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Broccoli destroys cancer-causing bacterium

From the Science & Technology Desk
Published 5/27/2002 5:05 PM
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BALTIMORE, May 27 (UPI) -- A potent compound found in broccoli destroys the bacterium that causes ulcers and stomach cancers, new research released Monday reports.

The compound, called sulforaphane, killed Helicobacter pylori, a tough, antibiotic-resistant bacterium that is responsible for thousands of cases of ulcers and stomach cancer worldwide.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins Medical School in Baltimore and at the French National Scientific Research Center in Paris, conducted laboratory tests on mice that showed sulforaphane killed two types of resistant strains of H. pylori both inside and outside the cell.

This is a key finding, researchers said, because destroying disease-causing organisms at the intracellular level can be difficult. In people particularly, the cells lining the stomach can harbor H. pylori, making it harder to eradicate any infection.

"The fact (sulforaphane) is an antibacterial agent is an unexpected discovery," researcher Dr. Paul Talalay, a pharmacology professor at Johns Hopkins, told United Press International. "What this says is there's really a two-pronged approach to the problem ... so you have potential for double insurance."

Researchers said it is not clear whether sulforaphane in broccoli can work like a magic bullet, as laboratory tests suggest, or whether the compound must be used in pure form.

"Broccoli is highly variable in its content," Talalay said. "It's not just any kind of broccoli," that would work.

Talalay declined to disclose what types of broccoli were grown to extract the sulforaphane that was tested, though he did say they were standard seeds and not genetically-modified.

Stomach cancer is not as common in the United States as it is in Asia, South America and Africa, Talalay said, where H. pylori infection rates are high. Already, scientists are interested in studying the potential effects of sulforaphane in Japan, a country with a high stomach cancer rate.

Talalay said broccoli has received a great deal of attention in the past for its cancer-fighting properties, but anecdotes from ulcer patients who reported relief from their symptoms after consuming broccoli triggered scientists' curiosity.

"This finding is interesting," Melanie Polk, director of nutrition education for the American Institute for Cancer Research in Washington and a registered dietitian, told UPI. "This finding that (broccoli) has another function is even more exciting. One more reason to include broccoli in your diet."

This does not mean broccoli is a cure-all, Polk cautioned. "It's important that we put this into perspective," she said. "There are probably thousands of protective phytochemicals," yet to be discovered. "It's important to understand that phytochemical research is really still in its infancy."

The findings will be published in the May 28 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

(Reported by Katrina Woznicki in Washington)

Copyright 2002 United Press International
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Copyright 2002 United Press International. All rights reserved.