Broccoli Sprouts Help Maintain Optimal Balance of H. Pylori

Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria presents a medical conundrum — while the gut bacteria has been implicated in ulcers and stomach cancer, it also seems to confer protection against other health problems, including esophageal cancer. What’s a person to do? One helpful strategy might be to eat broccoli sprouts. It seems they are a natural way to help maintain H. pylori at a level that is helpful, not harmful.

Sitting right next to the much more popular alfalfa sprouts in groceries and health-food stores, these “baby broccoli plants” are even better for you than in their grown-up form. New research from Tokyo University of Science and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine investigated how regular consumption of broccoli sprouts affected people with H. pylori infection, the frequent cause of peptic ulcers and stomach cancer. The study included 48 H. pylori-infected adults who were randomly assigned to consume 70 grams a day (about two and one-half ounces) of either broccoli sprouts or alfalfa sprouts. Researchers found that after eating broccoli sprouts for eight weeks, participants significantly lowered biomarkers for H. pylori while those who ate alfalfa sprouts did not show this benefit.

Jed W. Fahey, ScD, a faculty research associate in the department of pharmacology and molecular sciences, was a study coauthor. He told me that the active component against the bacterium is a phytochemical called sulforaphane. This natural substance induces and boosts some of the body’s protective anti-inflammatory enzymes and also has antibiotic properties particularly effective against some strains of H. pylori. Broccoli sprouts are a much more potent source of sulforaphane than is even the freshest broccoli, Dr. Fahey said.

A dietary source to combat H. pylori is excellent news for many people. Estimates are that as many as 50% of Americans harbor the bacteria, though they don’t always have symptoms. However, when the H. pylori runs rampant and causes infection, treatment can be tough — typically it involves taking two different antibiotics simultaneously, often in addition to a bismuth preparation or an acid-suppressing protein-pump inhibitor. The end result of all this is, quite often, yet another ulcer — and, in about 20% of patients, it doesn’t even solve the problem.

Broccoli sprouts offer a natural alternative and an easy and tasty way to combat H. pylori. Note, however, that the protective effect fades if you stop eating the sprouts, so you should eat broccoli sprouts regularly (two to three times a week). Dr. Fahey points out that they keep for several days in the refrigerator and are wonderful in salads, sandwiches and wraps.