For at least three decades, I’ve been praising the amazing health properties of cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, arugula, broccoli, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cress, kale, mustard greens, radish, horseradish, turnip, rutabaga, watercress, and kohlrabi. If you haven’t heard of some of these, join the club: this category of vegetables isn’t necessarily the most popular in this country.
Other societies, particularly those in the Far East, have always recognized the power of cruciferous vegetables, primarily related to the sulfur content in these vegetables. Sulfur used to be a very widely-used medicinal compound. Some of its benefits include:
- Antimicrobial, antiviral, and antioxidant properties (In fact, sulfur is used on dried fruit to kill bacteria and parasites.)
- Laxative properties
- Inflammation reduction
- Cancer-fighting abilities
- Skin, hair, and joint health (particularly arthritis)
Sulfur supplements may have fallen out of favor, but that doesn’t mean sulfur has become ineffective over time. In fact, the arthritis supplement chondroitin sulfate owes much of its efficacy to its sulfur component. On my ranch, we often use sulfur salt lick (blocks) to improve the health and trace mineral consumption of the animals.
Sulfur as a health remedy may seem “old school,” but you can still buy sulfur-based ointments, lotions, and soaps for skin conditions in most pharmacies. Flowers of sulfur capsules and tablets are also still available. (It’s interesting that sulfur is also called Brimstone powder among root doctors, hoodoos, and witches.) When I was growing up, many kids were given chewable sulfur tablets to help with skin problems. I was one of them and I still have a vivid memory of the taste. It wasn’t pleasant—just the thought makes me nauseous.
Not only is the taste disagreeable, sulfur is also directly responsible for some of the less-than-pleasant smells that can emanate from the body. Sulfur-based flatulence can be unforgettable. In fact, sulfur is the one of the primary components in novelty “fart-in-a-bottle” products.
Keratin, the structural protein in hair, contains a very high content of sulfur. The sulfur is what gives burning hair its distinct odor. Sulfur’s smell is so offensive that a sulfur compound is added to propane so that people can recognize a leak and take appropriate action. Propane itself is actually odorless in its natural state.
Liver Disease Prevention
Two sulfur-containing chemicals found in cruciferous vegetables are indole-3-carbinol (I3C) and 3,3’-diindolylmethane (DIM).
The current worldwide prevalence of NAFLD is around 29%. Thanks to the rising incidence of obesity and type 2 diabetes in this country, it is currently projected that there will be a 21% increase in NAFLD, leading to a 33.5% overall prevalence of by the year 2030.
This will lead to a 137% increase in the number of patients developing liver cancer. And for those who don’t develop cancer, the liver fibrosis resulting from NAFLD will result in a 168% increase in end-stage liver disease and become the most common reason for liver transplantation in the United States.
If you are overweight or have type 2 diabetes, I recommend adding cruciferous vegetables to your diet. Indole levels in those who are clinically obese are significantly lower than those who are lean. Additionally, lower indole levels result in a higher amount of fat being deposited in the liver.
Indole also acts on cells in the intestinal tract to send out molecular signals that dampen inflammation. Once again, this highlights the importance of maintaining a healthy intestinal tract with probiotics, fermented foods, and cruciferous vegetables.
Combatting Antibiotic Resistance
Every day we hear more about antibiotic resistance and how difficult it is becoming to treat some bacterial infections. The World Health Organization has called antimicrobial resistance one of the top 10 global public health threats facing humanity.
One of the issues surrounding antibiotic-resistant bacteria is their ability to form biofilms. Biofilms are basically a colony of bacteria that have attached themselves to a surface (wound, infection site, etc.) and to each other. These biofilms also contain a matrix of compounds that help shield them from antibiotics and other substances that might break the film apart and destroy the bacteria.
Trying to treat an infection where the bacteria has created a biofilm requires a much longer course of antibiotic use. And the longer the bacteria are exposed to an antibiotic, the greater the chance they will become resistant.
Breaking down these biofilms has been the focus of much research, but to date there hasn’t been much luck in finding ways to do so. However, new research may change that.
Researchers recently found DIM was able to disrupt bacterial biofilm and reduce antibiotic resistance.
Gram-negative bacteria have been found to have a particularly high resistance to antibiotics. In the four types of gram-negative pathogenic bacteria initially tested, DIM reduced the biofilm formation by 80%.
In subsequent tests of two other forms of multi-drug resistant bacteria, DIM inhibited biofilm growth by 65–70%. When combined with an antibiotic, the biofilm growth was inhibited by 98%.
In animal tests, pigs with infected puncture wounds were treated three times a week for 10 days with an antibiotic topical cream formulated to include DIM. This combination broke down the biofilm, decreased the wound size, and accelerated healing time significantly. Using the antibiotic alone didn’t have any influence on the biofilm.
The researchers stressed that DIM works not just in the laboratory, but in live animal wound situations.
Currently I don’t know of any antibiotic product that incorporates supplemental DIM as an ingredient. However, I personally wouldn’t hesitate to use it with a topical antibiotic cream/gel if faced with a resistant wound infection.
Both DIM and I3C can be taken as supplements. But I would recommend eating cruciferous vegetables instead of supplementing. (If you have NAFLD, then add the supplement along with the vegetables to your diet.)
In a lifetime of studying natural therapies, there seems to be a common thread when it comes to food, herb, and plant remedies. Scientists like to isolate specific compounds in these things to understand how they work on a molecular basis. Then these isolates are either sold as supplements, or duplicated synthetically and sold as drugs.
Nature, however, seems to package various compounds together in such a way to improve their efficiency and/or to help offset any possible toxicity. This is certainly the case with the cruciferous vegetable family.
Instead of waiting for the next discovery to be isolated and sold as a new miracle drug, start including these miraculous vegetables in your diet now. You’ll be way ahead of the majority of the population when it comes to improving your health and preventing disease.