The trope that broccoli is a burden to eat is just so wrong. Sure it’s can sometimes be bitter, but that’s not really a problem since it plays well with everything from Ranch dressing to Sriracha hot sauce. It looks like little trees, but is actually a flower! And it’s ridiculously healthy, feeding you nutrients while simultaneously saving your intestines from toxins and pathogens that can cause colitis or the ominously vague leaky gut syndrome.
That last benefit may not be terribly appealing to think about, but it’s important enough that researchers have been investigating the exact mechanism that helps broccoli protect our guts. Starting with a confirmation that that mice who ate broccoli suffered less from digestive issues related to intestinal distress, researchers started focusing on a chemical receptor in the gut called the Aryl hydrocarbon receptor, or AHR. This receptor helps regulate intestinal lining, the microbiome, immune system responses, and the “host barrier function.” While nothing in that list should be discounted, the barrier function is known to be critical to various diseases, and basically functions a mechanism that allows nutrients to be digested into the body while trapping potentially dangerous items, like pathogens or toxins, in the intestine for eventual expulsion.
A delicious dose of indole glucosinolate
Broccoli helps activate all this positive activity thanks to compounds called indole glucosinolates. As you digest your food, the indole glucosinolates break down, creating indolocarbazole (ICZ) in the stomach. This can then plug into the AHR receptor, keeping your intestines happy and inflammation-free. To confirm this relationship, mice were bred to be either extra sensitive to ICZ, or to block its interaction. As expected, the mice that couldn’t make use of the broccoli-produced ICZ suffered from more gut problems, indicating that compound’s importance to a healthy digestive tract.
If you’re hoping to someday bypass the broccoli and trigger your AHR receptor through some kind of ICZ-laden medication, prepare to be disappointed. Over-stimulating the AHR through a body-wide trigger has been linked to problems, like toxicity. This research bolsters the idea that local stimulation of the AHR, as when eating some broccoli, is the safest option out there. If you really can’t deal with broccoli though, researchers suspect that other veggies like brussels sprouts and cauliflower may please your intestines as well.
Source: Like it or not: Broccoli may be good for the gut by Matt Swayne, Penn State News