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A new study suggests that broccoli can lower the risk of Type 2 diabetes and cancer by releasing molecules that protect the gut lining, although it’s unclear how this works. The study on mice proved that cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage should be part of a healthy diet for both mice and humans.

Cruciferous vegetables have health benefits

The H. Thomas and Dorothy Willits Hallowell, chairperson in agricultural sciences at Penn State, and the study’s author, Gary Perdew, believe that their research helps to uncover the mechanisms for how these vegetables benefit health.

The small intestine wall permits water and nutrients to enter the body while preventing the entry of food particles and harmful bacteria. Different types of cells in the intestinal lining, including enterocytes, goblet cells, and Paneth cells, contribute to stabilizing and maintaining gut health. These cells help absorb water and nutrients, create a mucus layer to protect the gut, and release antimicrobial proteins.

Broccoli releases aryl hydrocarbon receptor ligands, which bind to the aryl hydrocarbon receptor, a transcription factor that affects the function of intestinal cells. Researchers discovered this by feeding mice a diet containing 15% broccoli and observing changes in the animals’ tissues, including changes in cell types and mucus concentrations.

Broccoli is a natural source of AHR ligands leading to the resilience of small intestines

Perdew explains that the gut health of the mice that did not receive broccoli was negatively affected in ways associated with the disease. The study suggests that broccoli and other foods can serve as natural sources of AHR ligands, which contribute to the resilience of the small intestine when consumed in a diet rich in these ligands. Mice that did not consume broccoli did not have activated aryl hydrocarbon receptors, resulting in changes in their intestinal barrier function, slower food transit time, fewer goblet cells, and lower concentrations of Paneth and enterocyte cells. The study implies that activating the receptor can alter the metabolic and cellular functions of the gastrointestinal tract.