The cultivation of broccoli originated in Italy. The word is a the plural diminutive of brocco, a term that is no longer used in Italian that means sprout. Broccoli was known for its medicinal properties as far back as ancient Rome. Romans used broccoli leaves to treat wounds and ulcerations, and they ate raw broccoli before banquets to help their bodies absorb wine better. Broccoli was used as a laxative in the 16th century in Italy, and its juice, mixed with honey, was used to treat coughs. In the 17th century, broccoli soup was a remedy for all respiratory ailments, and 19th century Italian medical texts recommended that broccoli be used to treat colds, pleurisy and rheumatism. It was only in the early 20th century that broccoli became well-known in the U.S., thanks to Italian immigrants. However, the average U.S. consumption of broccoli is just a few pounds a year! A modern Italian folk medicine treatment for asthma and bronchitis is to drink a cup of juice from cooked and filtered broccoli leaves, sweetened with honey, twice a day. Broccoli is rich in sodium, potassium, magnesium, vitamins A, B1, B2, C, and stimulates the production of haemoglobin. In Italy, cooked broccoli is frequently eaten with the addition of lemon and extra virgin olive oil. That’s how I frequently make it. I add sliced raw garlic, too.
Broccoli and cancer. Okay, it’s not a new discovery, but it’s good to reiterate that, like other cruciferous vegetables, broccoli contains a wide spectrum of phytonutrients, such as sulforaphane, which have significant anti-cancer effects. I read that sulforaphane makes cells expel cancer-making toxins and blocks the formation of carcinogens. It has been found to induce apoptosis in leukaemia and melanoma cells. For (a lot) more information, please consult the World’s Healthiest Foods website. This website provides tips on how to store and cook veggies in season, etc. Every week, I receive the WHF newsletter. In fact, I recommend this free newsletter to everyone. Click on www.whfoods.org and sign up! There is a helpful section on how to prepare and cook broccoli. Remember not to overcook it (5 minutes at the most).
July 22 2007 post: I wrote a post on broccoli back in April, but only recently came across some more info that I thought I would discuss briefly today. It’s about a substance contained in cruciferous vegetables (in addition to broccoli, also: cauliflower, kale, cabbage, watercress, radishes, and arugula or rucola, which by the way is also rich in vitamin C and iron, etc.) called phenethyl isothiocyanate, more familiarly known as PEITC, which has chemopreventive properties. According to a 2005 University of Pittsburgh study (http://tinyurl.com/2p52nh), Evidence is accumulating to indicate that PEITC can suppress proliferation of cancer cells in culture by causing apoptosis and/or cell cycle arrest [ ]. Growth inhibition, apoptosis induction, and/or cell cycle arrest by PEITC has been noted in human leukemia, prostate, myeloma, hepatoma, and colon cancer cells. Please note that myeloma is mentioned in the same breath as the following words: cell arrest, apoptosis and growth inhibition! PEITC inhibits NF-kappa B and activates the tumor suppressor p53, among other things. This is all very good news. I will attempt to get my hands on the specific study citing MM cells affected by PEITC this fall.A study published in the 2000 issue of Biochemical Pharmacology (http://tinyurl.com/2hmeu5) states that The dietary isothiocyanates and cancer chemopreventive agents phenethyl isothiocyanate and allyl isothiocyanate and their cysteine conjugates inhibited the growth and induced apoptosis of human leukaemia HL60 (p53 Ë†’) and human myeloblastic leukaemia-1 cells (p53+) in vitro. And a study published in Cancer Research in 2007 (http://tinyurl.com/ywk4yw) shows that PEITC has an effect on angiogenesis: the present study suggests that inhibition of angiogenesis may be an important mechanism in cancer chemoprevention by PEITC.
I also found a couple of studies on the combined synergistic effect of curcumin and PEITC on prostate cancer. A 2005 study (http://tinyurl.com/32gz8b) published in Carcinogenesis showed that this dynamic duo exerted a more potent effect on prostate cancer cells when administered together rather than apart. They also had apoptotic effects on these cells. A 2006 Cancer Research study confirmed that this combination significantly slowed the growth of tumours, but this time in vivo (mice), whereas the effect was minimal when both substances were administered separately. Another study on PEITC and prostate cancer cells (http://tinyurl.com/29zljl), published in 2004, is interesting because it mentions that PITC, a PEITC analogue, didn’t have any anti-cancer effects: These results indicated that even a subtle change in isothiocyanate (ITC) structure could have a significant impact on its biological activity. This particular sentence inspired me to write about a doubt that I have had concerning curcumin analogues. I think I mentioned this in a previous post, probably when I was discussing the issue of nanocurcumin, but at any rate, here it is: by fiddling around with these molecules, don’t we risk altering them too much for them to provide any anti-cancer benefits? Is it possible that the more we stray from the original extract, the more we may diminish its effectiveness? Am I way off base here? My non-scientific brain cannot provide any answers, of course.
There are many other studies on PEITC and different cancers, but this post was beginning to look like a laundry list, so I cut most of it. However, those interested in seeing my rather large PEITC file can drop me a note and I will gladly forward it.
UPDATE. January 4 2008 post: yesterday I read a Science Daily article on boiling broccoli (see: http://tinyurl.com/3xzq59). Since you can go read the article for yourself, I won’t go into any details, but, in two words, a just published Italian study has shown that some cooking methods actually seem to increase the release of certain nutrients contained in vegetables, which is contrary to conventional wisdom. I did know that cooked tomatoes have a higher content of lycopene compared to their raw counterpart, but broccoli? Apparently, if you steam (NOT boil, mind you) broccoli, you increase “its content of glucosinolates, a group of plant compounds touted for their cancer-fighting abilities.” How about that? I am very glad to learn this, since Stefano and I love steamed broccoli, which we eat the Italian way, almost as a hot salad, adding extra virgin olive oil, raw chopped garlic, lemon juice and a bit of salt.