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Combining broccoli with a spicy food that contains the enzyme myrosinase significantly enhances the anticancer properties of each, indicates a recent study.

Sulforaphane is the component of broccoli considered to be responsible for the reduction in cancer risk associated with broccoli consumption. Its inactive precursor, glucoraphanin, becomes hydrolyzed when fresh broccoli is crushed or chewed, and needs the plant thiohydrolase myrosinase to form sulforaphane. New findings suggest that spicing up broccoli with broccoli sprouts, mustard, horseradish, or wasabi raises the cancer-protective effects of broccoli, as do radishes, cabbage, arugula, watercress, and Brussels sprouts.

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In the 4-week study, four healthy men, aged 18 to 30 years, each ate four meals (one meal per week) consisting of: 

  • dry cereal and yogurt with broccoli sprouts equivalent to 70 µmol of sulforaphane

  • glucoraphanin powder equivalent to 120 µmol of sulforaphane (this powder did not contain myrosinase)

  • both components

  • neither component. 

As investigators Jenna M. Cramer and colleagues from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign reported in the British Journal of Nutrition, when fresh broccoli sprouts were eaten with glucoraphanin powder, these spicy sprouts were able to lend their myrosinase to the myrosinase-free powder.

Bioactive compounds found in the blood were much higher when the sprouts and powder were eaten together than when either product was consumed by itself. Urine samples corroborated the blood results. 

Broccoli should be steamed lightly for 2 to 4 minutes to protect its healthful properties. If the vegetable is overcooked, however, it can still provide benefit as long as it is paired with another food that contains myrosinase. Another benefit of myrosinase is that when this enzyme is present, sulforaphane is released into the ileum, where absorption occurs better and more quickly than in the colon. ONA