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Could eating broccoli slow the onset of arthritis?

"Broccoli could hold the key to preventing painful arthritis," the Daily Mail reports. But while the study the Mail reports on had promising results, it did not involve humans. The story is based on tests of a compound called sulforaphane on human…

"Broccoli could hold the key to preventing painful arthritis," the Daily Mail reports. But while the study the Mail reports on had promising results, it did not involve humans. The story is based on tests of a compound called sulforaphane on human and cow cartilage cells and artificially induced arthritis in mice.

Cartilage is the protective tissue found on the surface of joints that helps them to move smoothly. Damage and breakdown of cartilage can lead to osteoarthritis, which often causes severe symptoms of joint pain and swelling.

Sulforaphane is found in broccoli, and previous studies have suggested that it might help stop the breakdown of cartilage.

In this study, the researchers found that sulforaphane helped reduce the production of the enzymes that contribute to human cartilage breakdown. It was also found to protect bovine cartilage tissue from damage in the lab. The mice fed a sulforaphane-rich diet also had fewer signs of arthritis in their cartilage than controls.

Researchers now plan to study people with osteoarthritis who are awaiting joint surgery, testing the effects of eating "super broccoli", specially bred to release large amounts of sulforaphane. The results of this study will better indicate if eating broccoli can have a beneficial effect on osteoarthritis in people.

 

Is broccoli a 'superfood'?

Aside from its alleged arthritis-busting properties, some dietitians claim that regularly eating broccoli can bring a range of benefits, including reducing cancer risk, lowering blood pressure and preventing heart disease. However, the evidence for many of these claims is flimsy at best. 

 

But broccoli does contain many nutrients needed for numerous functions in the body, such as folate, soluble and insoluble fibre, vitamins C and A, and calcium. It may be worth adding broccoli to your 5 A DAY.

 

For more information, see Is broccoli a nutritional showstopper? and read more about other alleged superfoods.

Where did the story come from?

The study was carried out by researchers from the University of East Anglia, the University of Oxford, and Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. It was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Dunhill Medical Trust and Arthritis Research UK.

The study was published in the peer-reviewed journal, Arthritis and Rheumatism.

It was covered widely in the media, with many sources overplaying its results. Broccoli has not yet been found to be "key to beating [osteoarthritis]", as claimed in the Daily Express. BBC News took a more cautious approach, however, reporting that researchers believe broccoli may slow down arthritis.

 

What kind of research was this?

This was a laboratory and animal study. Researchers used three models to study the possible effect of the compound sulforaphane on cartilage. Sulforaphane is found in cruciferous vegetables, particularly broccoli.

The researchers say some research suggests a high intake of fruit and vegetables may prevent or slow down osteoarthritis. Sulforaphane has also been reported to:

  • have anti-inflammatory properties
  • protect against a form of inflammatory arthritis in mice
  • reduce the production of enzymes that contribute to the breakdown of cartilage

Their study investigated the impact of sulforaphane on chondrocytes. These are cells that produce and maintain the proteins that form the structure of cartilage in mammals. 

 

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