Cabbage is Medicine
Frequently, a customer will walk into the store confessing that they don’t eat enough vegetables, and do we have a pill to substitute a good diet.
The short answer is no.
The long answer is, “Guuuuyyyys, c’moooonn! Vegetables taste really good! Give them a try! Hide them in a smoothie, throw them in a quick stir-fry, heck, even order extra veg on your pizza if that’s where you can start! C’moooonnn!!! ”
So, eat more veggies. Especially the green ones. Especially the green ones in the Brassica family.
The Brassicas, you say? Who are these guys, anyway? Are they like the vegetable mafia? Will they threaten me if I don’t give them the respect they deserve?
Well, sort of. The Brassicas will threaten you only in the sense that if you don’t eat them with relative regularity (at least three servings a week), you are missing out on some pretty huge health benefits.
The Brassica genus of plants, sometimes referred to as cruciferous vegetables, include broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, wasabi, turnip, rapini, bok choy, rutabaga, mustards, arugula, radishes, and more. What most of these vegetables have in common is a mild sulfurous taste and odour that can actually be delicious when prepared properly.
These vegetables have been linked lower rates of many forms of cancer, have been shown to reduce inflammation in the digestive tract, protect the liver, and lower rates of infection from a variety of bacteria and viruses.
But let’s say that for whatever reason, you’re not getting your minimum of three servings of cruciferous vegetables a week. Or perhaps you are dealing with a health issue, and preventing illness is too late, and now you must learn to treat it.
Prevention is easy, but when you are trying to treat something, whether it be a deficiency or an illness, it takes a lot more energy. And a lot more broccoli.
In these cases, supplementation makes sense, and there are a variety of supplements derived from the Brassica family that can be found in concentrated doses. Instead of eating a bucket of steamed cabbage, you can take three capsules. You choose.
Here are some of the supplemental forms of extracts taken from the Brassica family of plants:
Broccoli seed extract
This ingredient is increasingly becoming popular both in the supplements industry and the cosmetic industry. Broccoli seeds are an incredibly rich source of sulforaphane (see more below) and have been used to improve detoxification and inhibit abnormal cell growth. In cosmetics, it is often found in products marketed to reduce signs of aging, hyperpigmentation, and other physical signs of oxidative damage or abnormal skin cell growth, like age/sun spots, moles and skin tags, inflamed skin, and poor wound healing.
This compound has antioxidant properties, is detoxifying, and may help to prevent cancer. Sulforaphane supports phase II liver detoxification (which is the phase that actually shuttles toxins out of the body). Through its antioxidant properties, it can also activate enzymes that protect the cell from DNA damage , which may be how it helps to curb unregulated cell growth, such as in cancer. Research shows that sulforaphane inhibits cancerous changes to the cell and promotes cancer cell death .
& Diindolylmethane (DIM)
I3C is obtained from cruciferous vegetables and then gets converted into DIM once it is digested in the body. I3C and DIM are best known for their antioxidant properties, and their ability to help metabolize excess estrogens. In part due to their ability to balance hormones, these compounds may be protective against hormone-sensitive cancers such as breast, ovarian, and prostate cancers [3, 4]. They are also used in the treatment of more benign health issues, such as PMS.
So, while I always advocate a focus on whole foods first, supplementing with isolated compounds from plants may make sense in certain cases, especially when health issues have become more advanced.
What’s your camp? Pill or fork?
Alex Picot-Annand, BA (Psych), Registered Holistic Nutritionist & Certified Life Coach