Cruciferous vegetables are a robust source of a class of sulfur-rich compounds referred to as isothiocyanatesIsothiocyanates from natural sources are initially biologically inactive and are refereed to as glucosinolates. However, during chewing, crushing, or cutting,  glucosinolates are exposed to the enzyme myrosinase also found within cruciferous vegetables. Glucosinolates are then hydrolyzed and activated to isothiocyanates.

Isothiocyanates are a unique and powerful class of chemicals that exhibit anti-cancer, anti-oxidant, and anti-inflammatory, and chondroprotective properties. Some frequently researched isothiocyanates include: sulforaphane, allyl isothiocyanate, benzyl isothiocyanate, and phenethyl isothiocyanate.

Musculoskeletal health benefits of isothiocyanates

Chronic disease of bone, muscle, tendon, and joint, at least in part, share a common destructive pathway governed by excessive inflammation and oxidative stress. While the exact manner in which organosulfur substances promote musculoskeletal well being is not precisely known the likely mechanism is its reduction of chronic oxidative stress and chronic inflammation.


Isothiocyanates exhibit formidable antioxidant attributes. Isothiocyanates limit the generation of high energy tissue destroying oxygen substances called reactive oxygen species. These toxins are commonly formed  in the power generator of the cell referred to as the mitochondria.

These substances leak out and cause severe damage to healthy DNA, good fats, and essential proteins. Isothiocyantes have been shown to protect against all major oxygen free radicals:

  • Hydroxyl radical
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Superoxide radical


Isothiocyanates are potent anti-inflammatories. Isothiocyanates have been shown to:

  • Block NF-kb pathway activation, one of the primary biologic pathways that actives and magnifies inflammation 
  • Suppress Tumor Necrosis Factor Alpha, a master signaling molecule that directs and intensifies chronic inflammation. 
  • Inhibit the expression of local inflammation promoting enzymes, such as iNOS and COX-2 that cause pain, stiffness, weakness, and swelling
  • Block the synthesis of tissue destroying enzymes,  including ADAMTS-5 and MMP, that attack normal bone, muscle, tendon, and joint tissue.

Selected Evidence

1. Isothiocyanates Support Joint Health

Chinese researches injected sulforaphane, a specific type of isothiocyanate, near human osteoarthritic cartilage cells. The sulforaphane was encapsulated in an absorbable plastic coating to help delivery of the compound.  The treatment resulted in less cartilage cell death and less hypertrophy. Both cartilage cell death and hypertrophy are hallmarks of osteoarthritis. (Ko et al. Biomaterials. 2013 Jul;34 (21):5359-68)

2. Isothiocyanates Support Bone Health

Researchers in Austria exposed mouse bone cells to sulforaphane, an isothiocyanate. The researchers found that sulforaphane stimulated bone building cells called osteoblasts and diminished the activity of osteoclasts, bone resorbing cells. Inadequate new bone formation coupled with excessive bone resorption is the cardinal cause of osteoporosis. (Thaler R et al. Anabolic and Antiresorptive Modulation of Bone Homeostasis by the Epigenetic Modulator Sulforaphane, a Naturally Occurring Isothiocyanate. 2016 Mar 25;291(13):6754-71.)

3. Isothiocyanates Support Muscle Health

Chinese investigators administered sulforaphane to mice and assessed its effect on muscle inflammation. The researchers found that sulforphane reduced muscle inflammation be reducing the influx of immune cells into muscle tissue and decreasing the production of inflammation promoting cytokines. (Cheng-Cao Sun et al. Sulforaphane Attenuates Muscle Inflammation in Dystrophin-deficient mdx Mice via NF-E2-related Factor 2 (Nrf2)-mediated Inhibition of NF-κB Signaling Pathway. J Biol Chem. 2015 Jul 17; 290(29): 17784–17795.)

Other Health Benefits

There are other conditions that isothiocyanates may assist, although more research is needed and for some conditions results to date have been mixed. Those include:

  • May reduce risk of certain hormone dependent cancers, such as breast and prostate
  • Promotes Brain Health
  • Boosts Heart Health
  • Support Digestive Tract Health



Proper way to prepare cruciferous vegetables for the maximum protection

These methods should be followed in order to get the maximum health boost:

  • Vegetables should not be cooked at very high temperatures. Cooking vegetables in high temperatures decreases isothiocyanate availability by up to 300 percent.
  • Try not to microwave, boil, or steam the vegetables, as it usually reduces the bioavailability of health promoting compounds.
  • Consuming raw vegetables are the most potent manner in which to promote well being
  • When eating, vegetables should be chopped and chewed well in order to get the maximum benefits.
  • Fresh and organic cruciferous vegetables will provide the maximum health benefit 


Isothiocyanate consumption is generally recognized as safe when consumed in usual culinary and herbal doses. As with any consideration of any form of supplementation consult your healthcare provide prior to use if you are pregnant, nursing, taking any medications or have any medical conditions. Discontinue use and consult your doctor is any adverse reactions occur.


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 Lucas J. Bader MD

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