The health benefits of Brussels sprouts

Merry Christmas everybody. In case you are visiting this site on Christmas day, let me reassure you that I didn’t get up especially early this morning to get this blog post written before the festivities could begin for me. There are limits! Through the wonders of technology I was able to write this entry a couple of days ago and then programme it to appear today automatically.

Today’s blog concerns the health benefits of Brussels sprouts. This is a vegetable traditionally eaten on Christmas day in the UK. Though I am not so introspective to imagine that it’s a festive food wherever you happen to be reading this. However, the Brussels sprout belongs to a class of vegetables known as the ‘brassicas’ which include broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage. This means glad tidings as the benefits of Brussels sprouts are believed to extend to other, more commonly eaten brassicas too.

Brussels sprouts are rich in a group of substances known as glucosinolates. In the body, glucosinolates have the capacity to transform into other chemical entities called isothiocyanates and indoles. One of the effects of these substances is to boost the liver’s ability to deal with potentially toxic substances. Interestingly, compounds derived from Brussels sprouts seem to help the liver disarm chemicals known to have cancer-inducing potential in the body [1].

More evidence that suggests Brussels sprouts mat help keep the body free from cancer comes from studies examining their effects on DNA. DNA controls the division of each cell in the body. Damage to the DNA in a cell may cause it to replicate much more rapidly than normal, and it is this change that is integral to the cancer-causing process. Several studies show that extracts of Brussels sprouts have the ability to help protect DNA from damage.

This effect, coupled with their ability to quell potentially cancer-causing substances in the body, means that Brussels sprouts have at least a theoretical ability to keep cancer at bay. Many studies have shown that higher consumption of brassica vegetables is linked to reduced cancer risk [2]. Bitter though they may be, Brussels sprouts have benefits for us that seem to be very sweet indeed. My suggestion is to have your fill of them this Christmas.


1. Lampe JW, et al. Brassica, biotransformation and cancer risk: genetic polymorphisms alter the preventive effects of cruciferous vegetables. J Nutr. 2002;132(10):2991-4

2. van Poppel G, et al Brassica vegetables and cancer prevention. Epidemiology and mechanisms Adv Exp Med Biol. 1999;472:159-68.

6 Responses to The health benefits of Brussels sprouts

  1. Gillian Gillies 29 December 2006 at 6:53 pm #

    I would like to know if you support the theory that cruciferous vegs. are not good for you if you are hypothyroid, I am, and although I love all ‘brassicas’ I now find that I often feel quite ill the next day if I have eaten them, and I have read that they do have an adverse effect if you have thyroid problems, I also have cervical spondolosis and arthritis in my spine and I have also read that certain types of vegetables make arthritis worse, I would welcome your views on this subject, and would be happy if you could shed any light on the fact that, after eating all types of vegs until diagnosed with underactive thyroid, I did not have a problem. I am female 70 years old and would like to be able to (eat my greens) but do find I have to be very choosy now about what vegs. I eat, especially sweetcorn which makes me feel decidedly ill now!!!!

    Thanks for listening to my story and I look forward to hearing from you.


  2. Hilda Glickman 29 December 2006 at 7:59 pm #

    Hi, I find your site intersting but do you endorse all the adverts and pop ups on the site. This can be a problem as it might appear thast you do. Regards Hilda

  3. John Briffa 30 December 2006 at 1:41 pm #

    Dear Gillian – you are right that vegetables from the ‘brassica’ class such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and kale can disrupt thyroid function. These vegetables, also known as ‘cruciferous’ vegetables contain substances known as glucosinolates, which can convert into substances that disrupt thyroid function. However, evidence suggests that the enzyme responsible for converting glucosinolates into thyroid-toxic compounds is deactivated during the cooking process [1]. What this means is that brassica vegetables are likely to be suitable for individuals with hypothyroidism, as long as they are cooked first. Another food that is not good for the thyroid, by the way, is soy.

    My suspiscion about why you feel unwell after eating brassicas and corn is that you have an intolerance to them. Hope this helps.

    1. McMillan M, et al. Preliminary observations on the effect of dietary brussels sprouts on thyroid function. Hum Toxicol. 1986;5(1):15-9

  4. John Briffa 30 December 2006 at 1:42 pm #

    Dear Hilda – I do not endorse the adverts on the site. This is clearly stated in a section entitled ‘A word about the adverts that appear on this site’ on the home page.

  5. Jean Hill 31 December 2006 at 11:56 am #

    Can you perhaps give some more detail comparing the various brassicas?
    I’ve heard, for example, that the helpful substances in sprouts are what causes the bitter taste, and when they’ve had the bitterness bred out of them they are not so good for you – but that broccoli contains the good stuff without the bitterness.
    And cauliflower…is it just as good despite not being exactly green?

  6. Michael 11 June 2007 at 3:34 am #

    Brussels sprouts are also chuck full of diindolylmethane, recently found to potently modulate the immune system with anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-cancer properties. For more information please visit:

Leave a Reply