Dr John Briffa: The muscle in Brussels

In a few short days from now, many of us will be sitting down to a festive meal of turkey with all the trimmings. One common accompaniment to the traditional Christmas dinner is the Brussels sprout. The presence of this vegetable on our plate is no assurance that we will eat it, though: the Brussels sprout's distinct bitter flavour will cause many of us to push it to one side. This not only risks offending the chef, but has other potential downsides. There is evidence that sprouts wield considerable nutritional power, and may help keep us free from major maladies, such as cancer and heart disease.

Brussels sprouts belong to a botanical family known as the brassica, and thus are rich in a group of substances known as glucosinolates which transform into other chemical entities called isothiocyanates and indoles. One of the effects of these substances is to boost the liver's ability to deal with potentially toxic substances. Compounds derived from sprouts also seem to help the liver disarm chemicals known to have cancer-inducing potential in the body.

More evidence that suggests Brussels sprouts may help keep the body free from cancer comes from studies examining their effects on DNA, which controls the division of each cell in the body. Damage to the DNA in a cell may cause it to replicate more rapidly than normal, and it is this change that is integral to the cancer-causing process.

Several studies show that extracts of Brussels sprouts have the ability to help protect DNA from damage. This effect, coupled with their ability to quell potentially cancer-causing substances, means that Brussels sprouts may keep cancer at bay.

A recent review of 80 studies concluded that those who eat plenty of brassica vegetables seem to be at reduced risk of several cancers, particularly those of the lung, bladder, stomach, colon and rectum. High brassica consumption was associated with halving the risk of bladder cancer.

Another important nutrient that Brussels sprouts have to offer the body is folic acid. Although folic acid has made its name on its ability to help protect against birth defects, such as spina bifida, increasing amounts of research suggests that it can reduce the risk of heart disease, too. Folic acid reduces the level of the blood chemical homocysteine, high levels of which are strongly associated with increased susceptibility to heart disease. Recent evidence suggests that increasing folic-acid intake may significantly reduce the risk of heart disease and other circulatory conditions.

The evidence suggests that Brussels sprouts have a wealth of health-promoting properties in the body. Bitter though they may be, they have benefits for us that seem to be very sweet indeed.

Dear John

My 15-year-old son has a condition known as chondromalacia patellae. He has seen a physiotherapist, who has suggested some exercises and told him to lay off football until at least the end of the season.

Is there anything he could do that might help him recover?
Robin Baldwin, Chertsey

Chondromalacia patellae is a knee condition that most commonly affects adolescents and young adults. The condition is caused by a degeneration of the cartilage that covers the back of the kneecap and often causes pain that is felt in the front of the knee.

One nutrient that may well help heal this condition is glucosamine sulphate. This nutritional agent is an essential building block for cartilage formation in the body, and is believed to help speed cartilage regeneration in the body. To begin with, your son should take 500mg, three times a day, for two or three months. Once his symptoms have been controlled, he may reduce this dose to 500mg once or twice a day.

Cod liver oil might also help your son, as it is rich in the omega-3 essential fats that may help reduce inflammation and pain in his knees. Cod liver oil is also rich in the vitamin D that seems to help prevent joint tissue degeneration in time.

Give your son 1000mg (1g) of concentrated fish oil, two or three times a day. Both fish oil supplements and glucosamine sulphate are available in good chemists and health food stores.

· If you have any issues you would like Dr Briffa to address in his column, please email him on john.briffa@observer.co.uk. Please note that Dr Briffa cannot enter into any correspondence. You can also visit www.drbriffa.com.

Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.


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