Study Finds That Eating Broccoli May Protect Your Gut Lining and Prevent Disease

Broccoli – deemed a superfood – is packed with nutrients including iron, Vitamin C, fiber, and potassium. Eating this antioxidant-laden vegetable has been linked with health benefits including reduced inflammation, improved blood sugar control, and improved immunity. New research finds it may also protect the gut lining and reduce the risk of diseases.

A team from Penn State University recently set out to better understand what it is about broccoli that makes it a superfood, focusing on the gut health of mice.


Gary Perdew, co-author of the research, which was published in the journal Laboratory Investigation, says, “We all know that broccoli is good for us, but why? What happens in the body when we eat broccoli? Our research is helping to uncover the mechanisms for how broccoli and other foods benefit health in mice and likely humans, as well. It provides strong evidence that cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts should be part of a normal healthy diet.”

Perdew and his team focused their broccoli investigation on what happened to mice’s tissues after being fed a diet that was 15% broccoli, compared to the tissues of mice that were not consuming any of the cruciferous vegetable.

As part of the tissue analysis, they looked at the activation of aryl hydrocarbon receptor, or AHR, a type of protein called a transcription factor. Through their research, they had learned that molecules in broccoli called aryl hydrocarbon receptor ligands bind to AHR, which leads to several activities that affect the functions of intestinal cells. They also looked for quantities of certain cell types and other factors within the tissue.


The researchers found that mice in the broccoli-free control group did not demonstrate AHR activity, meaning their intestinal barrier function was changed, food was in the small intestine for a shorter period of time, and there were smaller numbers of goblet cells, Paneth cells, and enterocyte cells, as well as decreased protective mucus and lysosome production. These play a role in the absorption of beneficial water and nutrients, as well as stopping harmful food particles and bacteria from entering the body.

Perdew explains, “The gut health of the mice that were not fed broccoli was compromised in a variety of ways that are known to be associated with disease. Our research suggests that broccoli and likely other foods can be used as natural sources of AHR ligands, and that diets rich in these ligands contribute to resilience of the small intestine.”

The researchers say they could also reshape the gastrointestinal tract.

To read the full study, click here.

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