The magic world of broccoli sprouts

May 29, 2020

This time we want to provide some attention to a little treasure that has been in the spotlight in recent years, because of the many special healthy properties: the broccoli germ (also called broccoli sprouts). You can buy these in the supermarket or grow them yourself to consume it fresh. The broccoli sprout can be categorized as being part of the cruciferous family. This also includes the watercress and radish. Most studies, however, have been conducted with the broccoli as the protagonist.

Cruciferous vegetables

Consumption of cruciferous vegetables has both a pre-emptive and a healing effect. For example, it can lower the risk of death and cancer. One study has shown that the 20% of the research group that consumed the most cruciferous vegetables saw their overall mortality risk decrease by 22%.¹ Another study shows that men who consumed between 3 and 5 servings of cruciferous vegetables had a 41% reduced risk of prostate cancer compared to men who ate 1 serving per week.² Many other studies show that women who eat cruciferous vegetables at least once a week have at least a 17% or even up to a 50% reduced risk of breast cancer with daily intake.³ˈ⁴ˈ⁵ The variation in this can partly be explained by the freshness of the sprouts and the method of consumption. Also, this study shows that people who already had bladder cancer had a 57% reduced chance of dying from bladder cancer when consuming 4 servings of cruciferous vegetables per month compared to 1 serving.⁶


The one responsible for these positive results is the substance sulforaphane. This is an isothiocyanate that is released when a cruciferous plant is crunched or chewed. This substance, sulforaphane, is much higher in broccoli sprouts than in the adult form of broccoli. The precursor glucoraphanin is up to 100x more present in the broccoli germ. Among other things, sulforaphane prevents the decrease of the tumor-suppressing protein p53, while more than 50% of all cancers have a mutated p53 gene.

In addition, sulforaphane can minimize DNA damage and reactive particles.⁷ This is very important because DNA damage is, in principle, the source of cancer and aging. Another study shows that sulforaphane can increase the excretion of benzene from the body.⁸ Benzene has been shown to cause cancer in humans and animals, mainly from CO2 emissions from cars and cigarette smoke. For example, smokers are exposed to 10 times as much benzene as non-smokers. In addition to benzene, there are several other daily harmful substances that are secreted by sulforaphane, such as acrolein.⁹ The sulforaphane-rich broccoli sprouts can therefore very well help in deactivating or emitting substances to which we are exposed daily. But in addition to the protective effect it has against cancer, there are also several studies that show that it has a protective effect against cardiovascular disease and that it can lower blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetes.¹ˈ¹⁰

Sulforaphane is also an important stimulant of the NRF2 factor. The NRF2 factor is normally activated every 129 minutes. However, with sufficient sulforaphane, it is activated every 80 minutes. This is very important because NRF2 regulates 200 genes, many of which affect the aging process.

NRF2 helps prevent cancer by:
- The excretion of substances such as benzene
- Deactivating genes that cause inflammation
- Activating anti-oxidant genes

The following striking study shows that sulforaphane can not only help fight aging ... It helps to regrow hair!¹¹

Sulforaphane is also good for the brain because it can easily transport through the blood-brain barrier. For example, the influence of diet on depression is increasingly clear. Diet has a major influence on the production of neurotransmitters and affects the immune system, which in turn affects the brain and neuroactivity. Studies in mice have shown that it can reduce stress reactions and other depressive symptoms and that it has similar effects like anti-depressants such as Prozac.¹² Sulforaphane also provides promising results in  experiments with mice as a protective mechanism in Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.¹³ˈ¹⁴ The best we can hope for is that these studies will be performed in humans in the near future as well!

Dosage and culture

The question now is, how many grams of broccoli sprouts should you eat for all these positive effects? 1 gram of broccoli sprouts contains approximately 0.425mg sulforaphane. And because no guidelines are known yet, the dosages in the studies that have been conducted are leading. These range from 40-60mg sulforaphane which is equivalent to 100-140g broccoli sprouts per day. This is quite a lot, one plateau of a sprouting tower contains about 50-60 grams of broccoli and is already a nice challenge to start with your own cultivation. 

How to do it?

Growing fresh broccoli sprouts yourself is easy, and can be described in a number of steps. Necessities are a sprouting tower or seed pots and of course broccoli seed.

1. Buy broccoli seed, available online.

2. Take about 2 teaspoons of seed and soak it in water in a dark place for 8-12 hours
3. Rinse the seeds after 8-12 hours of soaking
4. Divide the seeds over the sprouting tower or in your seed pot

5. Change the water 2 times a day for about 5-7 days.

6. Put your sprouts in the sunlight for ~ 30 minutes.
7. Rinse the sprouts, dry them and store them in the refrigerator if you want to keep them for a while

One platter of broccoli sprouts as shown in the picture is approximately equal to 2 teaspoons and 50-60 grams of broccoli sprouts. Good luck sprouting!


1. Zhang, X., Shu, X.-O., Xiang, Y.-B., Yang, G., Li, H., Gao, J., Cai, H., Gao, Y.-T., & Zheng, W. (2011). Cruciferous vegetable consumption is associated with a reduced risk of total and cardiovascular disease mortality. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 94(1), 240–246.

2. Cohen, J. H., Kristal, A. R., & Stanford, J. L. (2000). Fruit and Vegetable Intakes and Prostate Cancer Risk. JNCI Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 92(1), 61–68.

3. Wu YC, Zheng D, Sun JJ, Zou ZK, Ma ZL. Meta-analysis of studies on breast cancer risk and diet in Chinese women. Int J Clin Exp Med. 2015;8(1):73‐85. Published 2015 Jan 15.

4. Zhang CX, Ho SC, Chen YM, Fu JH, Cheng SZ, Lin FY. Greater vegetable and fruit intake is associated with a lower risk of breast cancer among Chinese women. Int J Cancer. 2009;125(1):181‐188. doi:10.1002/ijc.24358

5. Bosetti C, Filomeno M, Riso P, et al. Cruciferous vegetables and cancer risk in a network of case-control studies. Ann Oncol. 2012;23(8):2198‐2203. doi:10.1093/annonc/mdr604

6. Tang, L., Zirpoli, G. R., Guru, K., Moysich, K. B., Zhang, Y., Ambrosone, C. B., & McCann, S. E. (2010). Intake of cruciferous vegetables modifies bladder cancer survival. Cancer epidemiology, biomarkers & prevention : a publication of the American Association for Cancer Research, cosponsored by the American Society of Preventive Oncology19(7), 1806–1811.

7. Verhagen H, Poulsen HE, Loft S, van Poppel G, Willems MI, van Bladeren PJ. Reduction of oxidative DNA-damage in humans by brussels sprouts. Carcinogenesis. 1995;16(4):969‐970. doi:10.1093/carcin/16.4.969

8. Egner PA, Chen JG, Zarth AT, et al. Rapid and sustainable detoxication of airborne pollutants by broccoli sprout beverage: results of a randomized clinical trial in China. Cancer Prev Res (Phila). 2014;7(8):813‐823. doi:10.1158/1940-6207.CAPR-14-0103

9. Kensler TW, Ng D, Carmella SG, et al. Modulation of the metabolism of airborne pollutants by glucoraphanin-rich and sulforaphane-rich broccoli sprout beverages in Qidong, China [published correction appears in Carcinogenesis. 2012 Mar;33(3):722]. Carcinogenesis. 2012;33(1):101‐107. doi:10.1093/carcin/bgr229

10. Bahadoran Z, Mirmiran P, Hosseinpanah F, Rajab A, Asghari G, Azizi F. Broccoli sprouts powder could improve serum triglyceride and oxidized LDL/LDL-cholesterol ratio in type 2 diabetic patients: a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Diabetes Res Clin Pract. 2012;96(3):348‐354. doi:10.1016/j.diabres.2012.01.009

11. Sasaki M, Shinozaki S, Shimokado K. Sulforaphane promotes murine hair growth by accelerating the degradation of dihydrotestosterone. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2016;472(1):250‐254. doi:10.1016/j.bbrc.2016.02.099

12. Wu S, Gao Q, Zhao P, et al. Sulforaphane produces antidepressant- and anxiolytic-like effects in adult mice. Behav Brain Res. 2016;301:55‐62. doi:10.1016/j.bbr.2015.12.030

13. Kim HV, Kim HY, Ehrlich HY, Choi SY, Kim DJ, Kim Y. Amelioration of Alzheimer's disease by neuroprotective effect of sulforaphane in animal model. Amyloid. 2013;20(1):7‐12. doi:10.3109/13506129.2012.751367

14. Morroni F, Tarozzi A, Sita G, et al. Neuroprotective effect of sulforaphane in 6-hydroxydopamine-lesioned mouse model of Parkinson's disease. Neurotoxicology. 2013;36:63‐71. doi:10.1016/j.neuro.2013.03.004

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