Researchers have discovered a possible reason why green vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower are good for the heart. Their work suggests a chemical found in the vegetables can boost a natural defence mechanism to protect arteries from disease.
Much heart disease is caused by the build up of fatty plaques in the arteries known as atherosclerosis. However, arteries do not get clogged up with these plaques in a uniform way. Bends and branches of blood vessels - where blood flow is disrupted and can be sluggish - are much more prone to the build-up.
The latest study has shown that a protein that usually protects against plaque build up called Nrf2 is inactive in areas of arteries that are prone to disease. However, it also found that treatment with a chemical found in green "brassica" vegetables such as broccoli can activate Nrf2 in these disease-prone regions.
Lead researcher Dr Paul Evans said: "We found that the innermost layer of cells at branches and bends of arteries lack the active form of Nrf2, which may explain why they are prone to inflammation and disease. Treatment with the natural compound sulforaphane reduced inflammation at the high-risk areas by 'switching on' Nrf2. Sulforaphane is found naturally in broccoli, so our next steps include testing whether simply eating broccoli, or other vegetables in their 'family', has the same protective effect. We also need to see if the compound can reduce the progression of disease in affected arteries."