‘Cabbage super powers’, from eco-shampoo to lung-saving filter

Broccoli and cauliflower family protagonist in 2 studies, from its anti-waste cosmetic waste and from its molecules help against infections

Environmentally friendly shampoo and face scrub and a lung-saving booster. They’re ‘damn superpowers’. To put them in the spotlight are two published scientific studies that have the ‘green’ family of broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage as protagonists. In the first work, published in ‘Nature’, researchers from the Francis Crick Institute show that the molecules contained in these vegetables can help maintain a healthy barrier in the lungs and relieve infections. On the other hand, a team of scientists from the Nanyang Technological University (Ntu) of Singapore, from the pages of the journal ‘Separation and Purification Technology’ explains that they have developed a new technique to convert cabbage waste for use in products for health and personal care, reducing food waste and emissions.

Every year millions of tons of food and vegetables are discarded globally. In the case of leafy vegetables such as cabbage and lettuce, farmers cut off the outer leaves as they are harvested in order to sell perfectly sized, aesthetically pleasing vegetables with no signs of damage or yellowing. This commercial practice results in the discarding of a significant amount of perfectly good, edible leaves. In Singapore, around 817,000 tonnes of food waste was generated in 2021, almost half of which was from fruit and vegetables.

By focusing on the bioactive compounds in cabbage, NTU researchers have developed a method that avoids the step of heating or pre-treating the waste and makes the process of extracting the ‘treasure’, the useful phytochemicals of the cabbage, simpler and more cost-effective. vegetable (polyphenols, carotenoids and chlorophylls). Experts are optimistic that this method can be widely used and cost-effective for industry. “The use of non-toxic materials and naturally derived solvents in our method make it a food-safe technique,” explains lead author of the study, Hu Xiao of the Ntu School of Materials Science and Engineering. “The extracted nutrients have the potential to be used for applications in personal care products, cosmetics, dietary supplements, and herbal extracts.”

Mission: circular economy with zero waste. In laboratory experiments, the team found that the developed approach successfully produced an extract that was 2.2 times richer in polyphenols than conventional methods using methanol. Additionally, the bioactive phytochemicals remained “active” after storage at four degrees Celsius for 30 days, “an excellent shelf life.”

But there is not only cosmetics among the vocations of cruciferous vegetables. Medicine too. The study published in Nature highlights a virtuous attraction between Ahr, a receptor for aryl hydrocarbons, a protein found in barrier sites such as the intestine and lung, and natural molecules in vegetables such as cabbage, cauliflower , broccoli. Once eaten, these molecules activate Ahr to direct it to a number of genes. Some of these targeted genes shut down the system, allowing it to self-regulate. Ahr’s effect on immune cells is well known, but this research now shows that it is also highly active in the endothelial cells that line blood vessels in the lungs.

The lung barrier must be kept strong against pollution or viruses and bacteria. And the researchers conducted a series of experiments on mice to show how Ahr positively affects lung barriers. For example, they discovered that mice with enhanced Ahr activity, if infected with the flu, lost less weight and were better able to fight off any bacterial infection as well as the virus.

A diet rich in AHR ‘ligands’ was beneficial for the rodents: they had better barrier integrity and less lung damage during infection than mice on the control diet. These results indicate that AHR has a protective effect on the lung barrier which is affected by infection, but can be improved with the right diet. “It’s still a good idea to eat lots of cruciferous vegetables, but this shows that it’s even more important to continue eating them when you’re sick,” concludes Andreas Wack, group leader of the Crick’s immunoregulation laboratory.

In short, there is an intestine-lung axis that is worth exploiting, is the message. “We examined the flu in this study, but other research has shown that Covid can also reduce Ahr activity in the lungs – comments the first author of the work, Jack Major – It will be interesting to study the impact of other respiratory viruses on the AHR and even though different molecules in our diet use different pathways to influence lung function via endothelial cells.”