Conversations with Anders Rosengren: On broccoli’s antidiabetic potential

Vegetables. The bane of every child’s culinary existence. It’s divisive even among many adults (Ardent carnivores vs. vegetarians). In the whole pantheon of vegetables your mother forced you to eat,  broccoli elicits the strongest wails of protestation. Maligned by presidents past and anyone going on a first date, it’s undesirable reputation precedes itself.

Of course, all of the disdain is misplaced, particularly for people suffering from diabetes or borderline diabetes.

Anders Rosengren, from University of Gothenburg, investigated broccoli’s health benefits. The vegetable, it turns out, contains a chemical called sulfurophane that acts as a powerful antioxidant. Tantalizingly, it showed promise as an antidiabetic.

Professor Rosengren discussed his findings with SCINQ.

SCIENTIFIC INQUIRER: What is sulforaphane and where is it found naturally? Does it come in that form in broccoli or is it the product of the breakdown of other chemicals?

It is found in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli in natural form.

SI:How does it act as an antioxidant?

AR: It binds to the transcription factor Nrf2, which is then transported to the nucleus and elicits a large program om gene expression effects.

SI: How did you come to focus on broccoli as a possible antidiabetic drug?

AR: We identified sulforaphane as a potential anti-diabetic compound and then found out through the literature that it is highly contained in broccoli, which excitintly opened up for a translational study in patients with broccoli extract.

SI: Can you discuss your experiment? How did you approach designing it?

AR: We went all the way from bioinformatics to cells, animal studies and then to human studies with the clear intention of translating the findings to patients.

SI: What did you discover?

AR: That sulforaphane, provided as a concentrated broccoli extract, reduces glucose production from the liver, which is a central disease mechanism in type 2 diabetes, and improves glucose tolerance in obese individuals with poorly regulated type 2 diabetes.

SI: Cooking vegetables can sometimes have a dramatic affect on its chemistry. Does cooked broccoli have the same affect as raw?

AR: Good question – sulforaphane will be affected. In addition, the concentration of sulforaphane was so high that it corresponds to 4-5 kg of broccoli daily. Hence, it is difficult to eat those amounts and it should ideally be ingested as a broccoli extract to get the effects on gluccose control.

SI: What are the broader implications and applications of your findings?

AR: We will now work to make this available as a functional food to improve glucose levels. Dietary regimens is a cornerstone in diabetes and this could open up for a complement to existing drugs.

For more information about Anders Rosengren and his research visit his lab page.

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