(TIME.com) -- Even if you're not a fan of broccoli, your joints may be.
Nutritionists have rhapsodized about the various benefits of broccoli — the cruciferous vegetable is stuffed with vitamins A, B, K, C, as well as nutrients such as potassium, zinc and fiber — and arthritis sufferers may soon join them.
Along with its cousins brussel sprouts, cauliflower and cabbage, broccoli contains sulfur compounds that can filter out carcinogens that promote tumor growth.
The latest study, published in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism, shows that those substances may also battle inflammation, which is at the root of osteoarthritis, a painful, degenerative joint disease in which cartilage that normally protects joints starts to wear away under the influence of the inflammatory factors.
For the estimated 12.4 million people affected by arthritis in the United States, these results are certainly welcome news.
Starting with studies in mice, the researchers found that animals that ate a diet high in the sulforaphane found in broccoli had significantly less cartilage damage and signs of osteoarthritis compared to mice who did not consume sulforaphane. The team then moved to human and cow cartilage cells, and found that the sulforaphane was equally effective in protecting these cells from damage.
The sulfur-based compound, they say, may be blocking enzymes that contribute to inflammation in cartilage, and the scientists are starting a trial to see if broccoli can protect a small group of arthritis patients getting knee replacement surgery.
If that trial confirms these early results, that could help more people to avoid arthritis to begin with; although surgery can treat symptoms, protecting joints from irreversible damage would keep joints stronger for a longer period of time.
"Although surgery is very successful, it is not really an answer. Once you have osteoarthritis, being able to slow its progress and the progression to surgery is really important, study author Ian Clark, professor of musculoskeletal biology at the University of East Anglia said in a statement. "Prevention would be preferable and changes to lifestyle, like diet, may be the only way to do that."
Not to mention that a broccoli-rich diet could lower risk of other chronic diseases like obesity, which prior studies have connected to... arthritis.
This story was originally published on TIME.com
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