Cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli are well known for protecting us from cancer. But these vegetables, along with other green, yellow and orange veggies, also inhibit the production of certain substance within the immune system known as PGE2 that trigger inflammation in our body, including the arteries.

The immune system, a family of complex chemicals

Whenever there is a bacteria or an agent in the body that may cause disease, our immune system goes into action. Leukotrienes, or interleukins, are a subclass of cytokines produced by the white cells. Leukotrienes are essential to the proper functioning of our body’s defenses.

In a healthy person, the activity of leukotrienes is usually a very good thing, especially when the person encounters a virus or bacteria of some type. For example, if we catch a cold, our leukotrienes give orders to our immune cells to become more numerous and more aggressive to fight the cold.

As you can see, leukotrienes are there to protect us. The problem is when leukotrienes march to the artery walls triggered by excess LDL cholesterol, homocysteine, and free radicals because they will cause too much inflammation.

What causes an excess of leukotrienes?

The production of leukotrienes goes up and down based on our diet. Too much fat, especially the wrong one, and too much protein drive up cholesterol, homocysteine, fibrinogen and free radicals which in turn boost an excess of white cells within the immune system. When our immune system is loaded with white cells such as leukotrienes, chances are the quality of our diet is not at its optimum and we can expect a lot of inflammation.

When arteries are injured

When arteries are damaged from an excess of LDL cholesterol, homocysteine, or free radicals, they secrete a substance called arachidonic acid. The immune system recognizes the immediate danger and sends white cells to get rid of the damaging substance. White cells gobble up the oxidize particles and they call for more powerful white cells to help in the process. In short, an inflammatory process has started that will farther injure the artery wall. The solution: a healthier diet.

Cruciferous vegetables to the rescue

We are all familiar with the fact that cruciferous vegetables contain substances that have consistently been shown to protect against cancer, among them colon and rectal cancers. But cruciferous vegetables, along with many other green, yellow, and orange veggies they do more than that; they inhibit the production of a sub-category of white cells, prostaglandins, known as PGE2. These substances are also part of our immune system and help fight infection and foreign substances, but when in excess, they trigger inflammation, including in the arteries. Cruciferous inhibit the production of PGE2, making them very anti-inflammatory.

Although when we thing about this group of vegetables we mainly think about broccoli and cauliflower, there are many more vegetables that science has now included in this group. Among them we find:

  • Aragula
  • Bok choy
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Chinese cabbage
  • Collard greens
  • Horseradish
  • Kale
  • Mustard greens
  • Radish
  • Turnip
  • Watercress

In March 2009, UCLA researchers released a study showing that sulforaphane, a chemical found in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables may help protect against respiratory inflammation that causes conditions like asthma, allergic rhinitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

The research shows that sulforaphane triggers an increase of antioxidants that protect against the “attack” of free radicals, one of the main causes of inflammation.

Profiles of a few cruciferous vegetables

Broccoli – A 3.5 ounce serving has 28 calories, 1,542 IU of vitamin A, about 140 mg of vitamin C, 71 mcg of folic acid, and 325 mg of potassium. Broccoli also contains vitamin B6, beta-carotene, and manganese. Broccoli contains a rich supply of a chemical called sulforaphane, which detoxifies the blood and tissues and trigger the production of cancer-preventive enzymes.

Cauliflower – It contains vitamin B6, vitamin C, folic acid, manganese and potassium. It is also a good supplier of indoles and other substances that fight cancer.

Cabbage – It provides vitamin C, folic acid and plenty of indoles.

Brussels sprouts – they contain vitamin A, vitamin B6, beta-carotene, vitamin C and vitamin E, folic acid, iron, manganese and potassium.

Collard greens – this leafy green is the richest source of calcium and other minerals, including iron, manganese, magnesium, and copper. They also provide significant amounts of vitamin A, beta-carotene, vitamin B6, vitamin C and E, and folic acid. They are also high in fiber and anti-inflammatory compounds.

Kale and mustard greens – like collard greens, these vegetables are loaded with nutrients, including vitamins A, vitamin B6, vitamin C and vitamin E. They are also high in beta-carotene, calcium, copper, iron, manganese, magnesium, and potassium.

Final words

As you can see, cruciferous vegetables are wonderful foods that should be eaten regularly because they are a great contribution to our health. However, don’t rely just on them to be healthy but make them a regular addition to a healthy diet that is low in saturated and hydrogenated fats, animal protein and sodium.


I am Andy Carpenter and I would start by saying that I have a Bachelor Degree in Nutrition Science conferred by California State University, Los Angeles and that I am certified as a Registered Dietitian.

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