New Research Suggests Compounds in Cruciferous Veggies May Knock Out Herpes Sept. 15, 2003 (Chicago) -- A compound found in broccoli, cabbage, and brussels sprouts may hold the key to thwarting the herpes virus, according to preliminary research presented Sunday at the 43rd annual Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy (ICACC) in Chicago. The new findings may be one more reason to make broccoli one of your five to nine servings of fruit and vegetables each day. Preliminary lab studies of monkey and human cells found that indole-3-carbinol (I3C), a compound found naturally in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage and brussels spouts, may interfere with factors that helps cells reproduce. The researchers found that I3C can inhibit herpes simplex virus, which also requires these factors to reproduce. Nearly 100% Effectiveness In their study, the researchers first treated human and monkey cells with I3C. They then infected the cells with one of two strains of the herpes virus, either HSV-1, which can cause either oral or genital herpes, or HSV-2, which causes genital herpes. The researchers also infected the cells with a herpes virus strain known to be resistant to the current available drug therapy, Zovirax. The compound blocked the virus from reproducing by at least 99.9%, according to lead researcher Terri Stoner, a graduate student at Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine in Rootstown, Ohio. "[I3C] appeared to inhibit various types of the herpes virus," Stoner tells WebMD. And because it is found naturally in food, the compound appears to be safe. According to the American Social Health Association, about 50% to 80% of adults in the U.S. have oral herpes and about one in five has genital herpes, but as many as 90% are unaware that they have the virus. As with all viruses, there is no cure. Herpes is different from other common viral infections because once it is introduced it lives in the body over a lifetime, often without symptoms or with periodic symptoms. Cautious Optimism Many experts here exercise caution when interpreting the new findings. "This is very early information, and in contrast to some of the other viruses, we do have some pretty good antiviral therapies for herpes," says Ronald B. Turner, MD, professor of pediatrics at the University of Virginia School of Medicine in Charlottesville. "It is fairly common for drugs in the laboratory to have some activity, but it is a difficult step to see how the drug works in humans," he says. "The science is really nice, but it's a huge step to see if the data has any clinical applications," says Per Ljungman, MD, PhD, of the Huddunge University Hospital in Stockholm, Sweden. He tells WebMD that while we do see resistance to Zovirax in patients with herpes, it occurs predominantly in patients with weakened immune systems due to HIV infection or transplants. Moreover, he says, "There have been several promising drugs for herpes over the last decade that have never been developed" and that "resistance to [Zovirax] has not been too huge of a problem." Eat More Broccoli So should we eat more broccoli if we have herpes? Both Turner and Ljungman note that there are already many good reasons to eat more broccoli, and while herpes treatment may one day prove to be another good reason, it is way to early to say. In fact, boiled broccoli has more vitamin C than an orange and as much calcium as a glass of milk, according to the USDA's nutrient database. One medium spear has three times more fiber than a slice of wheat bran bread. Broccoli is also one of the richest sources of vitamin A that is found in the produce section. Broccoli has also been shown to protect against cancer. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore have discovered that broccoli is rich in substances called isothiocyanates -- chemicals shown to stimulate the body's production of its own cancer-fighting substances. Scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston have reported that broccoli, along with spinach, helped to minimize risk for cataracts and prevent stroke.