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Sulforaphane: From Broccoli to Breast

In a test tube, the broccoli phytonutrient sulforaphane appears to target breast cancer stem cells, but how do we know it’s even absorbed into the body? Have women undergoing breast reduction surgery eat some an hour before their operation and directly measure the level in their tissues.

March 13, 2012 |
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Supplementary Info

Sources Cited


Image thanks to julie gibbons.


Broccoli and broccoli sprouts produce a compound that appears to target breast cancer cells, but this is in a test tube. How do we even know we absorb sulforaphane into our bloodstream? And even if we do, how much do we have to eat to arrive at these test tube concentrations where it counts—in breast tissue itself. An innovative group at Hopkins figured it out: let’s find women scheduled for breast reduction surgery, and an hour before they go into the operating room, have them drink some broccoli sprout juice. And that’s what they did.
They collected breast tissue from 8 women an hour after broccoli, and here’s what they found. An averaging of 2 picomoles per milligram in their left breasts and 1.45 in their right.
So now, for the first time ever, not only do we know that the broccoli we eat ends up in the right place, but we know the final tissue concentration. So what does that correspond to here? This is what broccoli sprouts do to both estrogen receotpr positive and negative breast cancer cells. To continually bathe the tissues of your breast at this concentration you’d have to eat… a quarter cup of broccoli sprouts a day, a half cup, and about a cup and a quarter. In other words it’s doable—I just put them in my salad.
Real world effects at real world doses.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

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Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

This is a follow-up to yesterday's video-of-the-day Broccoli Versus Cancer Stem Cells. Note that the sources for this video are all open access, so you can click on them above in the Sources Cited section and read them full-text for free. Worried about the safety of sprouts? You're probably thinking about alfalfa. See my videos Don’t Eat Raw Alfalfa Sprouts and Update on Alfalfa Sprouts. Broccoli sprouts appear much safer. See Broccoli Sprouts. And if that isn't enough, there are hundreds of other videos on more than a thousand subjects.

For more context, check out my associated blog posts: Breast Cancer Stem Cells vs. BroccoliAre Microgreens Healthier?, and Prevent Breast Cancer by Any Greens Necessary

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    This is a follow-up to yesterday’s video-of-the-day Broccoli Versus Cancer Stem Cells. Note that the sources for this video are all open access, so you can click on them above in the Sources Cited section and read them full-text for free. Worried about the safety of sprouts? You’re probably thinking about alfalfa. See my videos Don’t Eat Raw Alfalfa Sprouts and Update on Alfalfa Sprouts. Broccoli sprouts appear much safer. See Broccoli Sprouts. And if that isn’t enough, there are hundreds of other videos on more than a thousand subjects.

  • Poxacuatl

    Yes! I love broccoli sprouts every day. So doable. So easy to grow your own — no mess or outside gardening required. :^) One of the most powerful foods is the most easily accessible to anyone in their own home!

    • Thea

      Poxacuatl: I had heard of broccoli before, of course. But I had never heard of broccoli sprouts before – let alone known that they were easy to grow. I am going to look into this. I really appreciate you taking the time to write your post.

      Do you have a recommendation on where to get seeds or potted sprouts and how to grow them???


      • Toxins

        Thea, stay tuned for Dr. Greger’s video tomorrow showing how to easily make broccoli sprouts

        • Thea

          Oh cool. Thanks!

      • ronnie

        You can get seeds at Johnnies Select seeds on line they have a great selection of organic spouting seeds

  • randy

    Great real world information at the everyday practical application.

    I wonder if this information could also be extrapolated for prostate and other cancer locations. Also curious as to the possibility of fat present when the broccoli sprouts are consumed…..if the phytonutrient absorption would be further increased, as with antioxidants and greens (kale, spinach, etc.).

    Thank you Dr Greger, terrific work as always.

  • veggie4every1

    Great! Im so glad I found this site! Thank you for everything Dr. Greger :)

  • hunniliz

    Can you translate broccoli sprouts to broccoli. What is the effective quantity of broccoli that offers the benefits derived from broccoli sprouts.

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    For some context, please also check out my associated blog post Breast Cancer Stem Cells vs. Broccoli!

  • Stefano Esposito

    does it work only with sprouts or with common broccoli flowers?

    • Toxins

       Both broccoli sprouts and florets contain sulforaphane.

  • Joyce Fields

    How much broccoli or broccoli sprouts should you eat daily?

  • Tong Ren Healer

    I work in a clinic focused mostly on cancer. Some of my clients are vegan and still pass away, even after being vegan for a while. And, these are not high fat gourmet raw vegans, they have actually trained in places like Hippocrates. What are other factors? These people do not eat processed foods at all, they are raw. Their omega 3:6 ratio is good and B12 is good. Some had and corrected extremely low vitamin D but still pass away. Any references or additional places to look for ansers? For the broccoli, all breast cancer patients are recommended brocolli sprouts too but some sitll do not make it.

  • Jared Warden

    How long between application of sulforaphane and effect of cancer cell reduction. Would like the time span for the first and last slides please.