Health Dangers of Cruciferous Vegetables

Health Dangers of Cruciferous Vegetables

Health Dangers of Cruciferous Vegetables

Health Dangers of Cruciferous VegetablesIn our look at the Health Dangers of a Plant-based Diet we turn to the cruciferous vegetables. You might be surprised to learn that broccoli and brussel sprouts have a dark side. I mean these are the vegetables that kill cancer, right? How can there possibly be health dangers of cruciferous vegetables?

Well just like other plants, these vegetables place a high priority on survival. And this means protecting themselves with phytochemicals. The cruciferous vegetables use a special chemical called glucosinolate to deter pests. [r, r] Here we’ll look at glucosinolates and their role in the health dangers of cruciferous vegetables.

Health Dangers of Cruciferous Vegetables – What are they?

Last week as I was walking to perimeter of the grocery store (headed to the butcher) I realized how many vegetables are from the cruciferous family. It’s not just broccoli and brussel sprouts. But it also includes cabbage and cauliflower, kale and collards, radishes and arugula, mustard greens and mustard seeds, and the list goes on.

The crucifers are just like every single plant specie commonly eaten today; it’s vastly different from its pre-agriculture predecessor. We transformed these plants through artificial selection to get the biggest, most pest-resistant breeds possible.

Cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and kale are all different cultivars of a single species, Brassica oleracea. But generation by generation, we engineered this one plant’s leaves, stems and flowers into new “foods.”

You may be familiar with these crucifers because of their pungent smell. It’s the sulfur. And it’s a part of their defense.

Health Dangers of Cruciferous Vegetables – “Broccoli Bomb”

sulforaphaneThe crucifers like broccoli have this chemical called glucosinolate. I like to think of this chemical as the main ingredient of the “bomb.” They also have another chemical called myrosinase. I think of this as the “matchstick” that lights the bomb.

While growing out in a field the bomb and the matchstick sit in separate compartments so that the broccoli doesn’t blow itself up.

But when a little hungry animal comes looking for a snack and bites into the broccoli the bomb gets lit by the match. The explosion that results are bioactive chemicals call isothiocyanates. [r, r] One of the most well-studied isothiocyanate is call sulforaphane.


Sulforaphane is a pungent molecule (perhaps you’ve cooked broccoli and smelled it…) that can deter and kill insects, bacteria, and fungi. It causes cellular apoptosis (cell death). This happens in the cells of these small predators as well as human cells.

If you eat broccoli about 75% of the sulforaphane will be absorbed into the bloodstream and taken up by cells.

Once inside sulforaphane can damage important intracellular structures like mitochondria and enzymes.

The damage increases reactive oxygen species (ROS). And in an attempt to limit the damage, glutathione, our powerful endogenous antioxidant, binds with sulforaphane to get rid of it as quickly as possible (~2-3 hours after eating it). [r] This depletes our glutathione (our most potent human antioxidant) leaving cells vulnerable to further oxidative damage.

Sulforaphane can even disrupt epithelial barriers providing yet another plant chemical that can contribute to “leaky gut.” [rr]

Sulforaphane and Cancer

It’s not surprising that this cell killer has been recognized as an anticancer chemical. It kills cells. Cancer cells and healthy cells. [r, r, r]

Isothiocyanates like sulforaphane trigger the activation of Phase II enzymes. [r] This is like turning up the dial on the human immune system.

For some reason, research paints this in a positive light. Sulforaphane is a hero. Isothiocyanates increase our natural antioxidants. They say it’s a hormetic response. [r] If it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger.

I see it through another lense though.

When the body encounters something that is damaging, it wants to get rid of it. To do this it will upregulate an army to fight it. Some of these troops are antioxidants like our friend glutathione. While this is good in the context of fighting a cancerous cell or ridding the body of sulforaphane, I don’t think sending the troops to battle on a constant basis should be seen as a good thing.

The fact that the body puts such a vast importance on getting rid of sulforaphane as quickly as possible suggest to me that it’s more of a danger than a cancer-killing sidekick.

For me, a helpful analogy is to relate to chemotherapy treatment. It is very effective at killing cells. And while the intent is to kill cancerous cells, there is often a significant amount of “friendly fire” and the death of healthy cells as well.

Most people don’t take low dose chemotherapy as a cancer prevention strategy. There’s a reason for this.

Health Dangers of Cruciferous Vegetables – Thyroid Health

goiterThe isothiocyanates created by chewing up broccoli can have potent antithyroid effects and interfere with thyroid hormone production. They compete with iodine and thereby block its uptake by the thyroid. With inadequate iodine there is decreased production of thyroxine and potential for hypothyroidism. [r]

The abnormal absorption of iodine also provokes hypertrophy of the thyroid and goiter. [r]

And it’s not just humans, but animals too.

Oil meals, like rapeseed meal for example, are important protein supplements for livestock. And they are high in glucosinolates. Animals can tolerate up to 5-10% rapeseed meal in their diets before suffering from goiters, depressed growth, gastrointestinal irritation, anemia, perosis, poor egg production, and liver and kidney lesions. [rr]

The high sulfur diet can result in trace mineral deficiencies and polioencephalomalacia, a neurologic disease in ruminants.

Health Dangers of Cruciferous Vegetables – What to do

If you decide to eat cruciferous vegetables, it’s a good idea to take some protective measures.

  • Adding extra iodine to counteract the thiocyanates is helpful. However, additional iodine consumption cannot counteract other glucosinolate byproducts like oxazolidine-2-thiones which also blocks iodine preventing thyroxine production. [r]
  • Avoid sprouts and seeds as they can have orders of magnitude more glucosinolate than matured plants. Plants protect their babies. Eat them with caution.
  • Freezing as well as boiling them can help reduce the glucosinolate concentration (~50%).

Heat actually destroys the myrosinase (the matchstick that lights the bomb); however, the bacteria in our gut can act as the lighter, so sulforaphane will still be produced. [r]

As with other plant chemicals, the poison is in the dose, and an individual’s ability (or lack thereof) to disarm the plant poisons.

An elimination diet (like “Level 3” in the 30 Day Guide to Going Full Carnivore) is a very effective way to determine your ability to handle certain plant foods, which (if any…) are ok, and in what quantity.

[NOTE: You can now access the complete “Health Dangers of a Plant-Based Diet” series here]:

91 Replies to “Health Dangers of Cruciferous Vegetables”

  1. I have been trying sulforaphane supplements (from a reputable source) to help support healthy detoxification and methylation. I have several epigenetic variations that leave these processes in my body sadly under functioning. When I take my dose in the evening, several hours later I wake up with a TERRIBLE migraine headache. Despite hours of research, all I can find is that these supplements are healthy and have limited side effects. I cannot seem to find any solid research that will tell me why this might be happening. I don’t take the supplement any more but I would love to know what the mechanism is here, so I could potentially avoid other things that might have a similar affect.

  2. I have every reason to believe this about cruciferous foods because both of my grandfathers had vegetable and fruit booths on the Haymarket here in Louisville, KY for many years. They would bring home any leftover foods, and my grandmothers would fix them for their families. Both grandmothers developed serious thyroid issues, and they lost their thyroid glands. This also happened to my mother, aunts and to me. I urge anyone who eats a lot of this type of food to read the articles online so that they will fully understand what can happen. As with anything MODERATION is the word.

    1. Whoa. This is so interesting. I have broccoli sprouts every single day. I also usually have crucifers at dinner. Healthy, right? Over the past two years, I have developed a problem whereby I keep waking at night due to swallowing like I have throat irritation. I have thought LPR (silent reflux) but have tried everything natural under the sun, including a raised wedge pillow, to deal with that and it hasn’t worked. An ENT says there is nothing amiss. Yet every night the same.

      I am going to omit crucifers for a week or two to see if it is due to throat irritation or enlarged thyroid. I had an ultrasound a couple of years ago to check on the size of two very small growths and they had remained the same size. The swallowing has become worse since then and I have crucifers for dinner and lunch almost every day.

    1. Well, I’m a dentist in American that could be making a fairly great income who instead rents a 800 square foot house. So either the Big Meat Industry isn’t paying me well or I’ve decided to do the work that I feel is too important not to do.

      1. I am a dentist (orthodontist) in South Africa and admire your work and biochemistry input into this. It all makes sense to me. I have a B.Sc. in Plant Science and Zoölogy and use an interceptive approach in my work based on Dr.Weston Prices studies on nutrition. Thanks for your work, it helps me a lot as I am 95% Carnivore after trying a Keto diet with ample plant poison in my diet while thinking it was needed. Only when I quit all the plants my Fibromyalgia and severe back pain disappeared. I just take a little lemon juice, ginger juice and honey as a soft drink because I dont use alcohol and get bored drinking water.

        I was recently in the process of choosing btwn purchasing Sulforaphane Supplements or Broccoli Sprouts that is currently being touted as a cure to strengthen the skin and as a measure to prevent wrinkles. I am quite dismayed at this information, I love broccoli, kale and cabbage.. However I was recently diagnosed with leaky gut 😔
        Dr Sebi warned the world to not consume these vegetables.. I laughed believing he was somewhat of a heretic. I guess the jokes is on me 😔 Please tell me why these vegetable are marketed as Healthy?


  3. Hi Kevin, I’m grateful to have found your website and article through a ton of research tonight. I have been in agony today after adding a small handful of radish sprouts to chicken soup for breakfast: incredible stomach/chest pain and pressure, then many bathroom “emergencies” following after the hours of unbearable pain.
    I have severe IBS and seemingly infinite food intolerances: gluten, dairy, peanuts, egg, tropical fruits, cruciferous vegetables (I didn’t know radish was one!), the list is endless.
    I would love to try carnivore, but I can’t digest beef, lamb, or pork because I have severe GI reactions to any meat from a mammal. Are fowl and fish sufficient? How long could I survive on them and be healthy? Is the idea to receive 100% nourishment from meat sources?
    Thank you!

    1. Hi Renee, sorry to hear about the recent issues! I would recommend checking out the 30 day guide at Meat Health for how to go about this (https://meat.health – also can find it on this website). It can be done, but it’s important to source these more carefully if that’s all you’ll be eating.

    2. Make sure the red meat is 100% grass-fed, that pork and fowl (including eggs) are not fed any corn or soy, that dairy is raw grass-fed A2; additionally, take full-spectrum digestive enzymes (including DPP-IV); try one meat at a time, and give it some time for the body to adjust, as things often get worse before finally improving. Stay off vegetables, legumes, grains, etc, so that your body will heal; I think you’ll find that you’re able to handle the meat (maybe even some of the fruit) quite well in the end. Michaela Peterson can only eat grass-fed beef, which has seemingly proved nutritionally sufficient, and eradicated all her long-standing physiological problems; her mother suffers similar issues; as I recall, her specific ‘cure’ is lamb.

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