By Jenny Hope
5 September 2009
Broccoli is high in sulforaphane, which helps to keep arteries unclogged
This probably still won't encourage children to eat it, but the many healthy properties of broccoli include preventing a heart attack or stroke, say researchers.
A chemical found in the vegetable boosts the body's defence system to keep arteries unclogged.
Cauliflower, sprouts and cabbage can also keep the blood flowing freely.
They all contain sulforaphane, along with rocket, kale and pak choi, but broccoli contains the highest levels.
The discovery by scientists at Imperial College London could finally crack the code to using the vital vegetable ingredient in treating heart patients.
Professor Peter Weissberg, medical director of the British Heart Foundation, which funded the research, said: 'As well as adding evidence to support the importance of eating "five a day", the biochemistry revealed in this research could lead to more targeted dietary or medical approaches to prevent or lessen disease that leads to heart attacks and strokes.'
The researchers found bent or branched arteries are more susceptible to disease because they lack a protein called Nrf2.
In contrast, straight sections of artery are protected by the protein, which prevents cells becoming inflamed, an early indication for the development of heart disease.
The researchers discovered that Nrf2 was disabled by a protein in the bent or branched areas of arteries, stifling its protective properties.
But sulforaphane reactivated Nrf2 in these at-risk regions of the arteries, restoring the ability of the arteries to look after themselves.
The researchers believe the chemical could help these trouble spots remain disease-free for longer.
The findings, from a study of mice, are published in the journal Arteriosclerosis Thrombosis and Vascular Biology.
In their next phase of research, investigators will find out whether using sulforaphane as a treatment can reduce the progression of disease.
Dr Paul Evans, from the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College London, who led the research team, said 'We found that the innermost layer of cells at branches and bends of arteries lack the active form of Nrf2, which may explain why they are prone to inflammation and disease.
'Treatment with the natural compound sulforaphane reduced inflammation at the high-risk areas by 'switching on' Nrf2.
'Sulforaphane is found naturally in broccoli, so our next steps include testing whether simply eating broccoli, or other vegetables in their 'family', has the same protective effect.
'We also need to see if the compound can reduce the progression of disease in affected arteries.'
The health effects of broccoli are already recognised - along with the characteristically bitter taste that puts off so many children and the former US president George Bush.
Studies have shown a chemical in the vegetable boosts DNA repair i cells and may stop them becoming cancerous.
Other evidence suggests eating broccoli helps reverse the damage caused by diabetes to heart blood vessels.