Scientists have long known that the cancer-fighting edge of broccoli comes from a chemical compound it contains, known as sulforaphane. This compound is also found in abundance in other cruciferous vegetables such as kale and cauliflower.
However, broccoli in particular is loaded with this compound. It has been well-known that a mechanism involving histone deacetylases (HDAC) was responsible for fighting tumors. The HDAC inhibitors like sulforaphane restored balance in a gene and prevented the development of cancer.
Cancer can develop as a result of not just inherited factors such as a faulty genetic code, but also as a result of factors which come from the outside world such as exposure to toxins, the food we eat, etc. These external factors can also set off incorrect genes and activate them.
So cancer is complex in nature and may result from not just one, but a combination of a number of things going wrong in our genetic system.
New research has come out from the scientists at Oregon State University indicating that sulforaphane also acts in another way, thus becoming a multitasking compound which serves a double blow to cancer.
The new mechanism involved an epigenetic (involving the study of gene function) process called DNA methylation. Studies show that together, HDAC inhibition and DNA methylation were influenced by sulforaphane, and they worked in tandem to maintain proper cell function and restored equilibrium in cells after cell division. (1)
So what is DNA methylation? It is a biochemical process which serves many critical functions, one of which is suppressing the expression of virulent genes and other "bad" elements that get incorporated into the genome over a period of time.
DNA methylation helps turn off genes and aids in the control of which DNA material gets read as part of genetic communication. In cancer as well as in neurodegenerative diseases, cardiovascular disease, immune function, this process gets mixed up.
According to Emily Ho, an associate professor in the Linus Pauling Institute and the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences, “With these processes, the key is balance.