Broccoli and breast cancer


About 50% of cancers in the world today are caused by failures in the regulation of the cell cycle, a cycle that starts with the formation of cells and ends with its apoptosis or programmed cell death. The regulation of this cell cycle is achieved by a protein called p53 ( the name assigned to its molecular mass). 

The protein p53 is a natural tumor suppressor and it is in charge of ordering the human cells when they came to an end of life and it's time to die, process known as apoptosis. Image: See credits under reference [7] below.


Family: Brassicaceae

Genus: Brassica

Common name: Broccoli



For many factors, mainly DNA damage, sometimes the protein p53 fails, and the tumour cells that were supposed to die in this natural cell cycle known as apoptosis, continue growing, sometimes in the form of tumours and sometimes as its malignant form, cancer.

But it seems scientists have now found an active constituent in Broccoli that may help in this fight against cancer, let's have a look.

Scientist and doctors have investigated different means to achieve what protein p53 achieves in a natural form, cell cycle regulation and natural death of tumour cells, stopping the spread of the tumours and their malignant forms cancer.

In their search for chemicals and molecules that may achieve this function, the scientist has also looked into natural products and traditional herbal remedies as the source of active constituents that may exert these anticancer properties.

Recently their interest focused on a cruciferous plant, broccoli, and one of its active constituents, diindolylmethane, a compound that is produced naturally during the digestion of indole-3-carbinol, a molecule found in Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables of its family, the Brassicaceae or Cruciferae.

Broccoli is rich in vitamin C (in 100 grams we have our daily recommended intake of vitamin C) and fibre. It has recently been more and more in the scope of scientists as some of the active constituents found on it have demonstrated incredible health benefits, among some of them certain active constituents as diindolylmethane, have exerted certain anti-cancer properties in breast cancer studies.



But which active constituent found in broccoli is responsible for this anticancer properties?

The 3,3'-Diindolylmethane or DIM, a cancer preventive phytochemical from Brassica vegetables found in broccoli, but also in Brussels sprouts, cabbage and kale is the active constituent that so far has been proven in several studies and clinical trials [1,2,3,4] to exert anti-cancer, cancer preventive and inhibiting properties in at least breast cancer and prostate cancer.

In a study, 3,3'-Diindolylmethane (DIM), inhibited breast cancer cell growth and proliferation in vitro and in vivo, being also able to induce arrest in human prostate cancer cell lines HCT-116 and Colo-320 [1,4].

Another naturally occurring active constituent of broccoli, sulforaphane, has been extensively studied for cancer prevention due to its chemopreventive properties[6].



Many are the active constituents found in Broccoli but among all of them, we would like to highlight one, Kaempferol, and active constituent is known for its health benefits and wonderful properties.

Kaempferol is a type of flavonoid, a flavonol, found on natural sources as:

  • apples,
  • broccoli,
  • witch hazel,
  • tea, 
  • kenaf,
  • cabbage,
  • kale,
  • beans,
  • endive,
  • leek,
  • tomato,
  • strawberries and
  • grapes,

as well as in herbs and plants frequently used in herbal remedies and traditional medicine (e.g. Ginkgo biloba, Tilia spp, Equisetum spp, Moringa oleifera, Sophora japonica and propolis). It has been scientifically proven that the consumption of foods rich in kaempferol may reduce the risk of developing health problems such as cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Among the properties of Kaempferol we can mention:

  • anti-inflammatory,
  • antimicrobial,
  • anti-oxidant,
  • anti-cancer, 
  • cardioprotective,
  • neuroprotective,
  • anti-diabetic,
  • anti-osteoporotic,
  • estrogenic/antiestrogenic,
  • anxiolytic, 
  • analgesic and
  • anti-allergic [5].



The characteristic bad smell of boiled or steamed broccoli is mainly caused by the hydrogen sulphides and organic sulphur compounds formed during the cooking process and vaporized in the form of gases in the air.

These compounds are not only found in broccoli but also, in different amounts, in some other cruciferous vegetables as cauliflower, with a similar smell.

Disclaimer: The information presented on this website is not intended to prescribe or give in any way or form medical advice, recommend or diagnose. Please read the disclaimer at the button of this page for more info.



[1] 3,3'-Diindolylmethane inhibits breast cancer cell growth via miR-21-mediated Cdc25A degradation. Jin Y. Laboratory of Cell Cycle and Cancer, College of Life Sciences, Capital Normal University, HaiDian District, Beijing 100048, China.
[2] The Indolic Diet-Derivative, 3,3'-Diindolylmethane, Induced Apoptosis in Human Colon Cancer Cells through Upregulation of NDRG1. Lerner A, Grafi-Cohen M, Napso T, Azzam N, Fares F. Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition Unit, Carmel Medical Center, Haifa 34362, Israel.
[3] Inhibition of fatty acid synthase and Sp1 expression by 3,3'-diindolylmethane in human breast cancer cells. Saati GE, Archer MC. Department of Nutritional Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
[4] 3,3'-Diindolylmethane induces a G(1) arrest in human prostate cancer cells irrespective of androgen receptor and p53 status. Vivar OI, Lin CL, Firestone GL, Bjeldanes LF. Department of Nutritional Sciences and Toxicology, 119 Morgan Hall, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA.
[5] A Review on the Dietary Flavonoid Kaempferol. Calderón-Montaño JM, Burgos-Morón E, Pérez-Guerrero C, López-Lázaro M. Department of Pharmacology, Faculty of Pharmacy. University of Seville, C/ Profesor García González, no 2, 41012, Sevilla, Spain
[6] Organ-specific exposure and response to sulforaphane, a key chemopreventive ingredient in broccoli: implications for cancer prevention. Veeranki OL, Bhattacharya A, Marshall JR, Zhang Y. Department of Cancer Prevention and Control, Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Elm and Carlton Streets, Buffalo, NY 14263, USA.
[7] Pixabay image under Public Domain License CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0).