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The list of health attributes of broccoli includes anticancer, antioxidant, and anti-diabetes effects, as well as many others. Now a new study in mice shows that eating broccoli protects the gut. Molecules in broccoli interact with proteins present in the small intestine, increasing the number of cells involved in safeguarding the gut.

Researchers fed one group of mice a diet containing 15 percent freeze-dried broccoli – roughly equivalent to 3.5 cups of fresh broccoli in the human diet. They fed another group their typical food, which included no broccoli. Then they examined the animals' small intestines to assess the effects of broccoli consumption on the gut.

They found that molecules in the broccoli – likely phytochemicals, microbiota, or byproducts of metabolism – bound with specific proteins in the gut called aryl hydrocarbon receptors. Subsequently, the number of goblet and Paneth cells in the animals' guts increased. Goblet cells produce mucus, which protects and lubricates the gut to facilitate the passage of food. Paneth cells produce antimicrobial peptides and immune factors that regulate the gut microbial composition.

These findings suggest that broccoli consumption protects the gut via interaction with the aryl hydrocarbon receptor. Broccoli is a rich source of phytochemicals, including sulforaphane, an isothiocyanate compound with potent antioxidant, anticancer, and anti-inflammatory properties. Learn more about sulforaphane in this episode featuring Dr. Jed Fahey.

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