in a variety of diseases, where the family has really made their name is in the area of cancer prevention. As far back as 1982, the Committee on Diet, Nutrition and Cancer of the U.S. National Research Council conducted a comprehensive evaluation of brassica, noting its outstanding anti-cancer action.

Since then, hundreds of studies from all over the world have looked into the subject with researchers connecting the consumption of these vegetables with a decreased risk in a wide variety of cancers ranging from breast, colon, thyroid, esophageal and kidney to even a type of blood cancer known as multiple myeloma.

But even though the family has a large contingent that battles cancer, it seems that individual members work in different ways, depending on which phytochemicals each contains. The parent compounds, called glucosinolates, can be found in all crucifers and are somewhat responsible for their characteristic taste. But as they are different plants, each member of the family is metabolized differently, yielding an assortment of anti-cancer substances which work in diverse ways.

For example, isothiocyanates may stop tumors from forming in the first place. Some isothiocyanates may stimulate enzymes in the body that fight cancer cells and others still may cell cause cancer apoptosis – somewhat like cancer cells committing suicide. Others substances produced from glucosinolates, called indoles, may also cause cancer cell death but also protect against cancer causing toxic substances. For example, researchers have found that indoles may protect against the effect of pesticides on breast cancer development. Indoles may work in the liver, in some cases, to detoxify harmful substances. Others may affect estrogen metabolism, thereby reducing the risk while other compounds also act as antioxidants.

The list of possible actions seems endless. The bottom line? Eat your vegetables and get in a variety.

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Categories: Nutrition News, Research Roundup

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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