What is Sulforaphane?
Sulforaphane is a phytochemical. It’s called sulforaphane is because the sulforaphane molecule (this is its minute chemical structure) contains sulfur atoms – you can see these coloured in yellow in the diagram. Phytochemicals are naturally occuring compounds found in plants. Sulforaphane belongs to a group of phytochemicals called isothiocyanates which have many remarkable properties. Sulforaphane is one isothiocyanate that has been studied extensively. Read on to find out why!
Sulforaphane is the main isothiocyanate that comes from broccoli.
How is Sulforaphane Made?
Sulforaphane doesn’t exist in the growing plant but is formed by a chemical reaction when the plant is cut or chopped and its cell walls are broken.
First, let’s start where it all begins:
Glucoraphanin Creates Sulforaphane
Glucosinolates are the compounds in cruciferous vegetable plants that are responsible for the strong smell.
There is a special glucosinolate called glucoraphanin
Glucoraphanin is the pre-cursor to sulforaphane.
It is glucoraphanin that produces sulforaphane.
How Does Glucoraphanin Produce Sulforaphane?
Glucoraphanin is inert (does not react) in the vegetable as it grows naturally,
BUT when the vegetable cell walls are broken, this is when the magic happens.
As the vegetable is chewed or juiced, glucoraphanin is released and comes into contact with an enzyme called myrosinase, which then forms sulforaphane. Sulforaphane is created by plants as one of their natural defence mechanisms against certain pests that don’t like sulforaphane and are repelled by it. Luckily it has the opposite effect on people!
It is the reaction of glucoraphanin with myrosinase that produces sulforaphane
Once sulforaphane is released, it’s a highly reactive molecule and, if consumed, is easily absorbed into the blood where it can quickly take effect.
Who Discovered Sulforaphane?
Sulforaphane’s properties as an anti-cancer phytochemical were discovered in 1992 by Paul Talalay the Director of the Laboratory for Molecular Pharmacology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and his co-worker, Jed Fahey. The findings made front page news on The New York Times and have been widely reported such as this news article since then.
Paul Talalay and Jed Fahey’s discovery more than 25 years ago inspired many other scientists to investigate sulforaphane. To date, there have been more than 1300 research studies conducted on sulforaphane. One of the biggest advocates for sulforaphane is Dr Rhonda Patrick who is a scientist with a Ph.D. in biomedical science and who has done extensive research on aging, cancer and nutrition. Here you can watch her interviewing Jed Fahey on sulforaphane.
HPP-treated broccoli sprout juice has been shown to be the very best source of sulforaphane.