Here we go again, another superfood. This time with cancer fighting properties. And the scientists say that a teaspoon is enough to achieve the beneficial effects. So what’s not to like?
Well, the pungent aroma and the bitter taste of the food in the first place. We are talking about glucosinolates found in a range of cruciferous vegetables, but in horseradish in particular.
And when the glucosinolates are activated some of the resulting compounds have proven to be protective against cancer. And that we like.
A bit of background
Glucosinolates are natural components of many pungent plants such as mustard, broccoli, cabbage, and yes horseradish. About 132 different glucosinolates are known to occur naturally in plants. As is common, these natural chemicals contribute to a plant’s defence against pests and diseases.
The pungent taste of those plants is due to mustard oils produced from glucosinolates when the plant material is chewed, cut, or otherwise damaged. The plants contain the enzyme myrosinase that is released during chewing and transforms the glucosinolate into mainly isothiocyanate (mustard oil), the active form. The myrosinase and glucosinolates are stored in separate compartments of the plant cells so not to damage the plant itself until chewed.
Glucosinolate type and quantity vary depending on the plant variety, although closely related taxonomic groups typically contain only a small number of the different compounds. Many reviews have addressed the occurrence of some glucosinolates in vegetables with a major focus on negative aspects, like antinutritional or goitrogenic effects. However, there is a positive side now getting increased attention represented by beneficial health properties of some other glucosinolates.
So what are the health benefits?
The metabolic activation of glucosinolates results in the formation of isothiocyanates that in turn have been found to inhibit the development of cancer in several organs in rats and mice, including the bladder, breast, colon, liver, lung, and stomach. Also human epidemiological studies suggest that isothiocyanates are protective against cancers of the lungs and alimentary tract. Studies in animals and experiments with cells grown in the laboratory have identified several potential ways in which these compounds may help prevent cancer by:
- protecting cells from DNA damage
- inactivating carcinogens
- having antiviral and antibacterial effects
- having anti-inflammatory effects
- inducing cell death (apoptosis)
- inhibiting tumor blood vessel formation and tumor metastases.
And now a research team has studied the effects of the glucosinolates present in horseradish. The researchers found different concentrations of allyl isothiocyanate (AITC) and 1-cyano 2,3-epithiopropane (CETP) depending on the horseradish variety. And AITC is the one you want. The team suggests that AITC is a good dietary anti-carcinogen, not only because it activates the enzyme responsible for detoxifying cancer-causing molecules, but also because a large proportion of it, 90%, is absorbed when ingested.
Getting sufficient protection
Eating 3–4 portions of broccoli per week has previously been shown to provide a protective effects against certain cancers.
And now the researchers showed that horseradish contains approximately 10 times more glucosinolates than its superfood cousin, broccoli.
So your choice. You can eat 3-4 teaspoons of horseradish a week if you can stomach it, or you can replace each teaspoon by a portion of broccoli if that is more appetising. Or a range of other cruciferous vegetables.