I’ve been wondering why you never mention the wonders of broccoli for digestive upset. I have had heartburn for as long as I can remember. Broccoli, three or four times weekly, has been a godsend. Studies have shown it even destroys stomach bugs. I took a course of antibiotics, and it killed half the stomach bugs, but I still had heartburn. The broccoli got rid of it. Broccoli is not a drug and doesn’t work like one. (I tolerate drugs poorly.) It takes time and persistence, but it works for me. I no longer have to take Prilosec for nighttime reflux.
Broccoli is certainly a nutritious vegetable, loaded with vitamins A, C, and K; folate; and fiber. As you note, it also contains a natural compound, sulforaphane, which can destroy Helicobacter pylori, a type of bacteria that live in the stomach and cause ulcers. In 2002 scientists at Johns Hopkins University reported that in test-tube studies, sulforaphane from broccoli and broccoli sprouts was able to kill Helicobacter inside cells, even when the bacteria had developed resistance to antibiotics. Subsequent research tested broccoli sprouts on humans. Three out of nine people who ate sprouts twice a day for a week were cured of their Helicobacter infections.2
I suffer from heartburn on a daily basis, sometimes even with medication, so I was very interested to read that chewing gum might help. I take over-the-counter acid suppressors and decided to substitute sugarless gum after breakfast and then after lunch. It has been very successful for me. If I eliminate the after-dinner heartburn tablets, I run a high risk of it occurring in the middle of the night. My husband does not want to raise the head of the bed, so I take a tablet before dinner or bed to counter a nighttime episode. An additional benefit to chewing gum is that it can fight off a sweet tooth attack.
One study published almost two decades ago documented the power of saliva to ease heartburn.3 Sucking on a hard lozenge or chewing gum was shown to ease symptoms. Recent research demonstrates that chewing sugarless gum for 30 minutes after a meal dramatically eases acid reflux. “Gum therapy” offers an easy solution. It stimulates saliva, which buffers stomach acid, washing it out of the esophagus and back into the stomach where it belongs.
I have been bothered by heartburn for 50 years. I got it after every meal, but it was immediately relieved with Tums. I was cleaning out the herbs in my kitchen cupboard and found some fennel seeds. I took a teaspoon after dinner and didn’t get heartburn. Now I take fennel after every meal and haven’t needed Tums all month. For me this is nothing short of a miracle. My mom told me I was diagnosed with a spasmodic stomach as an infant. I looked online and saw that fennel is an antispasmodic. Maybe that’s why it helps.
Fennel has traditionally been used to treat indigestion and gas. It has been shown to counteract smooth muscle spasms in the digestive tract.
Contributed by David Mathis and Debbie Mathis
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
½ teaspoon coriander seeds
½ teaspoon fennel seeds
Bring 8 to 12 ounces of water to a boil, add the seeds, and remove from heat. Steep for five minutes. Strain and enjoy. You can also mix a larger amount of seeds in equal parts and store them in a glass jar. Use about one and a half teaspoons of the mix per cup.
THE PEOPLE’S PHARMACY
Favorite Food #13: Broccoli
Although there was a time when broccoli was notoriously unwelcome on many American menus—including former President George H. W. Bush’s—it is nevertheless high on the list of favorite foods of many nutrition scientists. Broccoli is one of our favorites, too, whether lightly steamed or stir-fried with a bit of garlic and a splash of soy sauce.
Broccoli is not only delicious, but also rich in nutrients: vitamins C and K, carotenoids for building vitamin A, potassium, folic acid, and fiber. We also have heard from several readers that a diet featuring broccoli can help reduce heartburn. Research indicates that benefit might be due to sulforaphane, a compound that can get rid of intestinal bacteria such as Helicobacter pylori.1 Infections with this beastie are responsible for many stomach ulcers.
Research shows that sulforaphane is also active against a range of other pathogens.2 The sulforaphane in broccoli (along with that in cabbage, brussels sprouts, and other cruciferous vegetables) may also be beneficial in lowering the potential for developing cancer of the bowel. Research on genetically engineered mice shows that sulforaphane in the diet reduced the number and size of colon polyps that the mice developed.3
Researchers working to find out exactly how broccoli-derived sulforaphane accomplishes this have discovered that there may be more than one pathway.4 In addition, some basic research suggests that a tasty pairing of broccoli with garlic can provide added protection.5
A couple of cautions: People with hypothyroidism should be moderate in their consumption of cabbage-family vegetables, including broccoli, and should also apply the same caution in eating soybeans. Some of the common compounds in these plants can interfere with the body’s utilization of thyroid hormone.
The other concern is gas. People vary in their susceptibility, but those who are especially sensitive to the gas-producing potential of broccoli should go easy. Fennel tea or Angostura bitters may come in handy for those who do overindulge.
Joe Graedon & Terry Graedon, The People’s Pharmacy: Quick & Handy Home Remedies, published by National Geographic