Eat Your Broccoli

Broccoli on cutting board

By Dr. Peter Abaci

Arthritis is easily one of the most common causes of daily aches and pains in our society, as well as a major source of disability. Osteoarthritis, considered to be the most prevalent form, occurs when the protective cartilage at the ends of bones deteriorates, leading to degeneration of the joint spaces. Aging, injury, and obesity are generally considered to be the most frequent contributors to arthritic joint disease. These statistics on arthritis, as reported by the CDC, help demonstrate its magnitude:

  • One out of every two people develops symptomatic knee arthritis by the time they hit 85.
  • Two out of every three people with obesity will develop osteoarthritis of the knees.
  • A quarter of the population will develop osteoarthritis of a hip in their lifetime.
  • Arthritis affects 52 million Americans and almost 50% over the age of 65.
  • Two thirds of adults diagnosed with arthritis are overweight or obese.
  • An estimated 294,000 children in the U.S. have some form of arthritis or rheumatic condition.

When discussing degenerative problems of the knees, hips, or spine with my patients, one of the most frequently asked questions that comes up is what can be done to halt this process from getting worse. One source of help may come in the form of eating more cruciferous vegetables, and in particular, broccoli. For a long time now, and to the disdain of children everywhere, we have been well-aware of the significant health benefits of eating broccoli. Broccoli is widely considered one of the healthiest foods on the planet - nutrient rich, full of anti-oxidants, and high in fiber. But what can it do for your aches and pains?

Research published last year in the UK suggests that a compound prevalent in broccoli may actually prevent or slow down the progression of arthritis. The researchers found that mice fed a diet rich in sulforaphane developed significantly less cartilage damage and osteoarthritis than the other mice, and now studies are being done on human cartilage. Sulforaphane seems to block the enzymes in the body that cause joint destruction by stopping a key molecule that causes inflammation. In other words, broccoli may contain a valuable compound to help lubricate those squeaky joints.

Broccoli season actually lasts a long time. In fact, in my state of California, locally grown broccoli can be harvested from October all the way through summer. If you can commit to eating broccoli at least once a week when it is in season, then that means you are down for over 30 servings a year. If the thought of routinely eating broccoli seems like more than you can stomach, then there are alternatives to consider. Other cruciferous vegetables that contain sulforaphane, though apparently not as much as broccoli, include Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, and bok choy. To maximize their taste and nutritional value, avoid overcooking them. When you factor in that weight loss can be a valuable part of joint protection, eating low-calorie and nutrient rich cruciferous vegetables as a dietary staple seems to make sense when it comes to joint pain relief.


(Photo credit: Steven Lilley; photo can be found with creative commons license on Flickr: