- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Eating your greens really can keep the doctor away, as it turns out. New research out of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine shows that eating broccoli sprouts helps reduce levels of a common stomach bacterium that causes ulcers, anemia and even stomach cancers.

But it’s not enough to eat a sprout here and there.

A clinic trial recently completed by school researchers and Japanese collaborators and published in last month’s Cancer Prevention Research, showed that only when subjects ate about 2 1/2 ounces of sprouts daily for a couple of months was the bacterium, Heliobacter pylori (H. pylori), reduced significantly - by 40 percent.

The bacteria-fighting component of the broccoli sprout - three-day-old broccoli that looks like alfalfa sprouts - is called sulforaphane and is present in other green leafy vegetables, including mature broccoli, just at a much lower rate than the baby version.

“We knew [sulforaphane] knocked the heck out of the bacteria in the test tube, but now we’ve shown in this pilot clinical study that it works on infected humans too,” says Jed Fahey, author of the research and a nutritional biochemist at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. “It’s very exciting.”

The implications?

Hard to say, until more research - that is more, larger clinical studies - are done, but Mr. Fahey and his Johns Hopkins collaborator Dr. Paul Talalay, are hopeful that it can become a widespread method of preventing and treating ulcers and cancers worldwide.

“Its potential importance is that it’s a dietary treatment for a global disease,” Dr. Talalay says. “The benefits are many. … It’s more accessible in many parts of the world where antibiotics would be impractical and expensive.”

Because, as it turns out, about half of the world’s population has this damaging bacterium in their gut. The body fights this bacterium and myriad others that constantly assault its precious cells, Dr. Talalay says. Our bodies can’t go at it alone, however, which is where the broccoli sprouts, or more specifically, the sulforaphane comes in.

It, in essence, gives a boost to the body’s protective genes, allowing them to fight harder and more successfully against various inflammations. An added benefit is the bacterium can’t become resistant - as it has to many antibiotics on the market - to the sprouts.

A third added benefit of upping the body’s sulforaphane levels is it also helps prevent and treat anemia, which affects more than 1.6 billion people worldwide. Essentially, the bacterium H. pylori has an affinity for iron, meaning it absorbs it away from the body, leaving a deficiency in its wake.

So why, if this bacterium is so widespread and so damaging don’t we hear more about it?

“It’s not as acute as say malaria and HIV/AIDS,” says Dr. Talalay, who’s also a professor of pharmacology and experimental therapeutics at Johns Hopkins. “But its long-term effect is it causes cancer.”

In other words, not acute, but certainly serious - and, according to Dr. Talalay, possibly preventable.

He cautions, though, that more clinical studies are needed before any sweeping promises can be made.

But, by all means, don’t let that stop you from consuming your leafy green veggies, says Mr. Fahey, recommending that people check out their local grocery stores for broccoli sprouts and other greens. Because, while they may not possess the same bacteria-fighting properties as broccoli sprouts, any green leafy veggie contains vitamins and fiber, which, aside from aiding digestion, leaves less room in the stomach for other, less healthy things.

“It’s hard to get Americans to put down the french fries,” Mr. Fahey says. ” ‘Eat your vegetables and you’ll be healthier.’ It’s not a lesson people want to hear.”

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