Signs of oxidation—the interaction of oxygen with other substances—are commonly seen in the browning of a cut apple or avocado, on copper that has turned green, and on the rusty part of a nail. The cells of our bodies react to oxygen exposure as well, and though some oxidation effects are good, for example when the immune system uses this process to fight infections, too much oxidation may harm health—especially when living with a health condition, such as diabetes.
Fortunately, research has found that a healthy diet can protect against excess oxidation. Expanding on those previous findings, a new study suggests that broccoli sprouts may be a star player for keeping oxidation in balance in people with type 2 diabetes.
Studying “baby broccoli”
To look at the relationship between broccoli sprouts and stress on the body caused by oxidation, researchers randomly selected 81 people with type 2 diabetes to consume 5 or 10 grams of broccoli sprout powder per day, or a placebo containing no supplement. The researchers looked at blood measures of oxidative stress at the start and completion of the four-week study, including:
total antioxidant capacity
total oxidant status
oxidative stress index
malondialdehyde (MDA), a substance that can build up in the blood due to oxidation
oxidized LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, important because higher levels of oxidized LDL cholesterol may increase heart disease risk
Blood tests showed that health markers significantly improved in those who took the broccoli sprout powder, including decreases in the oxidative stress index, decreased blood levels of oxidized LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and decreased levels of MDA (higher MDA indicates more oxidation). Broccoli sprout powder improved total antioxidant capacity as well.
Taking 10 grams of broccoli sprout powder daily led to the largest improvements in measures of oxidative stress, but 5 grams also improved these measures more than placebo.
Overcoming excess oxidation
This study suggests that broccoli sprout powder may balance excess oxidation in people with type 2 diabetes. To help you put this information to use in your life and take advantage of other ways to keep oxidation at bay, try the following:
Ask your doctor. Broccoli sprout powder is considered safe for most people, but ask your doctor before adding it into your self-care routine. All supplements have the potential to interfere with medications.
Focus on food. Although taking a pill or powder may be a handy way to cover your bases, also consider simply adding broccoli sprouts into your daily diet. Try them in salads, sandwiches, and soups. Also try regular broccoli, another antioxidant powerhouse.
Think broadly. Beyond broccoli, eat an array of colorful vegetables and fruit to improve your antioxidant intake. In most cases, the more colorful the food—think purple, blue, red, yellow, orange, and green—the more antioxidant power it packs, and food is usually better than individual antioxidant nutrient supplements.
Face the fat. If you are carrying extra body fat, talk to your healthcare provider about healthful ways to trim your waistline. Losing weight will improve health and may lessen oxidation in your body.
Take a walk. In the short term (minutes to hours) exercise seems to increase oxidation, but over the long haul (weeks to months), people who exercise have consistently lower oxidation levels than couch potatoes.
(Eur J Clin Nutr May 11, 2011; published online ahead of print)
Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD, an author, speaker, and internationally recognized expert in chronic disease prevention, epidemiology, and nutrition, has taught medical, nursing, public health, and alternative medicine coursework. She has delivered over 150 invited lectures to health professionals and consumers and is the creator of a nutrition website acclaimed by the New York Times and Time magazine. Suzanne received her training in epidemiology and nutrition at the University of Michigan, School of Public Health at Ann Arbor.