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Glucoraphanin, a precursor to sulforaphane, is a type of glucosinolate found primarily in broccoli and kale. Its conversion to sulforaphane requires myrosinase, an enzyme co-located within the leaves, stems, and other components of the plants in which it is found. Cooking temperatures inactivate myrosinase, effectively preventing isothiocyanate conversion and allowing unhydrolyzed glucosinolates to pass into the gut. In humans, myrosinase-producing gut bacteria can convert these glucosinolates to their cognate isothiocyanates. Findings from a 2012 study indicate that microbial conversion of glucosinolates to isothiocyanates is highly variable.

Previous research has demonstrated that sulforaphane administration promotes uniformly high urinary excretion of dithiocarbamate metabolites, accounting for as much as 90 percent of the administered sulforaphane over a 24-hour period. Dithiocarbamate levels in urine serve as a biomarker of glucosinolate intake.

The study involved two dissimilar groups of people: rural Han Chinese and racially mixed Baltimoreans. The participants abstained from cruciferous vegetable consumption for three days prior to the beginning of the study. They had not taken antibiotics for two weeks prior. Each of the participants kept a food diary, provided their medical history, and kept track of their bowel activity. The participants took a glucoraphanin-rich broccoli sprout extract that provided 200 micromoles of glucoraphanin in water. The authors of the study collected urine samples from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and from 4 p.m. until 8 a.m. on the following morning.

They found that microbial-induced conversion of glucoraphanin to sulforaphane is highly variable (ranging from 1 to 40 percent of dose) and subject to interindividual differences in gut bacteria populations. As such, conversion is distinguished by “high converters” – people with high elimination profiles, and “low converters”– those with low elimination profiles. The authors of the study identified no demographic factors that affected conversion efficiency, but they did note that conversion of glucoraphanin to dithiocarbamate was greater during the day.

Watch this clip in which Dr. Jed Fahey describes some of the factors that influence the conversion of myrosinase-driven conversion of glucoraphanin to sulforaphane.

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