Eating a handful of broccoli every day could prevent and slow the spread of osteoarthritis, the degenerative disease that destroys joints.

Sulforaphane, a compound in the vegetable, slows the destruction of cartilage in joints by blocking enzymes and interfering with the inflammatory processes that are associated with osteoarthritis. Sulforaphane is also found in Brussels sprouts and cabbage.

Researchers from the University of East Anglia reckon that eating 100g (3.5oz) – equivalent to a handful – every day could prevent the disease, and may even slow its progress once it has been diagnosed.

Medicine has no answer to osteoarthritis other than prescribing painkillers that ease the inflammation. Joint replacement surgery is often offered only when the joint has been almost completely destroyed.

After successfully demonstrating the positive effects of broccoli in laboratory trials, researchers are now testing it on 20 volunteers with osteoarthritis, who will eat ‘super-charged’ broccoli – a specially grown variety that is a cross between standard broccoli and wild broccoli found in Sicily – for two weeks. In that time, researchers hope to see the disease slow, although they don’t expect to see joints start to repair in such a short period.

(Source: Arthritis & Rheumatism, 2013; doi: 10.1002/art38133)