Eating cruciferous greens helps your immune system fight off intestinal pathogens

Vegetables are known to contain natural compounds that support the protective functions of the immune system. An article in The Francis Crick Institute news page reported that cruciferous vegetables are particularly beneficial when it comes to shielding the intestine from disease-causing microorganisms.

This was the finding of a recent animal model that used mice to replicate human gastrointestinal diseases. The study showed that eating broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and other cruciferous veggies can reduce the risk of inflammatory bowel diseases.

These vegetables contain aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR), a protein whose most important role is mediating toxicity. Found in barrier sites like the gut, lungs, and skin, it helps stop pathogens, pollutants, and toxins from entering the vulnerable parts of the body.

The Francis Crick Institute (FCI) researchers conducted an investigation into the effects of AhR in the gut. The researchers came across another protein that was also involved with the immune system in the gastrointestinal tract.

Cyp1a1 works alongside AhR when it comes to protecting the gut. The former protein can break down AhR ligands, the molecules that trigger AhR. By doing this, Cyp1a1 can shut down the activity of AhR, preventing an excessive immune response.

A key disease-preventing protein is found in the gut and in cruciferous veggies

While Cyp1a1 performs a vital function for the immune system, too much of it is a bad thing. The FCI researchers found that excessive concentrations of the protein would eliminate all AhR ligands.

The absence of these ligands would prevent the activation of AhR. Without AhR, the gut would be more vulnerable to E. coli and other pathogenic microorganisms.

Given that outcome, researchers suspected that Cyp1a1 could be connected to the development of inflammatory bowel disease and other gut problems.

“We already knew that AhR deficiency causes many problems for the intestinal barrier,” said FCI researcher Brigitta Stockinger, the leader of the study. “This is because the immune cells that protect us from our trillions of intestinal bacteria as well as from incoming intestinal pathogens require signals through AhR for their survival.”

Stockinger added that AhR ligands can be found in both food and the bacteria present in the gut. The ligands will activate AhR, which will in turn trigger the Cyp1a1 enzyme that regulates the protein’s activity.

Cruciferous vegetables increase the immune response in the gut

The FCI study simulated the depletion of AhR ligands. It induced mice to produce higher levels of Cyp1a1, which reduced the concentrations of immune cells activated by AhR.

These immune-compromised mice were administered Citrobacter bacteria, the mouse equivalent of E. coli bacteria that harm humans. These animals proved to be more vulnerable to the pathogenic bacteria.

However, the researchers found a way to reduce the negative effects of excessive Cyp1a1. They collected nutrients found in cruciferous vegetables for use in the diet of the mice.

Consuming cruciferous vegetable nutrients increased the amount of molecules that either inhibited Cyp1a1 or encouraged the activation of AhR. The immune responses of these supplemented animals were much better than mice that only ate normal food.

According to Stockinger, the results of their study could bring hope to people who have very active Cyp1a1 enzymes. These people would be much more vulnerable to inflammatory bowel diseases and similar intestinal diseases.

Patients with overabundant levels of Cyp1a1 could possibly alleviate their condition by eating cruciferous vegetables. Broccoli, cauliflower, and kale are just some of the leafy vegetables that contain many molecules that inhibit Cyp1a1 and trigger AhR.

Read all about the immunological benefits of eating cruciferous veggies at

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