Researchers in the UK are about to feed patients super broccoli to see if it helps their arthritis. Why? Broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower are rich in a chemical known as Glucoraphanin (GP). The broccoli used in this study will be a cross with a wild plant found in Sicily that is known to be high in GP. When the broccoli is consumed, the enzyme myrosinase transforms glucoraphanin into raphanin, which is an antibiotic, and into sulforaphane (SR). This last chemical is what the researchers are after as in several lab and animal experiments it’s been found to be a potent inhibitor of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs). What are MMPs? In normal daily use, your body uses MMPs to change things or to heal. If we use a house remodeling metaphor, they are the demo crew with the sledgehammers that break down the walls and cart off the old structure so that a new one can be built. In arthritis, MMPs are over active, which means that the demo crew is also breaking down the good stuff (like cartilage). MMP inhibitors like SR are a pink slip for the demo crew so that good cartilage is protected. In the Regenexx procedures we use other potent MMP inhibitors, as this concept is well studied.
What’s the evidence that SR helps arthritis? There’s some. A 2011 paper showed that it helped protect cartilage cells (chondrocytes). A more recent paper showed that SR helped block the MMPs in the lab and in animals. High-glucoraphanin (HG) broccoli has also been associated with cleaning up the cancer and heart disease risk of certain patients who have the right genes (but not in others without those genes). So is there overwhelming evidence this stuff works in arthritis? Not nearly as much as more common arthritis supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin.
Where do you get super broccoli? This actually took some digging into the science papers that have tested it with patients. In both the U.S. and the U.K. it’s known as Beneforte broccoli. It contains about 2-3 times as much GP as regular broccoli (although in the U.S. it looks like you can only get the frozen product). This is a great story on it’s creation. Here’s a link to the product. In America, it looks like Monsanto has bought the rights to the strain. Since Monsanto is also the company that brought us “Round-up” resistant corn (“Round-up” is a nasty herbicide that kills anything it touches), I’m not sure what to think about Monsanto’s involvement in what sounds like a great concept (HG broccoli).
The upshot? Will eating more regular broccoli or a bit less super broccoli make your knees or other arthritis pain better? Not sure. There’s some evidence, but I expect that the U.K. study is funded by the company that makes Beneforte. In the meantime get some broccoli and see what happens to your arthritis, if you eat lots of it and your knees feel better, great!