Sulfur compounds

Slide an apple pie in the oven, and soon the kitchen fills with a yummy aroma that makes your mouth water and your digestive juices flow. But boil some cabbage and — yuck! What is that awful smell? It's sulfur, the same chemical that identifies rotten eggs.

Cruciferous vegetables (named for the Latin word for "cross," in reference to their x-shaped blossoms) — such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi, mustard seed, radishes, rutabaga, turnips, and watercress — all contain stinky sulfur compounds, such as sulforaphane glucosinolate (SGSD), glucobrassicin, gluconapin, gluconasturtin, neoglucobrassicin, and sinigrin, that seem to tell your body to rev up its production of enzymes that inactivate and help eliminate carcinogens.

These smelly sulfurs may be one reason why people who eat lots of cruciferous veggies generally have a lower risk of cancer. In animal studies at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, rats given chemicals known to cause breast tumors were less likely to develop tumors when they were given broccoli sprouts, a food that's unusually high in sulforaphane. In 2005, a human trial conducted in China by researchers from Johns Hopkins, Qidong Liver Cancer Institute, Jiao Tong University (Shanghai), and the University of Minnesota Cancer Center showed that the sulforaphane-rich sprouts appear to help the body defang aflatoxins produced by molds that grow on grains such as rice. Aflatoxins, which damage cells and raise the risk of cancer, may be linked to the high incidence of stomach and liver cancer in China. Further studies are in the planning phases. (But of course.)

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