Broccoli could help fight arthritis
28th August 2013 - A compound found in broccoli could help prevent or slow the progress of the most common form of arthritis, say researchers in the UK.
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease of the joints associated with cartilage loss and bone damage. It most often affects the hands, feet, spine, hips and knees. The main symptoms are pain and stiffness.
Hip and knee surgery
Osteoarthritis is by far the most common form of arthritis in the UK, with around 1 million people seeing their GP about it every year. The NHS in England and Wales perform over 140,000 hip and knee replacement operations each year because of the disease.
New research led by the University of East Anglia (UEA) shows that the compound sulforaphane slows down the destruction of cartilage in joints in experiments with mice.
Sulforaphane is released when eating cruciferous vegetables such as Brussels sprouts and cabbage, but particularly broccoli.
The researchers say that previous studies have suggested that sulforaphane has anti- cancer and anti-inflammatory properties, but this is the first major study into its effects on joint health.
The study, published in the journal Arthritis and Rheumatism, found that sulforaphane blocks the enzymes that cause joint destruction by stopping a key molecule known to cause inflammation.
Researchers from UEA's School of Biological Sciences and Norwich Medical School are now embarking on a small scale trial in osteoarthritis patients due to have knee replacement surgery, to see if eating broccoli has similar effects on the human joint. If successful, they hope it will lead to funding for a large scale clinical trial to show the effect of broccoli on osteoarthritis, joint function and pain itself.
Lead researcher Professor Ian Clark says in a statement: "The results from this study are very promising. We have shown that this works in the three laboratory models we have tried, in cartilage cells, tissue and mice. We now want to show this works in humans. It would be very powerful if we could."
In the human study, half the 40 patients enrolled will be given 'super broccoli', specially bred to be high in sulforaphane, to eat for two weeks before their operation. Once the surgery has taken place the researchers will look at whether the compound has altered joint metabolism and if it can be detected in the replaced joints.
"Although surgery is very successful, it is not really an answer," says Professor Clark. "Once you have osteoarthritis, being able to slow its progress and the progression to surgery is really important. Prevention would be preferable and changes to lifestyle, like diet, may be the only way to do that."
Professor Alan Silman, medical director at Arthritis Research UK, comments in a statement: "This is an interesting study with promising results as it suggests that a common vegetable, broccoli, might have health benefits for people with osteoarthritis and even possibly protect people from developing the disease in the first place.
"Until now research has failed to show that food or diet can play any part in reducing the progression of osteoarthritis, so if these findings can be replicated in humans, it would be quite a breakthrough."