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Green Is Good

Cabbage may not triple the size of your forearms, but it may help build muscle and increase physical performance. Photo by Roger Winstead.

Editor’s note: The following guest post was written by Leah Chester-Davis, coordinator of communications and outreach for the Plants for Human Health Institute in Kannapolis, N.C.

Bad news, Bluto: Mustard greens and cabbage could rival Popeye’s spinach when it comes to building muscles and increasing physical performance.

Recent studies show that brassinosteroids present in mustard greens and other Brassica plants, such as cabbage and broccoli, trigger in rats a physiological response similar to that of anabolic steroids. Researchers hope that these plant substances can provide effective, natural and safe alternatives for age- and disease-associated muscle loss, and perhaps improve endurance and physical performance.

Researchers from NC State and Rutgers University exposed rat skeletal muscle cells to different amounts of homobrassinolide, a plant steroid. They found that muscle cells respond to brassinosteroids by increasing protein synthesis and decreasing protein degradation in cell culture. The result was a significant increase in net muscle protein.

The next step was to feed healthy rats a homobrassinolide daily for 24 days. The researchers measured changes in body weight, food consumption and body composition. The rats that were fed the plant steroid showed an increase in lean body mass over those that were not fed the steroid. Results from the study also showed an increase in the number and size of muscle fibers crucial for increased physical performance.

The findings suggest that therapies using brassinosteroids could represent a viable future approach for repairing damaged muscle.

“It’s exciting to see that plants we eat contain these compounds,” said Dr. Debora Esposito, a Rutgers postdoctoral associate who is currently working at NC State’s Plants for Human Health Institute in Kannapolis, N.C. “In the future, we may be able to breed plants for higher brassinosteroid content and produce functional foods that can treat or prevent diseases and increase physical performance.”

Dr. Slavko Komarnytsky, metabolic biologist and assistant professor at the Plants for Human Health Institute, and Dr. Ilya Raskin of Rutgers collaborated on the research.