May 28, 2002 -- If new research holds true, the current President Bush and his famous father may want to rethink their shared distaste for broccoli. Scientists say that a chemical found in broccoli can kill one of the most frequent causes of ulcers -- a bacterium that can also lead to stomach cancer.
Researchers say as much as 80% to 90% of the people in developing countries are infected with H. pylori -- the bacterium that causes ulcers and can lead to deadly stomach cancers. And the bacterium is also found commonly in people in the U.S. that suffer from ulcers or stomach irritation. Although the infection can usually be treated with a combination of antibiotics, about 15% to 20% of cases are resistant to treatment.
But the secret ingredient in broccoli -- called sulforaphane -- may provide a valuable alternative for treating these infections. In laboratory tests, researchers found a purified form of sulforaphane even killed forms of the bacteria that were resistant to commonly used antibiotics. The research appears in the May 28 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"We've known for some time that sulforaphane had modest antibiotic activity," says study author Jed Fahey, a plant physiologist at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, in a news release. "However, its potency against [H. pylori], even those strains resistant to conventional antibiotics, was a pleasant surprise."
The researchers say more studies are needed to determine if dietary sources of sulforaphane, such as broccoli, are powerful enough on their own to kill the bacteria. If further studies confirm this finding, vegetables may be adapted to various regions for use by the local populations to reduce H. pylori infection.
Researchers say they aren't exactly sure how the compound works as an infection fighter. But animal tests show it may protect against cancer by boosting the production of proteins that detoxify certain cancer-causing agents.
Fahey, co-author Paul Talalay, and The Johns Hopkins University own stock in Brassica Protection Products, a company that develops food products for scientific uses and sells broccoli sprouts.