Brussel sprouts every day keeps the cardiologist away

Dr Lauren Blekkenhorst
Dr Lauren Blekkenhorst

Brussel sprouts are not everyone’s favourite vegetable, but regular consumption of Brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables might save your life.

Research led by Dr Lauren Blekkenhorst of Edith Cowan University found higher consumption of crucifers is associated with reduced blood vessel disease in older women.

Researchers studied nearly 700 women over 70, who had volunteered for a trial of vitamin D supplement to reduce bone fractures.

This trial involved scanning their spines for bone density. The scans also showed images of calcium build in their aortas, so researchers were able assess problems with their blood vessels. 

Using this data and information about their diets, they found those who ate more than 45g of cruciferous vegetables every day (eg ½ cup of steamed broccoli or ½ cup of raw cabbage) were 46 per cent less likely to have extensive build-up of calcium on their aorta in comparison to those who consumed little or no cruciferous vegetables every day.

Every 20g per day greater intake of crucifers was associated with a 19 per cent improvement in blood vessel health.

Blood vessel disease is a condition that affects our arteries and veins can reduces the flow of blood circulating around the body. This reduced blood flow is often due to the build-up of plaque – fatty, calcium deposits – on the inner walls of major blood vessels, such as the aorta. This build-up is the leading cause of heart attacks or strokes.

“In our previous studies, we identified that those people with a higher intake of these vegetables had a reduced risk of having a clinical cardiovascular disease event, such as a heart attack or stroke, but we weren’t sure why,” Dr Blekkenhorst said.

“This new study provides insight into the potential mechanisms involved.

“We have now found that older women consuming higher amounts of cruciferous vegetables every day have less risk of having extensive calcification on their aorta,” she said.

Crucifers are a source of isocyanates, flavonols and vitamin K. The researchers speculate that these may be involved in inhibiting the calcification process that occurs in blood vessels.

Other vegetables groups including onions and leeks, red, orange and yellow coloured vegetables such as carrots, capsicums and pumpkins, legumes and leafy greens had little or no effect on blood vessel disease.  However, apple consumption did have a beneficial effect.

“That’s not to say the only vegetables we should be eating are broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts. We should be eating a wide variety of vegetables every day for overall good health and wellbeing,” said Dr Blekkenhorst.

The researchers warned that the biochemical mechanism of the health-promoting effect of crucifers was not yet known. Further research is also needed to see if the results also apply to men, younger people or different ethnic groups.

The research was published in the British Journal of Nutrition last month.

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Frank Smith was trained as an agricultural scientist in the UK, moving to WA in 1974 and shortly afterwards began lecturing at WAIT (now Curtin University) in soils and agronomy. In 1979 he joined the Agriculture Protection Board in charge of publications and media relations, studying part time for a degree in Journalism. In 1992 he spent a year as a visiting professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Later he ran a small publication company with his wife Mary-Helen. He then began freelance writing, editing and book indexing. He has written articles for more than 40 magazines in four continents and indexed more than 20 books. In 2007 he started writing for Have a Go News and gradually reduced his writing for other publications. He later took over the subediting, ensuring Have a Go News is consistent in style and highly readable. He and Mary-Helen live in a passive solar home in the Perth Hills with a varying collection of quendas and native birds.