Horseradish, as well as adding spice to bland foods and sauces, has also been was used to treat colds, respiratory problems, kidney stones and urinary tract infections in traditional medicine. It seems that some of the medicinal aspects might be grounded in science.
The scientific focus is on detoxifying enzymes contained within the root. Here research director Mosbah Kushad, University of Illinois, has begun an investigative study.
Kushad has directed the investigation towards a chemical compound abundant in horseradish, called glucosinolates. This compound is at a level 10 times higher in horseradish compared with other ‘superfoods’ currently being investigating for cancer battling effects, like broccoli.
Glucosinolates constitute a natural class of organic compounds that contain sulfur and nitrogen and are derived from glucose and an amino acid.
To date the research is at the laboratory phase and no clinical trials have taken place. Early indications are that glucosinolates activate enzymes that help remove cancer-associated free-radicals from the body. In a sense, breakdown of glucosinolates in the body leads to the detoxification of cancer-causing molecules.
Free radicals are highly reactive chemicals that have the potential to harm cells. While free radicals are formed naturally in the body, at high concentrations they can be hazardous to the body and damage all major components of cells, including DNA, proteins, and cell membranes. This may play a role in the development of cancer.
Reviewing the levels of these compounds in horseradish suggests that different strains of horseradish have varying levels and thus different potential anti-cancer properties. Here higher-grade U.S. “fancy strains” were found to possess higher glucosinolates compared with other strains.
At present the study suggests that high quantities of glucosinolates would be required to exert any anti-cancer effect. Interviewed by Laboratory Roots, Mosbah Kushad notes “no one is going to eat a pound of horseradish.”
Thus the role of the research group is to extract and purify the compound. Once this is done, then this paves the way for animal studies.
The research to date is published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, in a paper titled “Correlation of quinone reductase activity and allyl isothiocyanate formation among different genotypes and grades of horseradish roots.”