Using isothiocyanate excretion as a biological marker of Brassica vegetable consumption in epidemiological studies: evaluating the sources of variability

Public Health Nutr. 2001 Jun;4(3):837-46. doi: 10.1079/phn2000113.


Objective: Brassica vegetable consumption (e.g. broccoli) leads to excretion of isothiocyanates (ITC) in urine. We evaluated the consistency of ITC as a biomarker for dietary Brassica vegetable consumption across the types of vegetables and methods of preparation used in Western societies, and across consumption levels.

Design: A single-armed behavioural intervention with duplicate baseline assessment and post-intervention assessment. Urinary ITC excretion and estrogen metabolites were measured from 24-hour urine samples. Dietary intake was measured by a 24-hour recall.

Setting: The behavioural intervention facilitated daily Brassica intake among participants by providing peer support, food preparation instruction, guided practice in a teaching kitchen, and other information.

Subjects: Thirty-four healthy free-living postmenopausal women who recently had a negative screening mammogram at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center.

Results: Urinary ITC excretion and total Brassica intake followed the same pattern over the intervention. The ITC biomarker significantly predicted Brassica intake when Brassica consumption averaged about 100 g day-1, but not when Brassica consumption averaged about 200 g day-1. Urinary ITC levels were somewhat higher when more raw vegetables were consumed as compared to lightly cooked vegetables, while the types of Brassica consumed appeared to have only a small, non-significant effect on urinary ITC levels.

Conclusion: Urinary ITC excretion would be a good exposure biomarker among populations regularly consuming a vegetable serving/day, but may be less accurate among populations with greater intake levels or a wide range of cooking practices.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Biomarkers / urine
  • Brassica*
  • Estrogens / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Isothiocyanates / urine*
  • Middle Aged
  • Postmenopause / metabolism
  • Postmenopause / urine
  • Sensitivity and Specificity


  • Biomarkers
  • Estrogens
  • Isothiocyanates