In mice and men, a chemical found in broccoli sprouts actually cleans harmful bacteria out of the lungs.
Healthy lungs keep themselves clean with scavenger immune cells called macrophages that recognize and engulf foreign debris and bacteria. When lungs aren’t able to rid themselves of bacterial invaders, infections set in.
Such is the case in smokers and people with a type of lung disease called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) – which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis conditions. It affects 24 million Americans and 210 million worldwide.
Their blocked airways are further aggravated by frequent infections.
Shyam Biswal of Johns Hopkins University and colleagues analyzed macrophages from the lungs of 43 COPD patients and from mice exposed to cigarette smoke.
- They exposed these defective macrophages to the bacteria strains that cause COPD-linked infections.
- They found that treatment with sulforaphane boosts the activation of a chemical pathway called Nrf2, which is wiped out by smoking. (This same compound has been linked to lower risk of heart attacks and strokes and even cancer.)
- Activating the Nrf2 pathway restores the ability and even improves the functionality of lung macrophages to clear bacteria from the lungs.
Sulforaphane is a plant chemical found in many vegetables like cauliflower and bok choy, but the richest source is broccoli sprouts (aged 3 to 4 days).
In these plants, the compound is present in its precursor form and is converted to the active compound by enzymes present in saliva and intestinal bacteria, says study coauthor Christopher Harvey of JHU.
A sulforaphane-rich diet might ward off disease or improve function in lungs. The experimental therapy is being studied in a clinical trial, though results likely won’t be in for another 3 years.
If it works, the therapy would help increase innate immune defenses in the lungs of COPD patients, Biswal says.
The study was published in Science Translational Medicine this week. (Some of the authors hold intellectual property on development of Nrf2 based therapeutics in COPD and have equity in the biotech company Cureveda.)
Image by miwaza via Flickr
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com