Skip to Main Content

Eating broccoli sprouts can enhance benefits of breast milk

Oksana Kuzmina /

Natalie Johnson, an associate professor at the Texas A&M University School of Public Health, studies how early-life exposures to environmental chemicals can impact health. Recently, she has been studying the effects of sulforaphane on respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection in neonates.

“No one had shown that this phytochemical could be transferred into the milk, so that’s what we looked at,” said Johnson.

Eating broccoli sprouts while breastfeeding can enhance the benefits of breast milk by transferring sulforaphane-N-acetyl-cysteine, a phytochemical that may protect babies from respiratory infections. Research found that when a nursing mother eats broccoli sprouts, some of the sulforaphane is absorbed into her bloodstream and then transferred into her breast milk.

Sulforaphane is found in all cruciferous vegetables, such as kale, cabbage, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, but it is especially abundant in broccoli sprouts.

RSV is a common virus that causes mild cold-like symptoms in most people but can be very serious for infants. It can lead to bronchiolitis, pneumonia and even death in some cases.

“Unfortunately, there’s no available vaccine for RSV in infants. They’re working on it, but there’s a history behind why there’s no available vaccine: catastrophes with early trials,” Johnson said.

Although the FDA approved the first RSV vaccine for use in the United States this year, the targeted demographic for the vaccine is individuals 60 years of age or older.

Johnson was also aware of experimental data that showed that the same metabolite, sulforaphane, could be used to protect against severe RSV infection. Another study found that sulforaphane may neutralize toxins, reduce inflammation, protect DNA from mutations and slow down tumor growth.