By Katelyn Verstraten, Special To The Vancouver Sun
The answer to preventing one of the main causes of cerebral palsy may be as simple as eating broccoli sprouts during pregnancy.
Dr. Jerome Yager, a pediatric neurologist and research scientist from the University of Alberta, is working with animal models to determine if antioxidant-rich broccoli sprouts can protect the developing brain of a fetus during pregnancy.
Female rats that ingested raw broccoli sprouts during pregnancy had fetuses with significantly more resilient brains than rats that were not fed broccoli sprouts.
If the sprouts were consumed before an injury to the fetal brain, between 60 to 80 per cent of the injury was prevented. If the sprouts were consumed after the brain injury, this dropped to 40 per cent.
Cerebral palsy occurs when a developing brain is damaged during pregnancy, delivery, or in the first several years of a child’s life.
Around 80 per cent of these brain injuries occur before birth, Yager says. This has many families searching for more preventive measures.
Cerebral palsy is the most common cause of both physical and developmental disability in children, and affects one in 500 British Columbians. Lifelong costs are around $1.5 million per individual. Despite advances in western health care, this prevalence has not decreased.
Broccoli sprouts initially generated attention for their potential to prevent certain cancers. Recent studies have demonstrated their ability to decrease inflammation from injuries and stimulate brain resilience.
“(The antioxidant) binds to a certain chemical in the brain, which actually increases the brain’s ability to fight off oxidants,” said Yager. “It kind of ‘revs up’ your own system – it’s quite cool.” While the study has only looked at animal models, he admits that results so far have been impressive. The next step is beginning clinical trials in humans.
Yager recently ran a focus group of pregnant women to determine if they would actually eat the broccoli sprouts. The majority of women reported they would incorporate the sprouts into their diet – if it were to benefit the fetus. But could the answer to preventing fetal brain damage really be an underdeveloped broccoli plant?
“Often times the simple things are the best,” said Yager. “They are often not taken as seriously as they should be – but they often are the best.”
This article was produced under a summer internship funded by MITACS, a Canadian research organization that co-ordinates industry-university research collaborations, and NeuroDevNet, a Canadian Network of Centres of Excellence focused on children’s brain development. The National Core for Neuroethics at the University of British Columbia, in partnership with NeuroDevNet, supervises the intern’s research.