By Lars Hundley
According to a new study at Penn State University, consuming broccoli may provide notable health benefits, including fortifying the gut lining and reducing disease vulnerability. Researchers discovered a specific molecule in broccoli that binds with a receptor in mice to enhance gut health, further affirming broccoli’s status as a ‘superfood’.
The researchers’ work focuses on understanding the physiological response to broccoli consumption. “We all know that broccoli is good for us, but why? What happens in the body when we eat broccoli?” Gary Perdew, H. Thomas and Dorothy Willits Hallowell Chair in Agricultural Sciences at Penn State, asked these questions and looked for the answers. His research is unveiling how broccoli, among other foods, can be beneficial to both mice and likely humans as well.
The study indicates that the small intestine’s wall permits beneficial water and nutrients to pass into the body while barring food particles and bacteria that could cause harm. Cells lining the intestine, including enterocytes, goblet cells, and Paneth cells, play an instrumental role in maintaining this balance.
Published in the journal Laboratory Investigation, the study found that broccoli contains molecules, named aryl hydrocarbon receptor ligands, that bind to the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR) – a type of protein known as a transcription factor. This connection initiates diverse activities influencing the functionality of intestinal cells.
The research entailed feeding a group of mice a diet comprising 15% broccoli, roughly equivalent to humans consuming about 3.5 cups per day. The control group was fed a regular lab diet devoid of broccoli. Following the experiment, the researchers scrutinized the animals’ tissues to measure the extent of AHR activation, quantities of various cell types, and mucus concentrations.
Perdew and his team discovered that the absence of broccoli in the diet resulted in a lack of AHR activity, leading to changes in intestinal barrier function, shortened food transit time in the small intestine, reduced number of goblet cells and protective mucus, fewer Paneth cells and lysosome production, and a decrease in enterocyte cells.
Perdew expressed concern about the gut health of the mice not fed broccoli, as it was compromised in several ways linked with disease. The research suggests that natural sources of AHR ligands, like broccoli, can enhance the resilience of the small intestine when included in diets.
Andrew Patterson, John T. and Paige S. Smith Professor of Molecular Toxicology and of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, added that these findings hint at how dietary choices, signaled through AHR activity, can reshape the cellular and metabolic makeup of the gastrointestinal tract.