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Broccoli Compound May Aid in Dissolving Blood Clots and Preventing Stroke

Sulforaphane, a natural chemical found in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, has the potential to transform stroke treatment.

Researchers from the Heart Research Institute (HRI) in Australia have discovered that a common vegetable consumed daily by millions may have the ability to prevent and treat a leading cause of death globally.

The study, recently published in the journal ACS Central Science, unveils findings from a three-year study on how a natural chemical present in broccoli can aid in dissolving blood clots and enhancing the effectiveness of a common clot-dissolving medication used in treating acute ischemic stroke.

Current Stroke Treatment

Every 40 seconds, an individual in the United States experiences a stroke. In 2021, strokes accounted for one in every six deaths attributable to cardiovascular disease.

There are two main types of strokes: ischemic and hemorrhagic. Ischemic strokes occur when a blood vessel in the brain is blocked by a clot, while hemorrhagic strokes occur when a weakened brain vessel ruptures, causing internal bleeding. According to the American Heart Association, ischemic stroke represents 87 percent of all strokes.
Currently, the only available medication for treating acute ischemic stroke is tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), a thrombolytic agent that breaks down blood clots and restores proper blood flow to the brain. Unfortunately, tPA has significant limitations and potential risks, including a 45 percent fatality rate from brain bleeding when it occurs.
Lead researcher Xuyu Liu, a chemical biology doctorate holder, shared in a statement on the HRI website in 2022: “Current treatments have drawbacks—while they clear blood clots, they also raise the risk of brain bleeding in case of emergency surgery. We are seeking natural clues to find an anti-clotting drug that works effectively where needed while allowing patients to undergo antithrombotic treatments.”

HRI researchers have identified that sulforaphane, the natural compound in broccoli, could enhance tPA performance and lead to newer, safer, and more efficient stroke medications.

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“By consuming plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, and low saturated fat foods, we can prevent heart disease and stroke. Can these same vegetables also reverse and treat stroke? I believe they can, and my team is striving to prove it at the molecular level,” Mr. Liu mentioned during a 2022 HRI interview.

Sulforaphane’s Protective Properties

During an Australian radio interview, Mr. Liu shared that their research on broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables began by screening over 100 natural products from healthy diets to find a substance with properties that inhibit brain blood clots.

Mr. Liu’s previous work involved cancer prevention through diet. However, upon transitioning to the HRI, he chose to study sulforaphane from cruciferous vegetables and its potential to address blood clots in the circulatory system.

According to Mr. Liu, sulforaphane isn’t exclusive to broccoli. In the radio interview, he explained that cruciferous vegetables produce sulforaphane as a defense mechanism against insects or other threats.

For example, a whole piece of broccoli doesn’t contain sulforaphane until it’s chopped or chewed, triggering a chemical reaction that generates sulforaphane. While sulforaphane’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties safeguard the plant, studies show that when ingested by humans, sulforaphane offers various anti-cancer and health-protective benefits.

Results and Next Steps

“Our preclinical trial revealed that tPA’s success rate rises to 60 percent [sic] when paired with broccoli-derived [sulforaphane],” shared Mr. Liu in an HRI interview. “Excitingly, this naturally occurring compound doesn’t show signs of bleeding, a common side effect of blood-thinning agents used in stroke treatment.”

Preclinical tests demonstrated that administering sulforaphane reduced blood clot formation while enhancing tPA actions. Initial tests also indicated that sulforaphane could delay stroke onset.

“Besides improving clot-busting medication performance post-stroke, the broccoli compound could serve as a preventive measure for high-risk stroke patients,” Mr. Liu stated.

Mr. Liu’s next phase involves raising funds for human clinical trials to develop a new preventive and anti-clotting treatment within five years. “Since this natural product has been utilized for cancer prevention previously, we have a solid rationale in terms of safety and other pharmacological aspects,” he noted in the radio interview.

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