The Powerful Effects of Sulforaphane on COVID-19

Author: Trisha Shea, R.D.

The Power of Plants

For many of us, 2020, the year of COVID-19, was one of the most challenging years to date. We have been tested mentally, physically, and emotionally. Our hearts go out to anyone who has experienced financial hardship or the passing of a loved one.

The good news: Vaccines are becoming more widely available!

The not so good news:

  • There are no oral medications available to help prevent COVID-19 infection.
  • There are no treatment options available for COVID-19 symptoms that aren’t severe enough to require hospital admission.  

Luckily, the healing power of plants may offer us an effective, more widely available solution. What if we told you that a phytochemical found in cruciferous vegetables has the potential to impact the prevention and treatment of COVID-19? Yes, we are talking about sulforaphane here people!

What We Know:

Recent groundbreaking research has shown that sulforaphane (SFN) can lessen the severity of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 and may even play an important role in prevention. This is HUGE news because SFN is easily accessible, safe to use, and has powerful health promoting properties similar to the effects of pharmaceuticals.  SFN has been around for longer than any drugs on the market and is naturally found in food.  That’s why the expression “Food is Medicine” rings to true!

Specifically, two studies were completed that show just how powerful the effects of SFN on COVID-19 are:

  • Study #1 was performed in vitro, which means that cultured cells were studied. Results showed that:
    • Cells (non-human primate and human lung tissue) were infected with each of 4 strains of SARS-CoV-2 and allowed to replicate for 24 hours, before the addition of SFN. Results showed that SFN inhibited 4 strains of SARS-CoV-2 from replicating (the virus needs to replicate or reproduce copies of itself in order to infect). This finding may prove to be invaluable as new strains of coronaviruses enter the human population.
    • SFN in combination with the existing anti-viral pharmaceutical Remdesivir, worked together to inhibit COVID-19 infection in cells being studied. These results show that SFN and Remdesivir may be an effective combination treatment to better fight off SARS-CoV-2.
  • Study #2 was performed in vivo, which means that living organisms, in this case mice, were studied:
    • Mice were given SFN by mouth one day before they were infected with SARS-CoV-2. Results showed that those mice given SFN had significantly decreased viral loads (amounts of virus in the infected mice) than no-SFN controls -- specifically within the lungs and upper respiratory tract. This is important because a large virus army is much harder for the immune system to fight off than a smaller one.
    • Mice that were treated with SFN had much less inflammation in the lungs, which resulted in reduced lung injury compared to infected mice that were not treated with SFN.

To understand why these results are such a big deal, you need to understand how viruses work.

Viruses are not considered to be living things because they cannot reproduce (aka replicate) without a living cell. In order to survive and thrive, they have to invade host cells and trick them into making more viruses.     

Anti-viral medications like Remdesivir, are prescription drugs that help to kill the virus by suppressing its ability to replicate. This can lessen the severity of a disease by decreasing the strength of symptoms and shortening the time that you are sick.

*The effects of SFN on the SARS-CoV-2 virus show that it is acting very similarly to an anti-viral medication! Not only did it prevent 4 strains of SARS-CoV-2 virus from replicating, but it also helped to significantly reduce the viral load in infected mice that were treated with SFN. *

These results suggest that SFN is a promising treatment for prevention of coronavirus infection or treatment of early disease!

What is Sulforaphane?

Sulforaphane (SFN) is a powerful, bioactive plant compound or phytochemical that can impact our health. Specifically, it is an isothiocyanate, which is formed from glucosinolates found in cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli, broccoli sprouts, kale, cabbage, etc. SFN is found at high levels in broccoli, especially in broccoli sprouts compared to other cruciferous vegetables, which have similar, but not identical compounds.

Sulforaphane has many health promoting properties:

  • Antioxidant (SFN exhibits the highest bioavailability, compared to other well-known antioxidant phytochemicals, such as curcumin)
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Anti-cancer
  • Anti-microbial (fights off germs, such as bacteria and viruses)
  • Anti-aging
  • Neuroprotective (protects brain cells)
  • Anti-diabetic

How do these properties help the immune system fight off viruses, like the coronavirus?

SFN has a significant effect on the immune system. Specifically, it helps to reduce pro-inflammatory cytokines (group of small proteins secreted by the immune system) and activates antioxidant enzymes in certain immune cells (monocytes & macrophages), resulting in an anti-inflammatory effect that is useful for treating diseases caused by bacteria and viruses. Other research studies have suggested that SFN may reduce the production of cytokines in COVID-19 infected patients (less cytokines means less inflammation in the body!).

Why is it important to reduce inflammation?

An excessive inflammatory response to SARS-CoV-2 can lead to severe disease or death. This is why it is important to promote a strong, yet balanced, antiviral response while controlling for excessive inflammation. This is the best-case scenario since it is most likely to result in a reduced viral load, while also limiting damage to the lungs.

How it works:

SFN activates an essential transcription factor, called NRF2. NRF2 regulates many different detoxifying and antioxidant defense genes. Viral infection is associated with an increased production of reactive oxygen species (ROS or free radicals), which can cause cell damage and eventually leads to cell death. SFN counteracts this by increasing antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-viral defenses through the activation of NRF2.

What is the best way to get SFN in my diet?

*Simple answer: broccoli sprouts!*

Broccoli sprouts are the ultimate source of SFN. In fact, broccoli sprouts contain up to 100x more sulforaphane than mature broccoli! This is because the broccoli seeds, which are sprouted, contain the higher amounts of glucoraphanin (the precursor to SFN) than any other part of the broccoli plant.

Foodnerd’s New SeeReal! Contains SFN!

Foodnerd’s SeeReal! sprouted, superfood cereal not only contains broccoli sprouts, but also has a 2.87 mg dose of sulforaphane in every serving!

Foodnerd expertly sprouts their broccoli seeds to the three-day mark, which is when they hit their peak nutrition for sulforaphane.

Also, it is important to note that the amount of glucosinolates can be significantly reduced during heat treatment. No glucosinolates means no SFN. Luckily, Foodnerd uses minimally processed ingredients that are never treated with high pressure or heat which ensures that the SFN content is preserved.

Conclusion:

Results of recent studies show that sulforaphane (SFN) helps to bring about both anti-viral and anti-inflammatory responses against coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2 virus, which suggests that it is a promising treatment for prevention of early disease.

Luckily, Foodnerd makes it really easy for you to take advantage of the coronavirus protective effects of SFN with their delicious SeeReal! sulforaphane packed cereal! Make your food count by choosing foods that support your immune system,overall health, and help to prevent disease!  Food is medicine!

Sources:

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “What You Should Know About Flu Antiviral Drugs”. CDC NCIRD, 2021, https://www. cdc.gov/flu/treatment/whatyoushould.htm?web=1&wdLOR=cFB8D8FAD-84A9-451C-A81C-F66A2540175A.
  • Dr. Biology. “How do viruses infect cells?”. ASU - Ask A Biologist, 2020,https://askabiologist. asu.edu/questions/how-viruses-work.
  • Mahn, Andrea, and Antonio Castillo. "Potential of Sulforaphane as a Natural Immune System Enhancer: A Review." Molecules 26.3 (2021): 752.
  • MedlinePlus. “Remdesivir Injection: MedlinePlus Drug Information.” U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2020, medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a620033.html.
  • Ordonez, Alvaro A., et al. "Sulforaphane exhibits in vitro and in vivo antiviral activity against pandemic SARS-CoV-2 and seasonal HCoV-OC43 coronaviruses." bioRxiv (2021).

Trish Shea, RD

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