“We all know that broccoli is good for us, but why? What happens in the body when we eat broccoli?” said Gary Perdew, H. Thomas and Dorothy Willits Hallowell Chair in Agricultural Sciences, Penn State. “Our research is helping to uncover the mechanisms for how broccoli and other foods benefit health in mice and likely humans, as well. It provides strong evidence that cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts should be part of a normal healthy diet.”
In their study, which was published in the journal Laboratory Investigation, Perdew and his colleagues found that molecules in broccoli, called aryl hydrocarbon receptor ligands, bind to aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR), which is a type of protein called a transcription factor. This binding, they found, initiates a variety of activities that affect the functions of intestinal cells.
To conduct their study, the researchers fed an experimental group of mice a diet containing 15% broccoli — equivalent to about 3.5 cups per day for humans — and fed a control group of mice a typical lab diet that did not contain broccoli.
The team found that mice that were not fed broccoli lacked AHR activity, which resulted in altered intestinal barrier function, reduced transit time of food in the small intestine, decreased number of goblet cells and protective mucus, decreased Paneth cells and lysosome production, and decreased number of enterocyte cells.
“The gut health of the mice that were not fed broccoli was compromised in a variety of ways that are known to be associated with disease,” said Perdew. “Our research suggests that broccoli and likely other foods can be used as natural sources of AHR ligands, and that diets rich in these ligands contribute to resilience of the small intestine.”
Xiaoliang Zhou, Debopriya Chakraborty, Iain A. Murray, Denise Coslo, Zoe Kehs, Anitha Vijay, Carolyn Ton, Dhimant Desai, Shantu G. Amin, Andrew D. Patterson, Gary H. Perdew. Aryl Hydrocarbon Receptor Activation Coordinates Mouse Small Intestinal Epithelial Cell Programming. Laboratory Investigation, 2023; 103 (2): 100012 DOI: 10.1016/j.labinv.2022.100012
Penn State. “Broccoli consumption protects gut lining, reduces disease, in mice: Researchers discover that a certain molecule in broccoli interacts with a receptor in mice to promote gut health.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 April 2023. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2023/04/230406152639.htm>.
Photo by Louis Hansel