Food makers to turn to broccoli ingredients?

Related tags Macular degeneration

Opening up new opportunities for functional foods, a powerful
cancer-fighting food compound found in broccoli could also boost
the eyes, find researchers in the US. The naturally-occurring
antioxidant sulforaphane protects the retina from damage - caused
by UV light - which can lead to the common eye disease age-related
macular degeneration.

The protective effects of sulforaphane on the human body have been extensively researched in recent years, focusing on its ability to inhibit tumour growth and to kill bacteria in the stomach that leads to ulcers and stomach cancer.

And earlier this month a study conducted at the University of Saskatchewan showed feeding broccoli sprouts - thin cress-like shoots - to rats prevented high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA​, 4 May 2004).

Sulforaphane is found at high concentrations in broccoli, sprouts, cabbage, watercress and salad rocket.

Food makers looking to grab a slice of the burgeoning functional food market might look at new product formulations that would place sulforaphane-rich foods as key ingredients. Recent research from UK research firm Mintel forecasts that in the UK alone the current £835 million functional market will rise to £1.7 billion in the next five years.

The findings this week from researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and published in the 13 July issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences​, suggest that the powerful antioxidant can protect human retinal cells.

Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in the western world, affecting an estimated 30 million people worldwide. This number is expected to double by 2030.

Paul Talalay and Xiangqun Gao at the Laboratory for Molecular Pharmacology at Johns Hopkins Medical School demonstrated the ability of sulforaphane and other Phase 2 enzyme inducers to protect these cells from photo-oxidative damage in the laboratory. According to the researchers, this protection increased with the dose-dependent amount of sulforaphane provided.

"Baby Boomers should take interest in developments in this area. There is growing evidence that sulforaphane provides protection against the types of injury believed to contribute to the development and progression of macular degeneration,"​ said Peter Gehlbach at the Diseases of the Retina and Vitreous, Wilmer Eye Institute in Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Human epithelial cells in the eyes are very sensitive to damage caused by the presence of oxidants, which are generated by exposure to light (photo-oxidation). The eye has a number of antioxidant functions to reduce damage to the retina, but, as people age, the eye becomes less efficient at removing oxidants. This is believed to be a major cause of age-related macular degeneration.

Research published last year by the UK-based Institute of Food Research revealed that when sulforaphane was put to work with the food component selenium, their ability to fight cancer was 13 times more powerful than when working independently.

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