Does broccoli boost bad gut bacteria?

Latest research into the human microbiome begins to untangle how broccoli can alter healthy gut bacteria.

Dr Emily Gulliver researching the human microbiome and broccoli bacteria at Hudson Institute
Dr Emily Gulliver

Cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and kale, are often recommended due to the presence of the antioxidant sulforaphane, which is thought to be beneficial for general health and wellbeing and in treating diseases such as cancer.

Sulforaphane’s influence on gut bacteria

Dr Emily Gulliver led a team at Hudson Institute whose findings have been published in the Journal of Functional Foods, starting to understand how sulforaphane can change gut bacteria.

This research is the first to examine the effects of sulforaphane on gut bacteria derived from humans in conditions that replicate those of the gastrointestinal tract.

Dr Gulliver said sulforaphane is known to be beneficial in the treatment of many conditions, and is orally administered, so may also be beneficial to gut bacteria.

“Our work examined the effect of sulforaphane on the growth of bacteria found in the gastrointestinal microbiome, in conditions similar to that of the gut,” Dr Gulliver said.

“We know that in the presence of oxygen sulforaphane can act as an antimicrobial, killing bacteria that are present. However, when we eat vegetables the sulforaphane interacts with the bacteria in an environment where there is no oxygen present.

“We have shown that without oxygen sulforaphane can actually increase the growth of certain bacteria, which may change the community within the gut.

“Further research is required before we can understand the precise impacts on the gut microbiome – until then, follow your parents’ advice and eat your broccoli!”

Funders | This work was completed due to the MHTP ECR collaborative- C. Andrew Ramsden Award which was awarded to Sarah Marshall and Emily Gulliver for the work to begin in 2021.

Collaborators | Dr Sarah A. Marshall, Remy B. Young, Jessica M. Lewis, Emily L. Rutten, Jodee Gould, Christopher K. Barlow, Dr Cristina Giogha, Vanessa R. Marcelino, Dr Neville Fields, Ralf B. Schittenhelm, Professor Elizabeth L. Hartland, Nichollas E. Scott, Associate Professor Samuel C. Forster, Dr Emily L. Gulliver.

Journal information | Sarah A. Marshall et al. (2023). The broccoli-derived antioxidant sulforaphane changes the growth of gastrointestinal microbiota, allowing for the production of anti-inflammatory metabolites. Journal of Functional Foods. DOI:

Contact us

Hudson Institute communications | t: + 61 3 8572 2761 | e: