Pass the Broccoli

Published in Hopkins Medicine - Spring/Summer 2022

In case you need one more reason to eat your vegetables, Johns Hopkins Children’s Center microbiologist Lori Jones-Brando and colleagues offer findings showing a potential new weapon against COVID-19 and the common cold: sulforaphane.

Derived from a compound found abundantly in broccoli and other cruciferous plants like cabbage and kale, sulforaphane had already been known by scientists to have anticancer effects. In this latest study, published in March in the Nature journal Communications Biology, Jones-Brando and her team showed that the phytochemical can also inhibit the replication of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, and another human coronavirus in cells and mice.

The researchers also discovered that the effects of sulforaphane, when combined with remdesivir (an antiviral medication used to shorten the recovery of hospitalized adults with COVID-19 infections), are more effective against the viruses together than either applied alone.

While the results are promising, the researchers caution the public against rushing to buy sulforaphane supplements available online and in stores, noting that studies of sulforaphane in humans are necessary before the chemical is proven effective, and emphasizing the lack of regulation covering such supplements.

The team plans to embark soon on those studies in humans and they’re optimistic that sulforaphane could ultimately gain a seat at the table (literally!) in the fight against COVID-19 and the common cold.

“Despite the introduction of vaccines, and [because] other medications can have side effects, effective antiviral agents are still necessary to prevent and treat COVID-19, particularly considering the potential effects of new coronavirus variants arising in the population,” Jones-Brando says. “Sulforaphane could be a promising treatment that is less expensive, safe and readily available commercially.”