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Broccoli: Epigenetic Effect on cancer

by Dr. Jamesh Meschino on

December 14, 2023 in

Source: The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry (April 2017)
Nutrition / Natural Medicine Update (March 23, 2017)

The research I’m citing today is published in the April 2017 edition of the journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. The study lends further support to the already compelling evidence that a medicinal ingredient found in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, cauliflower, Bok choy, Brussels sprouts, turnips) possess significant anti-cancer properties as well as revealed the epigenetic effect on cancer.

How sulforaphane shows the epigenetic effect on cancer cells? 

This study, for the first time to my knowledge, showed that sulforaphane (obtained from these vegetables) exerted a key epigenetic effect that greatly inhibited human prostate cancer cells from forming colonies, in an important experimental study. But many other types of cancers are linked to the same epigenetic switch, suggesting that sulforaphane may also provide protection against brain, lung, colon, breast, and stomach cancer, as well as chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

To be more specific, studies in recent years have shown that a specific long, non-coding RNA called LINC01116 is very active or as scientists say, up-regulated, in a common form of human prostate cancer. The activity of this long, non-coding RNA (LINC01116) has been shown to have direct genetic effects that promote cancer development.

How to lower the risk of prostate cancer?

The April 2017 study showed that sulforaphane (from cruciferous vegetables) decreased the expression or normalized the expression of this specific, long, non-coding RNA and in doing so, greatly prevented prostate cancer cells from forming colonies by a factor of four-fold. Worth noting, the researchers expressed, is that increased consumption of cruciferous vegetables appears to be associated with lower risk factors of developing prostate cancer in human studies. 

Normalizing the impact of this epigenetic factor, or long, non-coding RNA, appears to be one more way that consuming cruciferous vegetables helps to lower prostate cancer risk. But regular consumption of cruciferous vegetables is also associated with a reduced risk of many other cancers as well. So, in my view, it makes sense for men and women to have a cruciferous vegetable serving at least three times a week, and just about every day if possible.

What is the importance of junk DNA in gene function?

It’s very interesting. Long, non-coding RNA, which is used to describe RNA strands that don’t promote the synthesis of proteins within the cell (which is what RNA is most famous for), was thought for many years to be part of what’s called junk DNA. In other words, a bunch of genetic material left over from our ancient ancestors that do not do anything, or at least, anything of importance. 

But we have begun to discover that much of this so-called junk DNA is important epigenetic material that tells the DNA (our genes) what to do and how to behave – turning on and turning off certain genes and modifying the make of others. 

The same way that your computer software enables your computer hardware to do or not do certain things, the body’s epigenetic activity influences our DNA hardware in a similar way – turning on and off certain genes and even altering our gene make-up and function over time, as it senses changes to our environment, nutritional status, exposures to toxins, toxic chemicals, and other factors.

Some scientists suggest that the rise in conditions like autism incidence in recent years is a direct result of our epigenetic material being influenced by our exposure to the build-up of many undesirable environment agents and rapid changes to our food composition, which in turn has altered our DNA gene expression. More on that another time.

For today, let’s focus on the study at hand, showing that sulforaphane from cruciferous vegetables was shown to help prevent the development of prostate cancer colonies from forming via decreasing expression of a specific length, non-coding RNA, in a break-through experimental study, involving a common type of human prostate cancer cells.

Why should we include cruciferous vegetables in our healthy diet?

Studies have shown for a long time that sulforaphane (from cruciferous vegetables) also inhibits cancer development in other ways, such as through improved detoxification of cancer-causing agents and inducing cell death of emerging cancer cells (apoptosis). It appears that sulforaphane  shows epigenetic effect on cancer as it may also help prevent certain cancers from developing further.. Thus, a new treatment option for various cancers and its prevention is perceived.

My recommendation remains unchanged, “Eat a cruciferous vegetable serving 3-7 times per week”. I personally aim for at least one serving a day, but usually end up around 5 servings per week, on average.I’ve included a link to the study in the text below.


1. Beaver L.M., Kuintzle R, Buchanan A, Wiley MW,Glasser S.T. et al. JNB (the journal of nutritional biochemistry) April 207, vol 42:72-83  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6141106/

2. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170316141117.htm

Eat Smart, Live Well, Look Great!

Dr. James Meschino

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