Every time I speak to patients about nutrition for hormone balance, I remind them how important it is to include a variety of nutrients in their diet for optimal health. So many factors contribute to hormone balance and overall health, and no one food or supplement will be a “magic bullet.”
But one nutrient has so many health benefits for women that it is definitely something you want to include regularly. This nutrient is sulforaphane.
Sulforaphane is a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound found in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and kale. It's thought to have a wide range of health benefits for things like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.
Let's explore some of the science behind sulforaphane benefits and its potential for hormone balance and health.
What is Sulforaphane?
Sulforaphane is a sulfur-containing phytochemical that belongs to a class of compounds known as isothiocyanates. It's found in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli or cabbage in an inactive form called glucoraphanin.
Glucoraphanin is converted to sulforaphane by the enzyme myrosinase, which is also present in cruciferous vegetables. When you chew or chop the veggies, myrosinase is released, and sulforaphane is formed.
Sulforaphane Health Benefits
Sulforaphane is a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound. It's been shown to offer many health benefits, especially for hormonal imbalance.
It promotes healthy detoxification by turning up the production of enzymes that help the body transform potentially toxic metabolites into inactive, safer byproducts that your body can eliminate as part of your detoxification process.
In the liver, phase 1 of detoxification is when potentially toxic metabolites are transformed into less toxic intermediates. These intermediates then need to be further transformed in Phase 2 of detoxification to be turned into safe, water-soluble compounds that can be eliminated by the body.
Diindolylmethane (DIM), which is also found in cruciferous vegetables, supports Phase 1 liver detoxification. That means partnering DIM with sulforaphane and calcium d-glucarate can provide your body with what it needs to keep your hormones balanced.
Sulforaphane has been shown to increase the activity of critical Phase 2 detoxification enzymes. As you'll learn about more below, this detoxification process is especially crucial for estrogen balance.
If you’re looking for an easy and tasty way to include sulforaphane in your diet, check out our free hormone balancing meal plan and recipe guide.
Sulforaphane Antioxidant Protection
Sulforaphane is also powerful because it could increase the amount of glutathione in your cells. Glutathione is your body's most important antioxidant and detoxification compound. It's so vital that it's often referred to as the master antioxidant, helping to reduce oxidative damage and inflammation.
All of this translates to sulforaphane being a nutrient that can help protect your body against a wide range of health conditions.
If you’re trying to conceive, sulforaphane can help support your body’s antioxidants, which offers cellular protection for the egg and sperm.
Hormone Balance: Estrogen Dominance
Estrogen is found in three primary forms in your body, even though it's often just referred to as “estrogen.”
- Estradiol is the primary estrogen produced by your ovaries during your reproductive years.
- Estrone is a form of estrogen produced after menopause.
- Estriol is made during pregnancy by the placenta.
These three forms are further converted into byproducts called metabolites with different functions in your body. Some of these metabolites are protective, while others have been linked to adverse health outcomes.
When estrogen is out of balance, it can lead to symptoms of estrogen excess, often referred to as estrogen dominance. Heavy periods, mood swings, tender breasts, and weight gain are all potential signs of estrogen dominance. And while supporting estrogen balance requires more than a single food or supplement (because diet and lifestyle are significant players too), including sulforaphane-rich foods in your diet can be helpful.
Since sulforaphane helps with phase 2 detoxification, it promotes the healthy detoxification and removal of excess or unsafe forms of estrogen by assisting the liver and gut in eliminating them. It could also support healthy levels of more protective forms of estrogen associated with reduced risk of breast cancer and increased antioxidant activity.
We include sulforaphane in our Balance Women’s Hormone Support supplement, alongside DIM and calcium d-glucarate, to provide a holistic approach to balancing estrogen levels.
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Sulforaphane and Menopause
Menopause is significant not just because it marks the transition from your reproductive years but also because it's often accompanied by a substantial decline in estrogen levels.
Low estrogen can lead to a host of unwanted symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, brain fog, and vaginal dryness, but sulforaphane may help. One study found that women with higher intakes of sulforaphane reported fewer menopausal symptoms.
As your hormones shift, certain health risks also increase. Blood sugar dysregulation, bone health, and increased risk of certain hormone-related cancers all begin to rise as estrogen drops, but eating a diet that provides sulforaphane may be a way to help mitigate some of these risks.
For example, the connection between type 2 diabetes and menopause is well-established. But research has shown that sulforaphane can help to improve insulin sensitivity and blood sugar regulation.
One study found that supplementing with broccoli sprout powder for a month (broccoli sprouts are one of the highest food sources of sulforaphane) significantly improved insulin levels for people with type 2 diabetes.
Another study found that people with diabetes that supplemented with broccoli sprout extract daily for 12 weeks saw significant improvements in fasting blood sugar and A1c levels (the test that measures your average blood sugar levels over 2-3 months).
Osteoporosis is another condition that becomes more common after menopause. Since estrogen helps maintain healthy bones, lower levels can lead to bone loss and increased fracture risk. Sulforaphane may help protect against bone loss while supporting the expression of receptors for bone-building cells (although more research is needed in this area).
Possible Cancer Benefits of Sulforaphane
No single factor determines whether you will develop cancer or not, but hormones and inflammation are two major players. Sulforaphane has been shown to help with both of these things, which is likely one reason it may offer cancer protection benefits.
Estrogen imbalances have been linked to breast cancer. Since sulforaphane helps with estrogen balance, it may help to protect against breast cancer.
In fact, studies show that people who eat more sulforaphane-rich vegetables have a significantly lower risk of developing many types of cancer, including breast, colorectal, and esophageal. Animal studies have also shown that sulforaphane helped protect against breast tumor formation.
Beyond estrogen, sulforaphane could help protect against cancer by promoting the detoxification process, as mentioned above, so the body can eliminate dangerous toxins before they cause damage.
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Sulforaphane is also a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound, which helps to protect cells and reduce inflammation throughout the body. Sulforaphane may inhibit potential carcinogens from binding to your DNA and kill cancer cells.
Sulforaphane and Heart Health
A lot of the benefits seen with sulforaphane for heart health have to do with the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions in the body. These benefits are another reason sulforaphane can be so protective for women later in life, as estrogen protects against heart disease, and the risk increases after menopause.
Sulforaphane appears to help with healthy cholesterol levels and regulating blood pressure. Several studies found that eating more broccoli or sprouts supported reductions in participants’ LDL cholesterol (often called bad cholesterol). And those who ate a diet rich in sulforaphane-containing vegetables appeared to have a lower risk of heart disease.
Sulforaphane From Food: Cruciferous Vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables are from the brassica family. Broccoli sprouts contain the highest amount of sulforaphane, but here are some other options:
- Mustard greens
- Bok choy
- Collard greens
Raw broccoli contains higher levels of sulforaphane than cooked, but it may not be as easy to absorb. Heating can increase the bioavailability of sulforaphane (how much you can absorb and use), but baking or boiling at high heat can also break down some of the sulforaphane content.
Studies suggest that steaming for less than five minutes is a gentle way to cook these veggies while still preserving some of the beneficial sulforaphane.
One important note—if you have been diagnosed with hypothyroid, you may have been told that you need to avoid cruciferous vegetables due to goitrogens. In reality, you’d have to eat so many raw vegetables that your gut would complain (hello, gas and bloating) far before your thyroid felt it. As previously mentioned, lightly cooked cruciferous is best, which will help mitigate goitrogen concerns. If you’re low in iodine, you may be more sensitive to goitrogens. You can learn all about thyroid nutrition here.
Maybe you love your broccoli roasted. Or maybe you have IBS, so you need to be careful with certain veggies. You may also have trouble getting in enough sulforaphane-rich foods every day. Food first is my mantra, but if you need a little extra support, sulforaphane supplements can be a helpful way to up your intake.
You can find sulforaphane supplements in various forms, from capsules and pills to powders. If it's a food-based supplement (and it's usually made from broccoli or broccoli sprouts and seeds), organic is always a good idea because it may have fewer pesticides. You also want to make sure the supplement has been third-party tested for quality.
Suggested Sulforaphane Dose
When it comes to sulforaphane dose, aiming for at least 100 mg is best in most cases. Studies vary regarding the correct dosage, especially since so many studies are based on animals, so it's always a good idea to talk to your healthcare practitioner if you aren't sure.
Sulforaphane for Hormone Balance and Health: Wrapped Up
Sulforaphane is an essential nutrient for women at any age, but especially for those with estrogen dominance or during and after menopause. It has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits that help to protect cells, reduce the risk of disease, and promote overall health.
Sulforaphane can be found in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale, and cauliflower, or you may want to consider a supplement if you have trouble getting enough in your diet.
To jump-start your journey to healthy hormones, check out my free Hormone Balancing Starter Kit with a 7-day meal plan and recipe guide.
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