Broccoli is known to be beneficial to our health. For example, studies show that increased consumption of cruciferous vegetables reduces the incidence of cancer and type 2 diabetes. In a recent study, researchers at Penn State found that broccoli contains certain molecules that bind to a receptor in mice and help protect the lining of the small intestine, preventing the development of disease. The findings support the idea that broccoli is indeed a “superfood.” Dr. According to Perdew, the wall of the small intestine blocks harmful food particles and bacteria while allowing beneficial water and nutrients to enter the body. Certain cells that line the intestines, including enterocytes that absorb water and nutrients; goblet cells that secrete a protective mucus layer in the intestinal wall; and Paneth cells, which secrete lysosomes containing digestive enzymes, help regulate this activity and maintain a healthy balance.
In their study, published in the journal Laboratory Research, Perdew and colleagues found that molecules in broccoli called aryl hydrocarbon receptor ligands bind to the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR), a type of protein called a transcription factor. This binding, they found, initiates several activities that affect the function of intestinal cells. To conduct their study, the researchers gave a group of experimental mice a diet containing broccoli (equivalent to about 3.5 cups a day for humans) and gave a control group of mice a typical laboratory diet without broccoli. They then analyzed the animals’ tissues to determine the amounts and mucus concentrations of different cell types, as well as the extent to which AHR was activated, among other factors in the two groups. The team found that mice that were not fed broccoli had no AHR activity, resulting in altered gut barrier function, a reduction in food transit time in the small intestine, and a reduced number of goblet cells and protective mucus.