Cruciferous Vegetables for Women’s Health

Cruciferous Vegetables
What are Cruciferous Vegetables?

Cruciferous vegetables are from the Brassica genus of plants and include: broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, cabbage, kale, radish, turnip, bok choi, pak choi, tatsoi, choi sum, watercress, and rocket.  Some vitamins and minerals found in these vegetables include folate, vitamin C, vitamin K, potassium, selenium, and calcium.  In addition, cruciferous vegetables are a great source of fibre so are excellent for gut health too. 

How do they help hormones?

They are especially beneficial for women as they contain phytochemicals (plant chemicals that are biologically active) and compounds that help you to detoxify excessive oestrogen out of the body. This can help to prevent hormonal problems such as, endometriosis and oestrogen dependant cancers such as breast cancer.

Detoxification refers to the elimination of toxic or foreign substances in the body.  An example of this could be excess oestrogen or ‘xeno-oestrogens’ (man-made oestrogen-like compounds), pesticides, petrochemicals, alcohol, bacteria, mould, and others.  An excess of these toxins or substances in the body can cause negative effects on a woman’s hormones.

But how does this detoxification occur?  Well, one major way is via the hepatobiliary system, or liver, through particular metabolic pathways known as Phase I and Phase II.   It has been suggested that particular phytochemicals, such as glucosinolates (sulfur-rich compounds) and the consequent isothiocyanates compounds in cruciferous vegetables boost components of both Phases I and Phase II liver detoxification.  Another way is via the gastrointestinal system or gut.  Other consequent compounds from glucosinolates are known as indoles.  These are also naturally occurring in cruciferous vegetables and basically stimulate digestive enzymes that allow for detoxification through the gut.  Indoles support liver detoxification via the Phase I pathway.  Lastly, both isothiocyanates and indoles may work together synergistically to enhance intracellular defences of the immune system against particular chemical agents that can damage genetic information within cells of the body.  

From this, cruciferous vegetables assist in supporting hormonal health via detoxification of toxins and harmful substances.  This can assist in hormonal regulation and may improve negative hormonal symptoms in conditions such as PMS, PCOS and endometriosis. They can also assist the body to eliminate xeno-ostrogens more effectively, therefore reducing the toxic load that we are burdened within this area.

What can they prevent?

It has been suggested that consuming cruciferous vegetables regularly in the diet may be cancer-protective.  

SOME MORE INFORMATION FOR THOSE SCIENCE-LOVERS

Here is a snippet of the research.  Indoles have a role in cancer prevention and protection during chemotherapy.  In particular, indoles allow for: (1) the 2-OH-estrone: estriol metabolite ratio to increase which then decreases the risk of ER type breast and cervical cancer; and (2) the oestrogen receptor (ER) modulating effect to work as a chemopreventive agent in breast cancer.

Research is also showing potential beneficial effects on cardiovascular health.  In particular, reducing low-density lipoprotein (LDL)-cholesterol concentration and supporting healthy cholesterol metabolism. 

In addition, cruciferous vegetables have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties which essentially protect against inflammation, as well as reducing inflammation within the body.  This then maintains homeostasis of individual cell functioning in bodily systems.

But.. What about thyroid?

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in the front of your neck region.  Conditions such as hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism are associated with this gland.  There is concern that eating too many cruciferous vegetables can be detrimental to the health of the thyroid, especially for those with these conditions.  Glucosinolates, or goitrogens, are also referred to as ‘goiter-causing agents’ and are the suspects in these concerns.  For example, hypothyroidism is the under-functioning of the thyroid gland.  It has been theorised that some glucosinolates may compete with iodine (one of many important cofactors in thyroid health) for uptake by the thyroid gland, which may continue the under-functioning of the thyroid.  However, this does not enhance hypothyroidism unless accompanied by an iodine deficiency.

If you are still concerned, just lightly cook them to deactivate the glucosinolates.  Only a small portion of glucosinolates are absorbed into the small intestine before reaching the large intestine.  But guess what?  Bacterial activity in the colon degrades glucosinolates, which prevents them from being reabsorbed into the body. 

How do I cook them and how much?

Cooking cruciferous vegetables is easy!  It can be as simple as steaming for between 5-10 minutes, stir-frying them in some extra-virgin olive oil or ghee until they’re slightly softened,  or baking them on a tray in the oven for 15-20 minutes.  See the below recipes for some more inspiration!  Aim for at least one cup (or two loosely packed cups) daily for their detoxification promoting effects.

We hope you are now convinced that cruciferous vegetables are a worthy addition to your daily diet!  Who would have thought that these humble vegetables are doing so many good things for our health and wellness?  How good!

DID YOU KNOW

Lightly cooked cruciferous vegetables are alkalising for the body, which may then promote bodily systems to optimise their appropriate pH level.

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Katherine Maslen

Author

Hey, I’m Katherine Maslen, naturopath, nutritionist, host of The Shift podcast, author and renegade for health.
Since completing 2 bachelor degrees in health science over 12 years ago, I’ve been helping peeps just like you to be their best through awesome health. I’ve spent most of this time one on one in clinical practice – in the trenches with my clients to navigate them through the minefield that is imperfect health.

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