In a study of more than 1,000 Chinese women, those who ate the most cruciferous vegetables had substantially less inflammation than those who ate the fewest.
Cruciferous vegetables include cabbage, broccoli, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, kale and cauliflower, and eating them is often encouraged as a way to lower risk for heart disease and cancer.
Based on their findings, the study authors from Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee say the health benefits of these vegetables may be at least partly a result of their anti-inflammatory effects.
Chronic inflammation is implicated in the development of cardiovascular and other chronic diseases.
This and other studies have found that consumption of fruits and vegetables, particularly cruciferous vegetables, was associated with lower total mortality and cardiovascular disease mortality - however, the potential mechanisms behind this association are not well understood.
In animal studies, high intake of cruciferous vegetables or certain key compounds within them has been found to lower inflammation.
The health benefits of these vegetables are largely attributed to phytochemicals called glucosinolates. Once consumed, glucosinolates are converted to active compounds called isothiocyanates and indoles which have anti-cancer, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
For the study, the researchers analyzed signs of inflammation in the blood of 1,005 middle-aged Chinese women who filled out questionnaires about their diets as part of the Shanghai Women's Health Study.
The participants were generally healthy and had an average age of 58. They were divided the women into five groups based on their daily intake of cruciferous vegetables.
The median intake of cruciferous vegetables was just under one cup per day, with women in the lowest fifth consuming about half that amount. The women in the top fifth of consumption took in about 1.5 cups of cruciferous vegetables every day.
The researchers then measured levels of signaling molecules involved in causing inflammation in the women's blood. Blood levels of three important inflammatory molecules - tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-a), interleukin-1beta (IL-1b) and interleukin-6 (IL-6) were lowest among women with the highest intakes of cruciferous vegetables.
The women who consumed the most cruciferous vegetables had, on average, 13 percent less TNF-a, 18 percent less IL-1b, and 25 percent less IL-6 than women who ate the fewest.
The researchers found a similar inverse relationship between the inflammation markers and intake of all vegetables combined, but not when they looked strictly at non-cruciferous vegetables.
The authors say cruciferous vegetables may have health benefits through modulating inflammation.
Inflammation is thought to be part of a cycle that promotes heart disease, and heart disease in turn promotes more inflammation.
Cruciferous vegetables are good in other ways beyond reducing inflammation. They are a source of a highly available calcium and they provide some iron.
Source: The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, online March 17, 2014.
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